An APSE Column Exchange
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ They’ve had run-ins with wood ticks and leeches. They’ve done hard labor in steamy summer heat. But most of the 10 American Indian teen-agers who learned the inner workings of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources this summer say a job with the DNR looks pretty good to them.
They are all city kids from Minneapolis and have spent little time in the natural world of Minnesota woods, waters and prairies. Before signing up for the Youth in Natural Resources program, they knew little about the DNR.
The eight-week program, based at Fort Snelling State Park, is sponsored by the DNR and the American Indian Opportunity Industrialization Center in Minneapolis, which runs a federal jobs program. Trying to interest young people in careers with the DNR is a new approach to DNR minority recruiting, which has not been very successful in the past, according to John Winter, DNR regional parks manager.
Working in parks all over the metropolitan area, the six boys and four girls, ages 14 to 17, earned $4 an hour building trails and a boat ramp, sampling fish, planting trees and studying landscaping, wildlife management, loons, real estate and firearms safety. They also learned something about their own heritage by planting a garden using old Indian methods and building a drum arbor and three sweat lodges for a powwow at Fort Snelling.
The worst job for the kids was building a boat access ramp in mud like quicksand and removing their hip waders to find their legs covered with leeches, said Samantha Whiteman, 22, of Minneapolis, one of two Indian group leaders.
″It was the hottest week of the summer, but they finished it ahead of schedule,″ she said.
Bridget Deegan, 16, says park management appeals to her and she’d like to return to the program next summer. After passing a written safety test, part of a firearms safety program run by the DNR, Deegan and the others spent time firing rifles and shotguns in target practice. It was the first time Deegan had fired a rifle, but she put several shots close to the bull’s eye.
Jack Rohrbach, 17, will be a senior this fall at the Red School House. He’s interested in working toward a job as a conservation officer and would like to return to Fort Snelling next summer. The low point of the program for him came during the first week of training at St. Croix State Park when people in the park stared at the group.
″We were the only Indians there. It was like we were aliens,″ he said.
If there is one place members of the Indian community do belong it is in state forests and parks and in natural resource programs, said Clyde Bellecourt, a founder of the AIOIC and community organizer for the Elaine Stately Indian Youth Service leadership training program.
″On or near every Indian reservation is a state park,″ he said.
Indian young people who have grown up in the city are often unaware of how the American Indians’ heritage is tied to our natural resources, he said.
″Our emphasis is to get Indian young people in touch with their own culture and tradition and the natural way of life they lived at one time,″ Bellecourt said.
″I’m really excited about this partnership between the DNR and the Indian community to get young people interested in natural resources management as a career. We’ve been at odds with the DNR over hunting and fishing rights issues for years, and this is a new direction,″ he said.
DNR and AIOIC representatives met recently and made a commitment to continue and expand the program next summer, Bellecourt said.
″We are starting to look for funds,″ he said.
This year’s program operated with AIOIC federal funds and donations from the Pillsbury Co., Lutheran Brotherhood and the Fort Snelling State Park Association.
The interest in the Youth in Natural Resources program, with 14 people applying as group leaders and a waiting list of students, shows that aggressive recruiting within the Indian community will turn up qualified candidates for DNR jobs, Bellecourt said.
End Adv Weekend Editions Sept. 9-10