We sat down for an interview with Cohort 8 Rebuilder Teresa Peterson (Upper Sioux Community) to learn more about her education advocacy work and her new book project, Grasshopper Girl. Teresa is actively involved across Native communities and has a long track record of building bridges between communities.
Native Governance Center (NGC): Tell us a little bit about your background, family, and community.
Teresa Peterson (TP): I am Sisitowan Wahpetonwan Dakota, and I am a citizen of the Upper Sioux Community. My family resides on the bluff of the Minnesota River Valley, which is southeast of Granite Falls, or the Upper Sioux Community. I live between Upper and Lower Sioux. I speak about the land because it has significance. Where we’re at is really close to an original Dakota campsite–it’s a beautiful area.
Professionally, most of my work has been in Dakota or Native communities. I served as the Tribal Vice Chairwoman of the Upper Sioux Community back in the early 2000s. I’ve worked in both public and charter schools in service to our Native students. More recently, I served as Tribal Planner: first, at the Lower Sioux Indian Community, and then later, in my home community. Today, I continue to work in all different sectors of the Native community. And then I do quite a bit of work with foundations working in, or in service to, Native communities.
NGC: What linkages do you see, if any, between culturally-focused educational curricula and Native student success?
TP: We know from research and literature that people can learn better—you know, it’s how our brain works—when we build on experiences and who people are. Our individual and personal lens is really how we see the world. So for Native communities, it’s not just that individual, but it’s also that community lens. Our cultural ways have to be part of the learning process. To do otherwise really creates separateness and disconnect.
I’ve done some of the research around that. I had the fortune of working with Dakota Wicohan and the University of Minnesota Morris as part of my research and dissertation. We developed this curriculum, and we piloted it in a school with a high Native population. And we wanted to know, does Indigenous-developed curriculum influence a sense of belonging? That’s an actual thing you can measure—sense of belonging. And when I did the literature review on this, I noticed a lot of correlations between sense of belonging and academic success, socioemotional wellness, and health. People have to feel connected to what they’re learning about or engaged in. They have to make some sense of it. So, absolutely, there are linkages, and we know this through research.
NGC: What challenges do Native students in your community face? What are some of the most valuable assets that Native students bring to the classroom?
TP: I really think that we need to think about education differently. To me, what we really need to do is ask young people. We need to ask Native students: what is it that they need? Our education systems are antiquated. I think, innately, our Native students have understood that for a long time. How do you make it relatable? When we know what our gift, talent, or strength is, and when we have people to help support and nurture that—to me, this is what schools could be doing. Not everyone is the same, but everyone has a gift they can share, which creates interdependence. And we have to quit thinking about independence—and I know we have a lot of dependency that’s tied to our paternalistic, history with the government. That still has remnants in our community. But how do we get to that place that really nurtures interdependence, so we all work together really well? When we strengthen that gift that the creator has bestowed upon each one of us, that’s when our community will live well and be more in balance.
NGC: What advice do you have for someone who is just starting out in the field of education and hoping to make an impact?
TP: I think one thing that has helped me is to really listen to young people. Spend some time listening to them. [During my research], we found out that our system of teacher training models is a setup. Because people then think that they have to be the expert. And then, we have a lot of teachers that go through the training and still don’t feel confident teaching the material. And so then they just choose not to do it. So, I feel like, coming into the field and knowing that your role is not to be the expert. And not to dump all of this knowledge into young people. But rather, how can we light a passion for learning in young people? How can we light that fire for them?
NGC: Would you like to add any additional information to this interview?
TP: Tom and Betsy Peacock started Black Bears and Blueberries publishing company. They wanted to create a space for emerging Dakota and Anishinaabe writers and illustrators. [My book] Grasshopper Girl is one of the first books they published. I mean, literally, it just got published maybe two months ago. So, the book is a story within a story. The story has a Dakota trickster in there. And it’s a story my mother heard growing up. And my grandpa heard growing up. My dissertation is all about storytelling, right? And sense of belonging. And so, to me, when we know who we are and where we come from, no matter where we go, we belong. That’s kind of the path I’ve been on is learning more about my ancestral stories because they impact who you are.
A Conversation with Fond du Lac Chief of Police and Native Nation Rebuilder Herb Fineday
The world needs more police officers like Herb Fineday. As the newly-appointed Chief of Police for the Fond du Lac Police Department (located on the Fond du Lac Reservation in northeastern Minnesota), Herb is working to instill Ojibwe values into the department and collaborate with other area police departments on issues related to cultural competency.
For Herb, culture starts at home. He’s an enrolled member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and resides in the Brookston community (Ziibins) on the Fond du Lac Reservation. An Ojibwe word, Ziibins roughly translates to mean “the other side of the river.” The St. Louis River runs through the northern edge of the Reservation, and the community of Ziibins is located on the other side.
