The Power of the two Ps: Pausing and Being Present

A blog post written by Whitney Ederer, 2017-2019 Fellow

Greetings fellows! I thought it was a perfect time to write a blog post with some powerful lessons learned during the fellowship to help the first years that have been with the program a few months and second years who are in full-swing. Something that I learned during the fellowship was how to pause and be truly present.

Prior to the fellowship, I was the stereotypical type A multi-tasker that is the “norm” of law school folks. Then the fellowship happened. During our learning community meetings, people were asked to put away electronics and be truly present with presenters and the community as a whole. Additionally, reflection was built into the fellowship at numerous stages that helped me grow professionally and serve populations in a different way.

I wanted to write this blog post about the power of pausing and being present to remind fellows that those skills are assets to your professional and personal development. As fellows you have so many responsibilities to your placement sites, the fellowship program, projects, presentations, monthly meeting planning, professional development, and professional relationships. I learned throughout the fellowship that pausing allows me to take a break, and come back to the table stronger than before, and being present is crucial to ensure you soak in all the needed information and respond after careful deliberation.  These skills have enhanced me personally and professionally, and I believe they will help all fellows as well!

People in general have different levels of the mastery of pausing and being present. The range is from a zen yoga instructor to me in law school. Can you guess which image goes with which one? The important thing to note is that pausing and being present isn’t a competition. Instead, view the practice as a journey instead of a destination. 

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I wanted to share some tips I have learned along the way to help you all on your journey to pausing and being present.

How to pause

  • Take mini breaks! This could mean taking a few steps away from your desk, going on a different floor for the bathroom, or asking someone how their day is going. I’ve noticed when I come back to work or return home, I have more motivation and higher energy than before.

  • Set work time boundaries. Try setting an hour a day to work on something specific you have been putting off. Calendars get full of meetings, presentations, interrupted with phone calls and in person meetings. If I didn’t set boundaries on my calendar, I wouldn’t get anything done!

  • Take time to think. Many times, people feel they have to immediately respond to others via email or in person to answer a question. Depending upon the type of work you do and the level of urgency, respectfully ask if you would be ok to decipher the question or idea and have a response to them by a specific deadline.

  • Comfort with silence. Every moment of your day does not need to be filled with noise. In fact, meditation practices are so helpful, especially for those that might only have a few moments of silence in their days!

  • Daily time for yourself. You will thank yourself for taking time for yourself, even if a few minutes, each day. For me, that means reading a positive, uplifting book before bed while heating my back (I have back issues!). It’s super relaxing and helps me to get through the day knowing I will have some restorative time right before bed.

 

How to be present

  • Put your phone away. I recently noticed how often people are on their phones. Last night, I noticed biking home people walking together on State Street with their heads down, on the bike path people weren’t talking to the person behind them, and before a workout class at the gym people were still on their phones! It is probably the “old school” person in me, but I believe a healthy dose of phones are great, but too much will leave you isolated and not actually being present with the people and environment around you.

  • Be an active listener. Don’t listen to think about what your response is going to be, truly listen deeply to what the other person is saying. This will lead to deep connections!   

  • Do one thing at a time. Multi-tasking, sorry, really isn’t a thing. I’ve learned that when I truly focus on one activity or project or communication, I can get it done faster and more efficient, with less room for error, than trying to do multiple things at once.

  • Enjoy moments. Too often people are thinking of the next best thing or what they need to do later in the day, night, next weekend, etc.. Living in the moment is so refreshing and will change the way you go about your day.

  • Acceptance. Lots of time, life doesn’t go as planned (sorry type A planners – I am one of you!). Learning to put your best forward and accept what happens next is an important professional and personal skill that will bring you great joy.

Coming Full Circle: Population Health Sciences 370

A blog post written by Kara Mathewson, 2018-2020 Fellow

I still remember walking up the hill to Birge Hall with one of my good college friends (and now fellow public health professional at Auburn University) and arriving at the basement entrance where we were met each day by a fierce, stuffed badger in a glass display case. We were headed to our first class of the day – Pop Health 370: Introduction to Public Health, Local to Global Perspectives.

