Onigaaminsing, Duluth, was the location of this year’s Minnesota Council of Nonprofits annual conference on September 20 – 21 at the DECC. It was an honor to serve on the planning committee with several other dedicated individuals who are working throughout the state of Minnesota to create better systems and partnerships “to meet the increasing information needs of nonprofits” and work on common issues that concern everyone.
I have been to countless conferences in my thirty year career. In the first twenty years, there was never really any meaningful inclusion of Native or BIPOC representation at any of the non-diverse themed conferences that I attended which means there were no diverse inclusion or representation considered in the planning of those conferences. In the past 10 years, organizations and conference planning committees are doing a better job at making everyone who attends their events feel valued and included. It’s important to have a diverse planning committee, diverse representation in the speakers and activity leads with any project that is meant for the community. Diverse speakers bring rich histories and lived experiences, unseen and seen connections, and values that everyone can learn from and be inspired by.
As a planning committee member, I helped to ensure a strong Anishinaabeg participation, representation and presence at the conference. I worked closely with the Courtney Gerber, and the planning committee, to invite Fond du Lac Ojibwe elder and tribal member Ricky DeFoe to provide a cultural Anishinaabeg ceremony to open the conference in a good way, Co-Director of John Hopkins Center for Indigenous Health Melissa Walls (Bois Forte Ojibwe descendant) who gave the keynote on the first day, AICHO Executive Director LeAnn Littlewolf (Leech Lake Ojibwe tribal member) presented on a workshop panel, musician Briand Morrison (Grand Portage Ojibwe tribal member) to provide free-style jazz guitar music during opening day’s evening session, and artist Moira Villiard (Fond du Lac Ojibwe direct descendant) who provided a tour of the Chief Buffalo Mural Project and designed the conference’s beautiful logo that symbolized the conference’s theme of “Making Waves & Breaking Barriers.”
For people who know me well, they know that I don’t like speaking in public. Even so, I made the decision to open the conference on the first day as Ricky and Melissa were part of the opening program. There were over 600 people in attendance. I walked up to the podium on the stage and began my welcome in my Ojibwe language (with translation) with a formal introduction of who I am. I shared about AICHO’s mission and all of our amazing programs, and I then got to share how important one of my cultural heroes, Ricky DeFoe, is to me and to everyone. People don’t always get to hear what people mean to the community. It’s nice and healing when it happens. I invited Ricky to come up to the stage and share his ceremony. His ceremony preceded Melissa Walls’ keynote entitled, “Indigenous Health & Well-Being: Lessons for Partnerships and Equity.” Everything flowed smoothly together like ripples of water for that opening session and I was, and still am, proud that I was fortunate enough to be a part of it. Many people came up to all three of us after the opening to thank us for our words and work within the Indigenous and greater community. It was one of the most uplifting moments of my life. Miigwech to Minnesota Council of Nonprofits for this opportunity and for a strong racial and gender inclusion and representation before and during this state-wide conference. My hats off to you all.
Grand Portage Ojibwe direct descendant
AICHO’s Arts and Culture Coordinator
Keep tabs on some of the exciting things happening at AICHO! Blog posts managed by volunteers as they are available.