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American Indian Community Data Profile, 2002

Namadji Youth and Elders Project Report, 2001

Forum Reports
1997 Fall: Tribal Sovereignty and American Indian Leadership

1996 Fall: Tribal Governments: What will they look like in the year 2010?

1996 Spring: The Threatened State of Tribal Sovereignty

1995 Fall: American Indian Elders

1995 Spring: Tribal Sovereignty

Namadji: Youth and Elders Project Report

A Project Funded by The Two Feathers Fund

By John Poupart and Patricia Fitzgerald

This report is available in a printable PDF format, which requires Adobe Acrobat, or an html version.

Table of Contents
PDF version
Executive Summary
The Project
Perceptions of the Generation Gap
The Need for Intergenerational Exchange
Challenges Going Forward


"These days all the elders are passing on and when they're gone, there's nothing left if we don't learn our language and culture. It's very important for us to do this"

-- Eric Wolf, 17 year old American Indian youth

Executive Summary

This report was written with the cooperation of several elders in the St. Paul American Indian community and several Indian youth from a local youth organization. In addition, several local Indian organizations collaborated with the American Indian Policy Center to make this small project possible, Ain dah Yung Shelter, Juel Fairbanks Drop-in Center, American Indian Family Center and the Elders Lodge.

The Anishinabe people, in their language, have a word as powerful and equally significant as "love." The word is "Namadji," and in English it roughly translates to mean "honor, dignity, and respect". In Anishinabe culture, once you have honor, dignity, and respect, not only for everything around you, but also for yourself, then you can truly experience love.

Love is the first thing. You get respect out of that. It takes two or three years to learn to love everything, even your god. Out of that, you get respect That is what I was told. You love everything. Even my maker. Mdewewin - that is what I am.

-- Albert Hendricks, 67 year old Indian elder

The Namadji Project was initiated and arose from comments made by Indian elders over time and in talking circles at public forums sponsored by the American Indian Policy Center. Based on these comments it was reasoned that the American Indian community must begin to address the growing distance between its young and the elderly. Historically and culturally, communication between young people and elders was essential and significant for the preservation of the people and their culture. The Indian cultural values and beliefs were unwritten and instead retained through oral means. Passing down information from one generation to the next helped retain the legends and customs on which American Indians based their worldview.

Indian people survived, despite persistent attempts to assimilate them into the "melting pot" of America, by virtue of clinging to their culture. The U.S. government and Christian boarding schools, the military and even the Bureau of Indian Affairs sponsored attempts to promote those assimilation attempts. In each instance, a reoccurring theme arose: knowledge and the preservation of culture is vitally important to Indians. The culture defines who they are and in essence manifests their "sacred history." That history is based on values and beliefs that are rooted in the spiritual context and cannot be separated from other parts of an Indian's life. In contemporary society, a syndrome of "separation of church and state" is desired, while in Indian ways the totality of life is appreciated by knowing that everything has life and everything is interconnected.

All things are connected like the blood that unites us. We did not weave the web of life; we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.

-- Chief Seattle.

Today, American Indians who have a good understanding of their culture use it as a strengthening asset to help meet the challenges of poverty and social and political disenfranchisement. An Indian with a good grasp about his or her culture is often more successful at working through life's problems. Yet, knowledge about one's culture is often trivialized in today's high-tech, informational society. It follows then, that if the culture of Indians is made less important it will weaken and will break down. This will more than likely happen if Indian children continue to grow apart from their elders. Sadly, Indian people themselves are now unwittingly perpetuating this situation. The transfer of information between generations no longer thrives as it once did. If this trend continues the culture will suffer and eventually be lost.

The Namadji Project is a beginning to a longer and more in depth analysis of this problem. It first demonstrates that a generation gap does exist between American Indian elders and youth in the local urban context of St. Paul. It further demonstrates that no significant, viable response is in place to engage this dilemma. Further examination of this phenomenon is necessary so that steps might be developed to capture the fading information and wisdom possessed by the elders.

The Ain dah Yung youth shelter, the Elders Lodge, the Juel Fairbanks Drop-In Center, and the American Indian Family Center, all located in St. Paul, deserve our acknowledgement for their firm support and help in developing this project. We express to them our sincere gratitude for their gracious support, encouragement and involvement. Without them this project would not have been possible. The Two Feathers Fund is acknowledged for their keen community and cultural perspective in supporting projects such as Namadji.

Next: The Project

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