As a sophomore in college, this was one of the first public health courses I would take. I recall being intrigued about using the public health approach in a discussion around bike helmets. Looking back, I also recall not fully understanding the practical applications of the social-ecological model. (Don’t worry, I do now.) Dr. Remington’s lecture sparked my interest in public health, and I started thinking about the larger population-level ties to the microbes I was studying in my other classes (as a microbiology major). I realized I was much more interested in the population level of infectious disease and prevention rather than studying the physiology of these microscopic organisms.

Fast forward five years and two academic degrees later (I went to get my MPH, as I didn’t want to spend one more minute doing wet lab bench work and I was so ready to dive deeper into public health) and now I’m a pop health fellow! I could go on and on about what an amazing year it has been as a fellow, but I’d like to zoom into one aspect of my fellowship experience: being a discussion leader for the UW Pop Health 370 course.

This spring semester I had the opportunity to lead a weekly discussion for the very class where my public health interest began. Despite my initial nerves about leading a discussion of 15 students only a few years my junior, I had a great experience leading them through discussions on a wide variety of public health topics.

So let me jump right into the positives of leading section 317:

1. Had really great students

  • I was a bit nervous that I might have a class of students who were shy to participate or were not excited about the topics; however, I was lucky to have a class that was eager to discuss the topics each week. The students were fun to interact with and brought their own opinions and experiences to share and reflect on.

2. Realized my own level of knowledge

  • I can now confirm that teaching really does help you to understand and retain knowledge better than just studying it. From leading this discussion, not only have I been able to really assess my knowledge level around public health fundamentals, but I also deepened my understanding of them and feel like I can more easily apply these concepts in my everyday work.

3. Strengthened my facilitation skills

  • The first tip they give you about facilitating is to embrace the awkward silence. This is something I’m glad I knew going into the discussion group, as there were plenty of times this occurred, and eventually students chimed in. I also learned a number of facilitation skills from leading this discussion including strategies to create a space where all views are valued. I found it extremely helpful to hear from other discussion leaders about their methods and best practices for meaningful discussion.

4. Jumped into things I loved from grad school

  • Outbreaks and case studies and vaccines, oh my! Another highlight for me in leading this discussion was revisiting some of my public health passions that I don’t work on every day. One of my favorite discussion activities was an outbreak investigation case study, of which I did many in grad school. It was fun to share my excitement about these public health topics with students and see what topics excited them as well. 

5. Applied critical thinking skills

  • These skills have come from all the learning I’ve done in the first 11 months of the fellowship through learning community meetings, the Community Teams Program through the Healthy Wisconsin Leadership Institute, and my placement site at DHS. I noticed in preparing for discussion each week, I was able to delve further into readings and videos in ways I hadn’t before. I found myself thinking more critically about articles which sparked questions for me to ask students around things such as upstream determinants of health and equity considerations.

In reflecting on my Pop Health 370 discussion section, I must also add that even the best experiences have their own challenges.

1. Many public health topics lead to hard conversations. We talked about gun violence, the diabetes epidemic occurring in Native American communities, and social determinants like poverty and racism. While these are all crucial discussions to improve public health they can be difficult to debate without also discussing, in-depth, strategies to solve these problems, including the work people are currently doing to combat these issues.

2. On that note, I think there is a need for bringing more solutions and current examples of good work to these conversations. It’s certainly difficult to get through everything you want to in a 75-minute discussion, but I feel that it would have improved the discussion to also read and explore solutions and current strategies. We did spend some classes exploring the evidence-based programs and policies that could improve issues, but I would have loved to have students take a deeper dive into these and get exposure to the many organizations, agencies, and individuals doing great work.

3. Lastly, it was difficult for me to not receive any feedback from students throughout the semester. Trying to read students’ faces did not give me much indication about how I was doing as a facilitator and I’m anxious to hear what my students thought about our discussion so I can explore ways to be a better discussion facilitator/leader.

Overall, I had a wonderful time leading this discussion and I’m so grateful that my fellowship experience brought me back to the place my interest in public health began.

