Flooding creates extraordinary Tribal Youth Media Workshop experience

Each year LSC Professor Patty Loew and LSC Faculty Associate Don Stanley make the trip to the Bad River Ojibwe Reservation to lead the Tribal Youth Media Project.  The workshop, which is hosted by LSC, works to educate tribal youth on video production and storytelling techniques with the goal of helping participants communicate environmental stories and share tribal cultural practices with the outside world.

Donovan and Zach interviewing a couple from Ottawa, Canada who were stranded at the Bad River Lodge.
Donovan and Zach interviewing a couple from Ottawa, Canada who were stranded at the Bad River Lodge.

This summer the workshop unfolded a bit different than years past. During the first week of the program rains swept through northern Wisconsin depositing 11 inches in Bad River creating a state of emergency. “Bridges have collapsed, roads have washed away and Bad River is an island. The tribe is shut down, the casino is closed and lodge visitors are stranded.” noted Loew in an email on July 12th.

With a real-life news story unfolding in front of them, two workshop participants quickly pivoted from shooting environmental stories, to documenting the aftermath of the flooding in Bad River. Zach Oja, age 16, shot video, while Donovan O’Claire, age 14, conducted interviews. Both young men are students at Ashland High School and Bad River Tribal members.

Zach and Donovan talked with first responders and lodge guests and recorded B roll of the devastation. In addition to using the footage for tribe documentation, their footage was also featured on local news media including NBC15 in Madison, and KBJR in Duluth, among other stations. Loew was also featured on Wisconsin Public TV’s Here and Now.

“It was a baptism by fire, but what a great opportunity for Native teens to see the power of media and how important it becomes during crises like the one Bad River finds itself facing,” said Loew.

Donovan and Zach talk about their experience at the Tribal Youth Media Workshop this year.

The workshop briefly went on hiatus as Loew, Stanley and the students pitched in to help the community get back on its feet making food runs and transporting food to areas cut off from motor vehicles. Now, a few weeks after the storm event, the workshop is back on track however, this year’s experience continues to be anything but ordinary.

Spirit Stones are deeply significant tribal artifacts.
Spirit Stones are deeply significant tribal artifacts.

Recently, the Ojibwe tribe received a gift of returned Spirit Stones.  Over 100,000 stones were unethically taken from reservation beaches over decades, and the man who inherited the remaining stones requested they be returned to their rightful protectors. According to Loew, these deeply significant stones or “Grandfathers” relate to tribal teachings from before the Ojibwe encountered Europeans.

After Bad River has recovered from the flooding a ceremony is planned as these stones are returned to Lake Superior and the Tribal Youth Media students will document the return of these deeply significant artifacts.  The timing is quite providential.  According to Edith Leoso, the tribe’s Historic Preservation Officer and owner of one of the 10 homes that were entirely destroyed by the flooding, “Water heals and floods cleanse. I have tears of sadness and tears of joy. Just when the community needed them most, the Grandfathers came home to help us.”