Herb and his wife Patti Jo, also an enrolled member of the Fond du Lac Band, instill culture into their family of seven through participating in traditional activities that align with the seasons, such as ricing, fishing, hunting, and gathering maple sap. Herb is also a talented artist and powwow dancer. On top of his work and family responsibilities, he somehow finds time to teach sewing classes for elders in his community, travel the summer powwow circuit, and make Ojibwe floral appliqué ties and shirts. “What’s huge for me and my family is that cultural component, that traditional component,” explains Herb. “We maintain that, and we pass it down to our children. It’s also going to be a huge component of my new role at the police department.”
Herb has been Chief of Police for just a little under a month, but he already has plans in store to increase cultural competency and build upon the work that he’s accomplished in his previous roles with the department (most recently in the narcotics division). He sees building community trust as one of the most important aspects of his day-to-day responsibilities as a law enforcement officer. From stopping by the community center to visit with elders about elk sightings and muddy roads to carrying tobacco to comfort those who are suffering, Herb understands the value of police-community relations.
As Chief of Police, he plans to launch a new community policing initiative. All officers within the Fond du Lac Police Department will be required to complete one hour of community policing per day and provide a record of their activities. Community policing encompasses a range of activities, such as reading to students at Fond du Lac Head Start or having coffee with community members at Nahgahchiwanong Adaawewigamig, the Tribe’s gas and convenience store. As someone who’s served in a variety of roles within the Fond du Lac Police Department, Herb believes that requiring officers to document their community engagement activities will promote accountability; he wants to prevent community relations from taking a back seat when things get busy.
In addition to community policing, Herb hopes to add Ojibwe verbiage to Fond du Lac’s police cars and create social media pages for the department with titles in Ojibwe. He starts out each week by smudging the police department and invites anyone else in the building at the time to participate. Prior to implementing changes at the department, Herb receives guidance from spiritual advisors: “I have spiritual advisors—people that I entrust—and I give them tobacco and tell them my ideas. They’re always like, let’s allow the spirits to think about this—don’t just move ahead and do it.” Herb’s approach to the Chief of Police role is deliberate and grounded in culture.
Aside from instilling Ojibwe culture into the Fond du Lac Police Department, Herb wants to focus on building relationships with other area jurisdictions. He ultimately hopes to increase cultural competency within non-Native police departments on both a local and statewide level. Three jurisdictions fall within the boundaries of the Fond du Lac Reservation—the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office, the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office, and the Cloquet Police Department. Herb hopes to improve Tribal-county relations by offering a curriculum for law enforcement on the culture and traditions of the Ojibwe people in the Great Lakes Region. He’s received clearance to hold a pilot training with the Duluth Police Department on May 17-18, 2018. The training is not only a first for the Duluth Police Department, but it’s also the first of its kind for law enforcement in the state of Minnesota.
Herb’s eventual goal is to get his training credited by the Minnesota POST Board (Peace Officers Standards and Training). The POST Board is the occupational regulatory agency that’s responsible for licensing police officers across the state. Police officers are required to complete continuing education credits in order to maintain and renew their licenses. If credited, the training, which will be sponsored by the Fond du Lac Police Department, will provide participants with six hours of POST Board credit.
The curriculum would also become part of the implicit bias training required for all police officers in the state of Minnesota. “The implicit bias training that we take online is so vanilla,” Herb acknowledges. “Basically, all you have to do is understand what implicit bias means. It doesn’t cover the social stereotypes of the state. Even in a large city like Minneapolis, it doesn’t even scratch the surface at all.” Herb hopes that by improving the required implicit bias training and instilling cultural competency into police departments across the state, Tribes can build stronger collaborative partnerships with local jurisdictions that will ultimately benefit both Native and non-Native Minnesotans.
The Fond du Lac Police Department is leading the way in advancing cultural competency for law enforcement across the state, yet it faces significant jurisdictional restrictions due to statutes in place at the state level. Essentially, Minnesota state law limits the policing authority of the six Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT) Bands, including Fond du Lac. “There’s a state statute written that limits the authority of the six Tribes of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe,” Herb explains. “Our police department is actually not the primary jurisdiction—the primary jurisdiction goes to Carlton County and St. Louis County.” In line with his focus on partnerships, Herb hopes to collaborate with other MCT Tribes and the MCT Tribal Executive Committee to advance a bill that will give Tribal police departments primary jurisdiction over land within reservation boundaries.
Cultural match and a team building approach to collaborative partnerships guide Herb Fineday’s approach to policing and his new role as Fond du Lac Chief of Police. Herb credits his participation in leadership programs, such as the Native Nation Rebuilders Program (Cohort 7), for instilling in him the importance of both inter- and intra-community relations: “The leadership training I’ve had—for example, being a Rebuilder—is going to assist me exponentially. The everyday aspect of being a Rebuilder is going to help me implement change and gain more of that community trust that I want. When I talk about community trust, I’m talking about the core relationships that we have with other agencies as well.”