Section 317 – outdoor policy discussion! The students went through the nominal group process to select a policy they thought would have the biggest impact on public health and eliminating disparities.

Section 317 – outdoor policy discussion! The students went through the nominal group process to select a policy they thought would have the biggest impact on public health and eliminating disparities.

From Minneapolis to Milwaukee: Progress, Reflection, and New Beginnings

A blog post written by Maddie Johnson, 2018-2020 Fellow

Near the end of my graduate education, I knew I wasn’t ready for it to be over. Two years seemed gone in an instant and though I felt like public health was the right field for me, I wasn’t prepared to focus on a specific career path. I still wanted space to learn and grow while also working towards positive change in the community I lived in. This sentiment is what drew me to the Wisconsin Population Health Service Fellowship. Working a full-time job while also creating time to learn and reflect seemed countercultural in a society that emphasizes constant doing rather than being. When I found out I was offered a position in Milwaukee working as a population health fellow, I was conflicted because many of my peers were moving straight into the working world. I had never even visited the city of Milwaukee – was I ready for such a move?

At the time of the fellowship offer, I was living in Minneapolis, Minnesota and finishing my last semester at the University of Minnesota in their master’s in public health program with a focus in public health administration and policy. The morning after I was accepted into the fellowship, I trudged along University Avenue to my graduate research assistantship at the UMN Rural Health Research Center. After arriving, I relayed the news to my supervisor, Dr. Carrie Henning-Smith,  conveying my feelings of excitement but also reservation. To my surprise, my supervisor informed me she completed the same fellowship ten years ago with site placements in Milwaukee.

Now that I am entering month 11 of my two-year fellowship, I look back on this coincidence, reflecting on my experience at the University of Minnesota and how my education led me to this program. I revisited my connection with Dr. Henning-Smith recently and asked her about her fellowship experience and career since then. During her fellowship, Dr. Henning-Smith was placed at the Milwaukee County Department on Aging where she worked on various projects including developing a county-wide wellness council. She was able to have a secondary placement at a small nonprofit, which worked on social services and wellness programming for older adults living in public housing. One of her favorite parts of the fellowship was having the freedom to explore different opportunities and areas in public health while also affirming her interests.

After completing the fellowship, Dr. Henning-Smith went to the University of Minnesota to complete her PhD with the goal of conducting research to address systemic problems. She states that the fellowship helped her work on her skills in listening and community engagement in a meaningful way. I find a lot of parallels when looking at Dr. Henning-Smith’s journey and my own journey. I currently have duel site placements at the City of Milwaukee Health Department in the Office of Policy, Strategy and Analysis as well as the Center for Urban Population Health. I am finding that success in the real world looks different from my academic studies, especially when incorporating the philosophy that change starts with the community.

While working at the UMN Rural Health Research Center with Dr. Henning-Smith, we created the Mental Health in Rural Communities toolkit (funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)), which refined my interests in mental health and in stakeholder engagement, both interests I have been able to explore throughout my fellowship. I connected with Dr. Henning-Smith recently to see what she wanted to highlight from this toolkit. I hope that this blog post can serve as a reflection of both of our fellowship experiences, but also shed light on a wonderful resource which will be helpful to rural communities across the country. Dr. Henning-Smith states that there is an urgent need to think about addressing mental health in rural communities. This toolkit provides a means to do so as we interviewed mental health programs across states to gather information on promising practices in the field.

When I talk to most people about how they came to work in public health, I find that our journeys may differ drastically, but we have one commonality: the path was indirect and at times far from obvious. Another commonality I have found is that public health folks have an innate desire to seek truth, justice, and a better society. I have met these individuals both in my time at the University of Minnesota and throughout my fellowship program. The fellowship has given me and others before me the opportunity to reflect, learn, and explore with the overarching goal of providing community service and creating positive system change. For these opportunities and future opportunities, I am grateful to my university professors, mentors, and fellowship staff. My path feels less uncertain and I know year two of the fellowship will provide me with more clarity, inspiration, and guidance.

