Posted by: csdailyblog | May 23, 2013

Celebrating the Northwood’s Diversity with Education and Collaboration

When you think of the great Northwoods of the Upper Midwest, what comes to mind?

Perhaps pristine blue lakes, fishing, conifer forests, or snowmobiling? If you are like many people, cultural diversity is probably not on the list. It was not on Amanda Nosal’s mind when she moved to the Northwoods in 2011 after graduating from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities with a Bachelor’s degree in wildlife. Since that time she has gained a profound appreciation for the Northwood’s cultural diversity, and it started with one school’s desire to learn about the cultures in the surrounding area and beyond.

Amanda Nosal on a trip with Conserve School students in the Porcupine Mountains

Amanda Nosal on a trip with Conserve School students in the Porcupine Mountains

For the last two years as part of her graduate study through University of Wisconsin Stevens Point College of Natural Resources Nosal has lived and worked at Conserve School, an environmentally-focused semester program for high school juniors. Located on the border between Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin, Conserve School engages students from across the country in 17 weeks of active and experiential education amidst a setting of lakes, bogs, and forests.

And culture. In honoring their mission to inspire environmental stewardship Conserve School strives to teach students how cultural perspectives influence the ways people interact and impact the environment. “To conserve the environment we are going to have to think of different ways of living,” explained Mary Anna Thornton, Assistant Head of Conserve School. Under the guidance of Associate Professor Brenda Lackey, Nosal investigated how Conserve School currently addresses cultural studies and researched how such a study could evolve through local multicultural collaboration.

The Northwoods is home to two primary cultures. One is mainstream American with a history of mining, logging, and outdoor recreation. The other culture is Native American. Specifically, the Northwoods is home to a number of Ojibwe communities (also known as Chippewa or Anishinaabe). These two cultures share a generally peaceful existence. However, cultural misunderstandings around topics like natural resources management have sparked occasional episodes of conflict and even violence.

All the more reason to learn to understand one another.

The students of Conserve School are learning to understand. Nosal found that Conserve School already provides some opportunities for students to directly learn from the people from the local Ojibwe communities. For example, Conserve School often hosts Ojibwe community members for cultural presentations and demonstrations, including hands-on workshops about the traditional process of harvesting and preparing wild rice.

“As the world changes and more cultures come into contact, I believe it is crucial that we learn how to respect each other and our cultures because it is part of the answer to a peaceful coexistence with each other and the environment,” said Nosal after the completion of her project. “Cultures are always changing and the learning will never stop. It can sometimes be uncomfortable to step outside our comfort zones, but the rewards of new experiences are well worth it.”

In her project report Nosal recommended that Conserve School expand their collaboration with the local Native American communities through opportunities like multicultural management of important natural resources such as wild rice. Whatever form future collaborations take, the intention should be to build greater cultural understanding so that everyone can happily live together in a healthy environment. As one Northwoods Ojibwe community member said, “I really believe that we all, maybe not think the same way, but we want the same end product. We want to save the environment, we want our children to live in a nice place. We’re not all that different, really.”

In 2011 Conserve School students visited the re-created Ojibwe Indian Village, Waswagoning

In 2011 Conserve School students visited the re-created Ojibwe Indian Village, Waswagoning

An elder from a local Native American community visited Conserve School in 2012 to share with students how his people traditionally lived in harmony with the Northwoods’ seasons.

An elder from a local Native American community visited Conserve School in 2012 to share with students how his people traditionally lived in harmony with the Northwoods’ seasons.

In 2012 Conserve School students practiced traditional wild rice harvesting at a local Native American ricing camp.

In 2012 Conserve School students practiced traditional wild rice harvesting at a local Native American ricing camp.

This article was prepared by Amanda Nosal and edited by Stefan Anderson.

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