The application period for Mdamen, an eight-week leadership program, opened on Oct. 1, 2023. This is the third session of the virtual program, which helps Citizen Potawatomi Nation members establish and maintain a strong connection to their heritage.
Mdamen comes from the Bodéwadmimwen (Potawatomi language) word for corn and translates as “that miraculous seed.” The deadline to apply is Dec. 1, 2023. Tribal members from across the United States have made and maintained connections with their fellow Potawatomi as a result of Mdamen.
CPN Education Department Internship and Project Coordinator Kym Coe encourages CPN members over the age of 18 to apply, no matter their knowledge of Potawatomi culture. The application contains five short essay questions with a maximum of 250 words.
“Mdamen is open to 20 applicants,” Coe said. “So, apply quickly.” With the beginning of 2024, Education Department employee Emily Higdon said she hopes the optimism people have at the beginning of a new year will carry over into Mdamen.
The eight-week program begins on Jan. 11, 2024, and continues each week until the final session on Feb. 29, 2024. Each session is held from 6-8:30 p.m., CST.
Higdon participated in the first Mdamen class. She said applicants shouldn’t stress over the time commitment required, since the program is held over Zoom.
“You can eat dinner while you’re on the Zoom. If you have kids playing in the background, you can just be muted,” Higdon said. “The talking circles are the only times that you’ll want to have a little bit of a quiet space.”
Even if applicants don’t have Zoom experience, the Jan. 4, 2024, introduction session includes time for everyone to get acquainted with Zoom, ensuring they can successfully log on and know how basic functions work.
New to Mdamen this year, the sessions will include the Seven Grandfather Teachings.
“Each week they learn a word of the Potawatomi language, and by the end they’re able to completely introduce themselves in Potawatomi,” Coe said. “At the very beginning, we will go over what love means. And then we will keep adding layers that make them feel connected.”
Other sessions will include Tribal history, government, enterprises, services, language, and culture. Participants will hear from guest speakers such as Tribal leadership, Harvard University’s Dr. Kelli Mosteller, AISES Senior Director of Programs Tesia Zientek and more.
The Mdamen talking circle is often a time when people feel nervous at first, but later they come to deeply appreciate the experience, Coe said.
“We make it as least stressful as possible. We start our talking circle by sharing your highs and lows for the week and then something that you got out of the day’s presentation,” she said. “Usually at the end of our time, the talking circle is their favorite part.”
In addition to increasing their overall knowledge of the Nation, Tribal members will create a supportive, online community. Higdon said she formed bonds with her fellow Potawatomi during the program and gained a deeper understanding of culture.
“Mdamen really helped me feel like I am able to claim this identity because it’s a hard identity to claim sometimes if you don’t feel like you’re connected as strongly as other people are,” Higdon said. “(Participants) can expect to form a really amazing community. I still talk to people daily from my first class (as well as) the second class and it’s a really good, strong community.”
Higdon hopes anyone considering applying doesn’t feel intimidated, because everyone is welcome to join.
“That’s what this program is for. That’s what I tell everyone, this is a way to learn,” she said. “And if you already feel like you have a little bit of knowledge, you can still join if you want more enrichment.”
She is proud of the bond her group created during Mdamen. They were thrilled to finally meet in person.
“I still remember my first talking circle and I’m very close with the three other people that were in that talking circle with me. We all got to meet in person at Family (Reunion) Festival this year. It was a really wonderful experience,” she said. “One of my friends, this year was their first Festival. Mdamen really helped solidify her connection to the culture and the Tribe.”
Coe said the program is designed to create those bonds and strengthen them so the next generation will be able to experience that same connection.
“One of the young ladies from this last group shared that she wanted to be able to teach her daughter about the culture and she wanted to be confident in what she was teaching,” Coe said.
Higdon described the Mdamen experience as welcoming.
“I had no idea what the first class was going to be like. I thought it was going to be really intense,” she said. “But it’s warm and it’s just like coming home.” Mdamen organizers hope to eventually grow the Tribe’s next generation of leaders, but not just within government. Leaders are needed in every aspect of tribal life, Higdon said.
“You can be a leader in so many different things. You can be a leader in passing knowledge on to your children or helping other people learn the language or helping other people make regalia,” she said. “It’s life changing. It’s really great.”