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A Rural Fellow’s Experience: Challenges & Opportunities

A blog post written by Niki Euhardy, 2017-2019 Fellow

There are many definitions of “rural,” and I would argue in the case of the fellowship, “rural fellow” more or less describes fellows located outside of Wisconsin’s two largest cities, Madison and Milwaukee. During the lifetime of the fellowship, rural fellows have been placed in locations such as Shawano, Menominee, Wausau, Stevens Point, Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls, La Crosse, Lac du Flambeau, and Wisconsin Rapids - where I am placed. These are not all small towns - Wausau is the largest city in northern Wisconsin with almost 40,000 residents, while La Crosse has a population of 51,834, and Eau Claire boasts 68,587 residents. Even the smaller towns are still located near larger cities. I say this because I think sometimes “rural fellow” might scare people off a bit by leading them to think they’ll be in a town of a few hundred people with nothing to do for 2 years, but this is far from reality.

Okay, I’ll stop with my geography lesson of fellowship placements now, and talk about something I know more about - my own experience as a rural fellow. Let’s start at the beginning. I grew up in the Northeastern region of Wisconsin in an unincorporated town and attended high school in a town of about 7,000 people. It was my experience growing up in a rural area and seeing the various issues affecting my community that led me to pursue a degree in public health. To be clear, I am by no means “against” big cities - I actually lived in Madison and Milwaukee for 6 years for undergrad and grad school before returning to rural Wisconsin, and I loved every second of it and I still get excited when I get to visit those places. But even after those experiences, my heart remained in rural Wisconsin which is why I was so excited about the opportunity to be a rural fellow.

My placement site is the Wood County Health Department, which is responsible for serving about 73,000 residents throughout the county. To provide a bit more context for those who might be unfamiliar, Wood County is smack dab in the middle of the state - Pittsville, a town located in Wood County, is actually the geographical center of Wisconsin (you’re welcome for the fun fact). I work in the health department, which is located in Wisconsin Rapids, a beautiful city along the Wisconsin River, home to 17,806 residents. As my time as a fellow is quickly coming to an end, I’ve learned there’s both opportunities and challenges that seem to be unique to rural fellows, and I’d like to share what I think has been my biggest challenge and biggest opportunity so far along my journey.

In my experience, the most challenging part of being a rural fellow is not being located close to other fellows. For example, some of the Madison-based fellows get together regularly for lunch and some of the Milwaukee-based fellows occasionally meet up for coffee or activities. I’m located at minimum a 2 hour drive from the locations where other fellows are currently placed, including the other rural fellow. This is challenging because it would be great to get together regularly in-person to share our experiences, have reflection time, carpool, and just enjoy some fun, social time together. Luckily, we have our monthly Learning Community meetings where we all get together for the whole day, and this has definitely been one of my favorite parts of the fellowship because of the relationships fostered during these days.

On the flip side, one of the biggest opportunities of being a rural fellow who’s not located close to other fellows is you’re often provided more leadership opportunities since you’re the only fellow in the region. I was fortunate to have been placed at the Wood County Health Department where they are looked to as a statewide leader in public health and are very progressive in their work. Two of my biggest projects during my fellowship have been focused on advancing health equity and incorporating a health in all policies (HiAP) approach within the City of Wisconsin Rapids by conducting health impact assessments. These are big projects the health department needed a fellow to take the lead on due to limited internal capacity. Health equity and HiAP are newer concepts within the local health department context in Wisconsin and few local public health workers are proficient in these areas, so this was a unique leadership opportunity for me. Had I been in a larger organization with more capacity, it’s unlikely I would have been given such a big leadership role in these projects. I definitely was not an expert in either of these areas when I came to Wood County, but I was eager to learn as much as I could about these topics, and I learned how to be proactive, independent, and brave in the process of leading the health department’s health equity and HiAP work.

I want to keep this blog brief, so I’ll wrap it up, but the main things I want people to know about being a rural fellow are 1. It definitely doesn’t mean living in a remote place with nothing to do; 2. Not being located near other fellows can be challenging; and 3. Unique leadership opportunities are abundant. My fellowship experience has been incredible, and I wouldn’t trade my time as a fellow for ANYTHING.


