Perspective | Great Lakes Spirituality Project: Rebuilding with well-being in mind
A Menominee Nation nonprofit organization’s focus on environmental justice and community
By Dan Robinson
The Menominee Nation Reservation is located on the tribe’s ancestral lands west of the Bay of Green Bay within the Lake Michigan watershed. One of the few indigenous nations within the boundaries of the U.S. to remain on its own land, the Nation’s culture and traditions have sustained the Menominee people for millennia.
Anahkwet serves as the Executive Director of the Menominee non-profit organization Menikanaehkem, located on the reservation.
“At first, we were calling ourselves community builders, and that’s kind of the approach we took,” Anahkwet said. “But one of our elders, after hearing our name, said ‘you shouldn’t be calling yourselves community builders, because we already have a community.’ And it made a lot of sense to us, so we started to call ourselves ‘community rebuilders,’” or Menikanaehkem.
The English translation of the Menominee word, however, doesn’t communicate the full meaning of Menikanaehkem.
Anahkwet said the name roughly translates “they are building something really healthy and strong, with well-being in mind.”
“It’s a really complex word,” he said.” “There’s no real literal translation to it, but that’s basically what it means. We are actually doing it. We’re getting in there and doing something. And that name made a lot more sense to us. I guess the corrupt version is ‘Menominee Rebuilders’ but it’s got much more meaning in our language.”
Located on an 80-acre farm on the Menominee Indian Reservation, Menikanaehkem’s work centers around five initiatives:
● Food sovereignty
● A youth organization
● Culture and language
● Energy sovereignty
● Environmental justice
In addition to the work on the farm, the group’s food sovereignty initiative takes an approach that’s consistent with the land and tradition of the Menominee people.
“One of the things that we recognized relatively early in our organizing was we wanted to eat healthier, natural food,” Anahkwet said. “We recognize that in the western model, we’re in a food desert. The thing about us and where are is that we have 234,000 acres that are heavily forested.” There’s a lot of food that the forest already naturally grows…. You don’t have to prepare it or anything. It’s all done for you. You just go out and get it.”
Menikanaehkem installed 32 solar panels in a grid system to increase its efforts around energy sovereignty.
“Everything is running off those panels,” Anahkwet said.
As with all the group’s work, Menikanaehkem’s efforts for environmental justice are centered around the Menominee Nation’s culture and tradition. For example, they are helping with the fight against the proposed Back Forty Mine which would be located close to the Menominee River. The river flows into the Bay of Green Bay and eventually Lake Michigan.
The open-pit metallic sulfide mine, according to Anahkwet, threatens the health of the Menominee River and the integrity of the land where the Menominee origin story takes place.
“The Menominee River is very important to us,” Anahkwet said. “As a people, it’s where our oral history states that we came from.”
Anahkwet said the people working in the group are mostly tribal members.
“We’re just local people trying to figure out solutions to some of what you would call some of our social ills,” he said, “some of our problems.”
Originally published in June of 2020, this article is the first of three posts based on the conversation with Anahkwet. You can find the original version of this post, the video of the conversation with him, as well as the second and third articles in the series at the website for the Great Lakes Spirituality Project.
The Great Lakes Spirituality Project works to further develop a spirituality of the Lakes that values and protects the Great Lakes Basin and the life that depends on these waters. Started by Dan Robinson, the Project’s goals are: to share stories, conversations and reflection around a spirituality of the Great Lakes Basin; to add another spiritual voice to the work of protecting the Lakes and to serve as a connecting point for spiritual and religious communities and individuals caring for the Lakes and the waters that feed them. A complete version of this article, along with other posts, interviews and videos can be found at the Great Lakes Spirituality Project’s website.
Robinson is a writer, educator, musician, and community organizer. You can contact him at [email protected]
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