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ALLENDALE, Mich. — I have served on the Native American Advisory Council at Grand Valley State University(GVSU) since its inception almost 20 years ago. Even after I founded Native News Online in 2011 I stayed on the Council in order to retain my connection to the local Native American community and hopefully to influence the success of Native American students attending the university. 

This past week, I spent Monday evening and Thursday morning on GVSU’s Allendale campus for the Anishinaabe Leadership Summer Camp that hosted 15 Native American high school students from various tribes and different places in Michigan. 

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Belinda Bardwell (Little Traverse Bands of Odawa Indians), who is an assistant director in GVSU’s  Office of Multicultural Affairs, coordinated the camp. Bardwell and her planning team wanted to ensure the students would be given the opportunity to discover the offerings of GVSU and to get better acquainted with their Native American culture. 


Belinda (Lin) Bardwell making a point on the last day of camp on Thursday.


This year’s camp was the third year GVSU has hosted an Anishinaabe camp. Throughout the week, the students experienced living in a dorm room and eating the university’s food. Additional activities including wall climbing and swimming.

Bardwell said she wanted the camp to highlight anthropology as an avenue to learn about their personal story. She believes there are too few Native American anthropologists. With that in mind, the students were able to visit the university’s anthropology department and take field trips to the historic Norton Mounds southwest of Grand Rapids and the archive department of the Grand Rapids Public Museum. 

“I want them to think about what they want to do after high school. This university may not be for everyone, but at least they get to see GVSU as an option,” Bardwell said. “Just as important is for the students to meet other Native students who they will end up seeing at powwows around the state and other community events.”

After arriving on Monday, the students were driven to a traditional lodge that was built last year on the south side of the GVSU campus. There they enjoyed traditional corn soup and fry bread bread. Later they played traditional Native American games. 

On Thursday, I enjoyed presenting to the students on Native Americans “in the news.” After learning late Wednesday on my way back from Oklahoma that a speaker canceled for Thursday morning, I told Bardwell that I would be willing to present. I told her our students need to know who are heroes are today, such as Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

During the presentation, a quick show of hands revealed that the majority of the students were not familiar with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo), Minnesota Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Ojibwe), pro golfer Rickie Fowler (Navajo), Nicole Aunapu Mann (Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, or Chuck Sams (Umatilla Tribes). 

Several knew who Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs Bryan Newland (Bay Mills Indian Community) and New York Times bestselling author of Firekeeper's Daughter and Warrior Girl Unearthed Angeline Boulley are. Of course, both are from Michigan, so they should. 

My time spent with the Native youth was encouraging to me because this group of Native American students demonstrated they wanted to learn and were very engaged. Hopefully, the seeds planted will sprout to help them become strong Anishinaabe leaders in the future.




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About The Author
Levi Rickert
Author: Levi RickertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Levi "Calm Before the Storm" Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].