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Reflecting on September

Blog post by Masami Glines, 2018-2020 fellow

Now that it is early November already I feel so behind to post this blog on this topic, but I would like to reflect on September Northern Wisconsin Trip to visit Menominee and Oneida tribes, and also the Ho-Chunk tribe in the Kickapoo Valley area.

It was eye-opening for me to see the historical damage done to the tribes over many decades.  They are still in the process of recovering and trying to find inner peace in their hearts.  As a Japanese who didn’t grow up in the US and didn’t learn US history in school, it was almost shocking.  I didn’t know that Native American children were sent to boarding schools, being separated from their parents at young age, being forced to learn English and forget their own language.

Language is such an important part of cultural heritage.  The longer I have not been using my own language regularly, the more I feel this way.  There is so much subtlety you can manipulate at ease with your mother tongue, and good feeling coming from being able to do that.  How terrible it must have been for parents of those children.   Their children missed the opportunity to learn this subtlety while they were forced to learn the language that was not theirs.  How bad the children must have felt when they grew up and realized that they didn’t know what the elders were talking about.   Not to mention other cultural traditions, way of thinking, ceremonies and values that might have been lost due to these interruptions. 

At least what we humans can do is to learn from the past.  We should be smart enough not to repeat the same mistake.   We have to keep working on directing the society to be equitable, liberating, and just, not to be divided and hurt from oppressing/marginalized relationships.  And this work is part of Public Health. 

Reflecting on the 2 years: Perspective from an Alum

I listened to an episode of the podcast “Hidden Brain” last week about parenting and they used a metaphor I want to share. The idea is that there are 2 styles of parenting, one is the carpenter and the other is the gardener. According to Allison Gopnik, a psychology and philosophy professor at UC-Berkeley,

The "carpenter" thinks that his or her child can be molded. "The idea is that if you just do the right things, get the right skills, read the right books, you're going to be able to shape your child into a particular kind of adult.”

The "gardener," on the other hand, is less concerned about controlling who the child will become and instead provides a protected space to explore. The style is all about "creating a rich, nurturant but also variable, diverse, dynamic ecosystem."”

I don’t parent. But I do spend a lot of time thinking about career goals. So when I heard this, I thought, “the fellowship is totally a garden.”

We arrive at Fellowship orientation after having gotten through grad school by doing all the right things. We read and critiqued the articles, nailed presentations by using a bunch of buzzwords, and networked with all the right people. But then we got to the Fellowship, looked around, learned that there are people who don’t like chocolate, and other people who only have like 2 cousins, and realized that sometimes things just don’t make logical sense.   

For someone who has historically found success by doing what I’m told, accepting that achievements aren’t always linear hasn’t been easy. But it’s been necessary. Perhaps I’m alone on this one, but for me, the Fellowship is where I learned that careers aren’t always like Legos, they are more like flower beds. What I once saw as building blocks, I now see as seeds. This idea works for me, not just because I have already seen some flowers from my Fellowship seeds, but also because my preceptor, Mary, is a gardener.

I’ll back up. As a new Fellow, I immediately wanted to take a class. Like I said, I have deep rooted ideas that taking a class leads to knowledge which means success. Do x and get y. Mary was in support of me sitting in on a GIS class so I could learn mapping skills, so by the end of August, I was back in the classroom. About halfway through the semester, I realized that this wasn’t a good use of my time and that knowing abstract concepts about satellite images wouldn’t do too much for me or my work. Also Google eventually gave us fusion tables, so who needs a GIS class anyway? When I talked to Mary about this and asked how she felt about me abandoning the GIS class, she told me about how she once took a master gardener class and found that knowing plant taxonomy wasn’t helping her keep her greens alive. She said that sometimes, it’s better to just do the work. And to me, that’s what the fellowship is all about. Getting your hands dirty, moving from concepts to actions, trying, failing, and just doing the work. 

