Friends, Cultural Belonging, and Food


FriendsAmerican Indian Youth Enrichment students and staff at the Family Picnic, concluding the summer program.

By Rebecca Fairbanks Dickinson, American Indian Youth Enrichment Coordinator, Department of Indian Work

We were honored to provide our American Indian Youth Enrichment summer program for 55 children from 20 different tribes and reservations this year (see below). Our Saint Paul American Indian community is blessed with so much diversity. In June, these youth got off the bus and either happily reunited with old friends, or shyly began figuring out where they belong among new faces. By August, these same youth were laughing together at inside jokes with their summer BFFs (best friends forever).

Throughout the 7 weeks, we worked hard to create a space for youth to learn and practice their indigenous cultural heritage through arts, cooking, games, history, drum and dance, and stories. Because of the commitment of our group leaders, teen volunteers, and teachers, the youth now have mentors who will be there for them in their future in whatever situation they might need.

On August 4, we celebrated the youth’s accomplishments at the Family Picnic. Twenty families including parents, foster parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, siblings, and friends gathered with us at American Indian Magnet School where they rotated through the youth’s classes to learn about their projects. Everyone also enjoyed watching a video showing the highlights of the summer program. After that, we gathered for a lunch that was prepared by our students in their Native Foods and Cooking Class. Families also took home 53 Dental Kits donated by Running Strong for the students in our programs. Youth proudly accompanied their families during the afternoon, and also reflected on all of their summer experiences in their journals, quoted below.

In their own words:

  • Favorite Field Trip: Como Zoo & Como Pool
  • Favorite Lacrosse Class Game: Sharks & Minnows
  • Favorite Project in Culture Class: Medicine & War Shields
  • Favorite Book in Book-it! Reading Warriors Class: Fatty Legs by Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
  • Favorite Recipe from Native Foods and Cooking Class: Wild Rice Salad, Squash Pancakes, and Fried Wild Rice
  • A time I tried my best: “Reading.” “. . . in cooking and Mr. D’s Class.” “To shoot a 3.” “All the time.”
  • Something I’m proud that I did this summer: “Meeting new people.” “I try my best.” “Coming to Indian Youth Enrichment.”

Tribal heritage and reservations of youth participants:

  • White Earth Nation of Ojibwe, Waabaa-babiganikaag (MN)
  • Red Lake Nation of Ojibwe, Miskwaagamiiwi zaaga’igan (MN)
  • Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Gaa-zagashkwaajimekaag Ojibweg (MN)
  • Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe, Zagaakwaandagowininiwag (MN)
  • Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Gitchi Oningamiing (MN)
  • Prairie Island Indian Community, Mdewakanton Dakota (MN)
  • Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians (WI)
  • Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Odaawaa-Zaaga’inganiing (WI)
  • Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Mikinaakwajiw-ininiwag (ND)
  • Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation (ND & SD)
  • Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (ND & SD)
  • Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Sicangu Oyate/Sicangu Lakota (SD)
  • Oglala Sioux Tribe, Wazi Ahanhan Oyanke (Pine Ridge, SD)
  • Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Tsitsistas and So’taeoo (MT)
  • Navajo Nation, Dine (UT, AZ, & NM)
  • Alaska Native (non-specific)
  • Cree Tribe (non-specific)
  • Apache (non-specific)
  • Cherokee (non-specific)
  • Lakota (non-specific)

To learn more about the American Indian Youth Enrichment program, please contact:

Rebecca Fairbanks Dickinson
American Indian Youth Enrichment Coordinator, Department of Indian Work