The 10 members of each Potawatomi Leadership Program class are required to present a final project, which is a major goal of their time with Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Considering their interests and future endeavors, CPN Education Department Director Tesia Zientek and PLP Counselor Randy Bazhaw pair the students at the beginning of the internship to create a new concept for the Tribe. This year’s class took inspiration from time at the CPN Eagle Aviary, community garden, FireLake Golf Course and more.
Science Technology and Indigenous Cultures Center: Liam Wrixon and Kay-Sha Perkins
Liam Wrixon, a freshman at Spokane Falls Community College, and Kay-Sha Perkins, a sophomore at Florida State University, both love animals and science. After debating between a Tribal veterinary clinic and something similar to a science museum, they proposed the creation of a Science Technology and Indigenous Cultures Center, or STICC.
Meant to combine different fields of science with aspects of Potawatomi culture, their center proposes a unique experience for all visitors. An event space, rooftop garden, planetarium and exhibition halls make up the museum.
“These ideas can stem specifically from Potawatomi-related teachings such as having our Tribe’s constellations be the exhibit for the Planetarium,” Perkins said. “This way, we can open various doors for kids to learn about their history and about STEM topics in a fun way.”
They focused on outreach when considering programming, which included frequently requesting presentations from different departments on various traditions with a tie to science. Their plans incorporated a space for eagle aviary demonstrations as well as classrooms for craft making and summer camps.
“The Tribe is extremely committed in helping its people and keeping Potawatomi culture alive and thriving. The STICC would let the aviary, and many other programs or activities, reach a larger audience,” Wrixon said. “This project would not only promote STEM fields in our communities, but it would also fit perfectly with the Tribe’s goal of keeping our culture alive and well.”
Their presentation outlined possible locations for the building, the beginnings of a budget outline and information on possible grants to assist in construction and maintenance costs.
Menwénma (Love like a Spouse) Weddings: Jaclyn Michener and Rachael Sanders
Sports journalism major Rachael Sanders and middle-level education major Jaclyn Michener brought organizational skills to their project, Menwénma (Love like a Spouse) Weddings. The town nearest CPN, Shawnee, Oklahoma, offers a few locations for these types of ceremonies, but adding a nice venue at the Nation holds serious business potential. They selected FireLake Golf Course as the main option, which has held weddings in the past.
“We chose this project because it is a good idea that has already been done, but we wanted to expand on it and make it more of a business that is used on a regular basis,” Sanders explained. “This is also something to hopefully get younger Tribal members in the area more involved with their Tribe and learn about where they come from.”
They both agreed that planning a wedding presents an incredible amount of stress, and they approached Menwénma with the concept of CPN as a one-stop shop for the occasion’s necessities.
“Citizen Potawatomi Nation has almost all the resources that are needed to contribute to a celebration by using the resources CPN already possesses to keep business within the Tribe and prioritizing Tribal members’ businesses to fill in the gaps of resources we do not have,” Michener said.
They showed a website mock-up with six wedding package options, one to fit every size and taste. They brought together portions of services offered at the Grand Hotel Casino & Resort, golf course, FireLake Discount Foods and entertainment venues to cover catering options including a cash bar, a cake, lodging, spa services, DJ, seating, and bachelorette and bachelor parties.
Their highest predicted revenue for 20 weddings a year totaled more than $100,000.
Health through Heritage: Ally Smith and Lilly Lewis
Lilly Lewis and Ally Smith both find medicine fascinating and show interest in pursuing it as a career. During their first week at the PLP, the group met with Community Garden Assistant Kaya DeerInWater and saw Bodewadmi Widoktadwen Gtegan (Potawatomi Community Garden) for the first time. He taught them about Native medicines in the form of plants and herbs.
“While we were both amazed while learning about this, we couldn’t help but wonder how we did not know about these natural medicines before,” Lewis said. “That is when inspiration struck. … We want to find a way to both inform the CPN public about Native medicine and also provide the community with a physical location in order to utilize them.”