When I look back on my time as a Fellow I think about things like that GIS class. Ideas I had and things I started, finished, or decided to walk away from--- which isn’t easy for me. Everything I did was a seed planted. There were a lot of false starts, or things that felt like one-off projects, with nothing building off of each other. At the time, it felt discouraging. Despite our efforts to find “the thing” I would do, the project that I could make my own, Mary and I ended up scattering seeds. In the moment, it felt like I was just running up against a bunch of bad luck. A couple of small grants we applied for weren’t funded, there was no clear direction to take when trying to build structured community partnerships, one training was enough for another group and no follow-up was needed, and so it went. I never found my thing. But by the time I left the fellowship, I left with a portfolio of work that carried me into the job I have now. In trying to take on large projects, I left with about 3 pages of small projects that hit all of the CALs and landed me a job that, after 6 months, I can confidently say that I love.

As a Fellow, I worked with Community Health Workers (CHWs). Sure, the grant we applied for wasn’t funded, but I was welcomed into their meetings and built relationships that had me creating program materials, helping with survey recruitment, then designing and presenting a poster with a CHW at WPHA.

Earlier this year, I facilitated an HIV training at the Mexican Consulate office here in Tucson with CHWs who work on the US-Mexico border. I even got to do it in Spanish. Prior to that, I conducted HIV trainings with CHWs and healthcare professionals from a couple of American Indian tribes in Northern Arizona. It is because of the work I did with Sherri Ohly and the CHWS in WI that I understand the crucial role CHWs play in engaging people in care.  

While spending time in these tribal communities, I thought about the Lac du Flambeau tribe who welcomed our Fellowship community into their work in my early days as a Fellow. After that first Fellowship meeting learning about tribes in Wisconsin, I tried to find a way for Fellows to partner with one or several of the tribes, with little success. But here I am, building partnerships with other tribes in a very different place, but who face some of the same challenges I learned about in Northern WI and then in all of the meetings that followed in which I was tested on cultural humility, patience, and bureaucracy. As much as I can understand these issues from the lens of a white lady, I think I get it. And that’s because of the Fellowship.

It is also because of the Fellowship that I’m able to have conversations about pronouns and  gender identity, which is great because I’m currently coordinating and helping to facilitate sex positivity trainings with HIV care and service providers.

I could go on and on. The data visualization lessons we had in Fellowship meetings and the poster and fact pages I made with CHWs gave me design skills that my team here has come to rely on, and I love that. I’m also able to answer questions about state health departments. And this time around, I was on the application end of the grant cycle instead of the review side. Turns out it’s helpful to have reviewed applications at the state level. The monthly Fellowship meetings I planned gave me an understanding of event planning tasks that I use every day. My participation in the WI Women in Government seminar, all of Alan’s storytelling sessions, and helping to create a podcast gave me the boost I needed to go to an op-ed workshop for women. I’m working on drafts of op-eds and, more personally, essays and stories for a local monthly storytelling event for women.

In summary, the post-fellowship life is full of color. Like in a garden, I’ve found that with the Fellowship, timing and pace don’t always work the way you expect them to, and that’s ok. You can plant two things right next to each other and they will grow in different directions at a different pace. You can’t control the weather or which way the wind blows, just as much as you can’t change who becomes the president, whether or not your work will be funded, who leaves your organization, or who might randomly drop in on a Fellowship meeting unexpectedly. So no, you can’t always control things. But you can plant seeds, be patient, and grow through what you go through. And then one day, you’ll find a blossom from something you forgot you even planted. For those of you in the middle of your Fellowship, know that growth is happening, even when the seeds feel scattered, the conversations feel random, and the buds are hard to see. The longer I work in public health, the more I realize the value of the Fellowship. I learned and grew more than I realized I would. And I hope that the Fellowship community and the CPDU sees some fruits from my time as a Fellow too.  

Thank you all for being there and creating a supportive, rich environment that allowed me to explore my interests and find my way on the path, even if that path took me somewhere unexpected. Thank you to my cohort for your unconditional kindness and support over the past two years. And mostly, thank you Mary, for always showing up and showing me how to do the work.

