Traditions, fitness — and ukuleles! Youth program adjusts to COVID-19


Ge-niigaanizijig, the Mille Lacs Band’s youth program, which operates in all three districts as part of Aanjibimaadizing, has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with unique programming and a shift from face-to-face meetings to Zoom conferences.

According to Carlos Merrill, who directs the program, students are responding well and staff have stepped up to the challenge.

Cheyanne Peet is the program coordinator for Minisinaakwaang (District II) Ge-niigaanizijig. She said the programming looks a lot different now than a year ago. "Normally we get to see the youth four to five times a week and interact with them," she said. "This helps us get a sense of what they need. It has definitely been a challenge not seeing them on a regular basis."

In regularly scheduled Zoom meetings, Cheyanne has covered voting, resiliency, and the story of the jingle dress, among other educational topics. "Sometimes we will be using this time to play games and have fun, get some laughs in, mainly to help build the relationships between staff and youth."

New clubs

Recently, several clubs have kicked off via Zoom, focusing on art, books, fitness, cooking, and music. Each district has the same clubs led by local leaders, with the exception of the music club, which is open to youth in all districts and led by Justin Eich, a multi-instrumentalist who is teaching kids to play the ukulele. The first 10 youth to sign up received a free ukulele, and due to the popularity of this class, another may follow. Plans are in the works to teach music differently once the pandemic is over.


Ge-niigaanizijig has also started Ojibwemowin (Ojibwe language) classes with Memengwaakwe (Samantha Peet). For now, she will teach twice a month, once for elementary age youth and the other for teens. "It is our goal to include Ojibwemowin into our lessons and activities," said Cheyanne.

Youth Assembly

A youth assembly has been organized and is open to youth ages 9 through 20. "This assembly was created to gain young Band members’ perspectives about the planning and building of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe," said Cheyanne. "They will share their ideas and recommendations on how they would like to build the community and the Ge-niigaanizijig Program. The main goal is to hear and empower the voices of our future leaders."

All positions have been filled for District II, and two positions have been filled for District IIa. The assembly is broken down into three age groups: 9-11, 12-14, and 15-20. There will be two seats for ages 9-11 and 12-14 and four seats for ages 15-20. Two members from the oldest group will be chosen by their peers to sit on the all-district assembly and will represent their districts by sharing ideas, plans, and needs.

Buckanaga Social Club Experience

A series of activities will be taught via Zoom by Amber Buckanaga, the founder of Buckanaga Social Club. There will be six different activities:

— Making tobacco pouches (November 28 — 10 spots)
— Wood slice painting (November 29th — 10 spots)
— Ribbon skirt classes (December 5–6 — 5 spots, December 12 —5 spots)
— Canvas beading (December 19 — 10 spots)
— Q&A with Amber Buckanaga (December 20)

All materials for these classes will be provided and delivered. Sewing machines are limited and will be loaned to youth on a first-come, first-served basis.

Support services

Ge-niigaanizijig provides a variety of support services that help youth to reach the goals that they have set with their mentors.

Watch for more coverage of Ge-niigaanizijig programming in upcoming issues of Ojibwe Inaajimowin.