Education Helps Students Walk in Two Worlds

Education Helps Students Walk in Two Worlds

Christie Poitra

Sitting around an oval table in a small hotel conference room with sweating water glasses and colorful tea packets, the Michigan Indian Education Council (MIEC) balances conference planning with a healthy dose of humor.

The MIEC has been in existence as a nonprofit organization since 1989. Yearly, MIEC spearheads a conference dedicated to Native education. March 8 to 10 marked the 42nd Annual Native American Critical Issues Conference in East Lansing, Michigan. The theme, Anishinabe Leadership, Education, Diplomacy, aimed to advance more positive “cross cultural communications between American Indian parents and students” with schools and governmental agencies to better support Native education endeavors.

MIEC prides themselves on uniting “local, national, and Native and non-Native voices.” Conference attendees included Native Nations from across the Great Lakes region, teachers, parents, students, elders, principals, administrators, professors and college recruiters.

The keynote speaker for the event was Dr. Gregory Cajete, director of Native American Studies and an associate professor in the College of Education at the University of New Mexico. Sessions were diverse and included workshops on Anishinaabe language revitalization, Native curriculum, grant writing and preparing for higher education.

Festivities also featured a guided tour of Michigan State University for eager students.

When asked how the theme was selected, MIEC board member Judy Dawn Pamp, assistant director of the Ziibiwing Center, a museum built to share the history of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, highlighted the “need for education and the knowledge of our traditions to embrace formal education because they will help us walk this path.” She also noted that there is an “art of communicating with people who might not share your perspectives that is incredibly valuable to us.”

Melinda Hernandez, MIEC secretary and professor at Lansing Community College, shared that “we need to be able to function in both worlds” and “educators need to reach out to improve their knowledge about the diversity here, and how to be more supportive of our students.”

More information about the Michigan Indian Education Council and Native American Critical Issues Conference can be found at

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