All my love from Arizona,

Britt

Britt Nigon, MPH 2016-2018 cohort (Preceptor - Mary Pesik, DHS)

Outreach Coordinator. Arizona AETC & Petersen HIV Clinics

Infectious Disease. University of Arizona College of Medicine

Learning Community Reflections: Tribal Health

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” – Lilla Watson, Aboriginal activists group, Queensland, 1970s

In September, our learning community ventured up to northeastern Wisconsin for an engaging two-day monthly meeting where we learned about the culture and health of the Menominee and Oneida tribes.   

An important theme was the powerful role that the US history of colonization and systematic oppression of native communities has played in causing the current health concerns of these communities today. Just as salient was the resilience and innovation of the Menominee and Oneida peoples and how they incorporate their culture for improved health and wellness. Jerry Waukau and Diane Hietpas of the Menominee Tribal Clinic explained how compulsory boarding schools, in which Indian children were forced by law to attend government and church run schools for assimilation, caused loss of language, culture, disrupted family ties and community structure, and often resulted in child neglect and abuse (aka ACEs) which is at the root of some of the cyclical family trauma in community. The work that the clinic and its partners are doing around culturally appropriate and person-centered trauma-informed care is making a huge difference in the community, has drastically improved their high school graduation rate, and led to their Culture of Health Prize recognition by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. At the Menominee Cultural Museum, Dave Grignon informed us of the success of ongoing family culture camps in improving substance abuse issues in the community. He also told us about the unjust Termination (I.e. loss of sovereignty) of the Menominee Tribe in 1961 and the major losses of land control, jobs, access to health care, and wealth that resulted, taking a major toll on their quality-of-life. I find it an atrocious abuse of power how the Federal government has stopped recognizing the sovereignty of tribes or forced them off of their land whenever the existence of the tribe was inconvenient for government or corporate profits.

Fellowship Learning Community learning about food sovereignty, heirloom seeds and community rebuilding from Menikanaehkem.

Fellowship Learning Community learning about food sovereignty, heirloom seeds and community rebuilding from Menikanaehkem.

Personally, I was most inspired by our visit with the grass roots, culture-centered group, Menikanaehkem. I was moved by their guiding philosophy when planning community events, which is, “Is this event going to bring hope, belonging, meaning, and purpose to this community?” As a way to resist the deficit-minded, consumerism culture of our time, this group is refocusing on their traditional cultural practices, values, and spirituality that guided their way of life for thousands of years. Guy Reiter of Menikanaehkem embodied that traditional spirituality with his peaceful presence and conviction to do what is best for the community. He verbalized this mindset when he said things like, “the creator loved us so much that he gave us our language and culture,” “we’re adding to the beautiful story of our people,” and “what matters more than everything is that we connect with each other right here in this moment.” It was easy for me to see how reconnecting to a mindset of gratitude, beauty, and connection with the land and their ancestors can build personal and social resilience and improve the health of their community.

Our discussion with Menikanaehkem has got me pondering. In many ways, Menikanaehkem is the opposite model of governmental public health: grassroots vs. hierarchical institution, culture vs. science, personal connection vs. systems and processes. How should authority, decision-making power, and resources be distributed among these models? How can our rigid institutions be more responsive to the needs of the people in the way that grassroots movements are? What can governmental and academic agencies learn from grassroots groups, whom are closest to the largest inequities, about how to improve the social and physical environment of the communities we live in and serve? How can those of us who work in governmental public health support or collaborate with grassroots groups like Menikanaehkem in a way that honors their history, expertise, culture, and way of life?

Mr. Dave Grignon at the Menominee Cultural Museum as the Fellowship Program is hosted by the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin.

Mr. Dave Grignon at the Menominee Cultural Museum as the Fellowship Program is hosted by the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin.

I don’t anticipate having all of the answers anytime soon, but we were able to discuss that last question a bit more than the others. During our visit with Menikanaehkem, one memorable piece of advice was that “if you don’t understand us, recognize our strengths, and know your own, then you can’t help us.” Melissa Metoxen from the Native American Center for Health Professions (NACHP) and the Oneida Reservation gave similar advice. She said that the key to working with tribes is to enter into relationship with members from the tribes. That means building trust over time by putting the tribes’ interests first, meeting face-to-face, and working hand-in-hand.

~ Cory Steinmetz