Dr. Rick St. Germaine
Rick St. Germaine grew up on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation in a log cabin in the late 1940s. It wasn't until 1960 that electricity and paved roads found their way into the Boulevarde/Barbertown community.
"Life was a lot better back then," he said. "Culture and tradition are almost lost today."
Back then, there were elders who said the prayers and spoke the language used in the Big Drum (Chideweigan) ceremony.
"They were warning us back in the 1960s, if the language disappears, we wouldn't be Indians anymore," he said.
The last speaker who grew up fluent with the language passed away several years ago.
"On his death bed, he called me over to his house," said St. Germaine. "'Nobody's doing this,'" he said. "'I'm going to leave this prayer for you to learn.'"
St. Germaine and at least two other Lac Courte Oreilles members are learning those Ojibwe words to carry those prayers to the next generation.
"We live in a WalMart/McDonald's world today," he said. "The notion of commercialism, consumerism, has overwhelmed us. Unfortunately, a lot of people have turned their backs on preserving the past."
There was a time there in the 1950s and 1960s when few community members had jobs. Few employment opportunities existed in the area.
So growing up, there weren't role models or job skills in that way," he said. "Most families eeked out a living. There were fishermen or those making crafts to sell out in Hayward. Many moved to the cities, so when they came back, they brought that part of urban culture with them."
Much of St. Germaine's time is involved in the Ojibwe Ceremonial Drum Society at Mille Lacs, Minnesota, where there are twelve active drums.
"It's disappointing to see the high levels of crime on reservation communities," he said. "It's heartbreaking to see the drug and alcohol use. That, to me, is what culture is about. I worry about the future. I'm taking my family to Minnesota every weekend. To the drum ceremonies that were started there in 1870's for all the Ojibwe tribes."
"In order for me to find personal hope, I go there," he said. "There's still such a strong interest."
He brings the two youngest of his four children, a high school sophomore and eighth grader, and his wife. The youth are also being raised in the ways of the Midewiwin Medicine Lodge Society.
"I think culture is about raising good kids who have strong values," he said. "You hear about traditional Indians. I don't think it's about wearing buckskin. It's amazing how, before television, families spent time together with their relatives, hunted together, riced together, lots of joy, joking, story telling, sharing resources."
St. Germaine, a writer for several Native newspapers, came to Eau Claire to train teachers as well as parents in Mille Lacs Ojibwe communities, who participate in four local undergraduate courses he teaches through Bemidji State University, so that they can assume governance responsibility for new charter schools that he helped start.
He also trains Indian school principals with a school administration colleague on the Dine Reservation in Arizona.
"I have a real busy schedule, teaching at Eau Claire, traveling weekly to Mille Lacs where I'm helping start a tribal college, and continuing my school leadership training work with the Navajo," he said.
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