Their two-part project includes building a circular medicinal garden representing the four directions as well as a website with information on each of the medicines, what symptoms they eliminate, ecological facts, recipes and photos.
They helped run CPN’s Shkodedeajek (Those Who Carry Fire in Their Hearts) American Indian Science and Engineering Society chapter’s tea making workshop as part of this year’s Family Reunion Festival. During an interactive portion of their presentation, they used that knowledge to present the audience with small cups of immune-boosting elderberry tea for tasting.
Smith’s favorite part is the potential to help people.
“Not only will we be giving them knowledge on how to help treat issues in a more holistic way, but we will also be helping them connect back to cultural teachings that have been around for centuries,” she said. “Plants have been teachers to all, and hopefully, we can open people’s eyes to these teachings. Plants have been on the earth a lot longer than humans; we are the younger sibling who must listen to our older siblings.”
Bsegwi (He/She Rises Up): Johnathon Tune and Maria Hrenchir
Drury University freshman Johnathan Tune and Haskell Indian Nations University sophomore Maria Hrenchir constructed a way to help children in FireLodge Children and Family Services’ foster care and adoption program obtain the information and counseling they need to decide on a path toward higher education.
Their new program Bsegwi (He/She Rises Up) combines the work of three Tribal departments: FireLodge Children and Family Services, CPN Department of Education and CPN Workforce Development & Social Services.
“I believe there is a fine line between not wanting to attend school and not having the resources to do so,” Tune said. “Another benefit of our program is to not only help teens in need of help to get into school but to also encourage those teens to go to college who have no intentions on going.”
Due to laws regarding release of a minor’s information, FireLodge cannot provide any information to other departments. Tune and Hrenchir met with CPN’s legal department and drafted a voluntary release form that would allow the foster program to provide a limited amount of contact information when signed by a guardian.
With Bsegwi in place, when a child in the system reaches ninth grade, FireLodge would provide the opportunity for the guardian to sign the release. The other departments would then reach out and offer their services, including counseling, advising and career advice, to help the student plan the next stage of their life and the required education.
“Education is a crucial aspect of our Tribe and for future generations, which is what makes this project so important to us,” Hrenchir said. “I see this project as something that could potentially make a huge difference in the lives of these students and help the Tribe as a whole.”
Two-Spirit Native Americans: Katie Simpson and Mickey Loveless II
Fort Lewis College sophomore Katie Simpson and University of Central Oklahoma sophomore Mickey Loveless sought to express the inclusive nature of Potawatomi ancestors in their project. They consider themselves activists for the LGBTQ community in their everyday lives, and the video they created to showcase that inclusivity connects the two.
“My goals with this project were to try and start a more open dialogue among my fellow Tribal citizens and our legislature,” Loveless said.
“We can only do this by reclaiming this part of our culture that has been covered up, hidden, and closed off. I hope that individuals take away from this project the idea of creating a more inclusive environment for two-spirit and LGBTQ+ individuals, just like our ancestors would have.”
Inspiration to make a video came while visiting the Cultural Heritage Center and viewing the interactive displays with short segments on a wide variety of subjects. They discussed their interest in advocacy and decided to combine the two.
Their video describes Native American Two-Spirit individuals, who perform duties and responsibilities of both men and women. The term “Two-Spirit” was adopted in 1990 at the third annual Native American Gay and Lesbian Gathering as a modern referential phrase.
“As I’m still learning, I feel that I’ve had great role models placed in my life that have taught me some important perspectives about what they have gone through, much like thousands of others, and how anyone who cares to step in and advocate can make a difference just by showing support and voicing our concerns about prejudice towards the community,” Simpson said.
Following their presentations, Chairman Barrett performed a short ceremony blessing eagle feathers the program gifted the students and congratulated them on the completion of their extensive internship. Find out more about the Potawatomi Leadership Program here.