Clickable image - Wade Fernandez playing guitar
Wade Fernandez, an internationally award-winning Menominee musician, created a song using the words from the Midwest gathering’s participants, capturing the spirit of reciprocity, hope, and relationship embodied in the event. Video and photo credit: Nicholas Schwitzer, College of Menominee Nation Sustainable Development Institute

Foster: encourage or promote the development of (something, typically something regarded as good)

Reciprocal: given, felt, or done in return

Relationship: the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected

Hope: a feeling of trust or a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen

On September 11 and 12th Second Nature hosted an event that felt like the words above: a space grounded in sharing, vulnerability, love, accountability, and wisdom. Our first event of this kind, Fostering Reciprocal Relationships for Climate Action: A Midwest Gathering was designed to strengthen our connectivity and relationship-building capacities to increase our collective strength. This is viewed as a critical step in advancing our collective impact around climate change.

During this small conference, attendees from institutions across the region gathered on the Menominee Reservation to center and learn from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Students, sustainability staff and faculty, and diversity, equity, and inclusion professionals learned more about what it means to be in authentic relationships with those who hold different identities, digging deeper into the hard questions around cross-cultural and cross-racial relationships while moving towards the collective goal of climate action.

Participants gathered at the Menominee Casino and Resort. Photo credit: Nicholas Schwitzer

We felt grounded by the wisdom of those who shared with us: Rebbeca Edler, College of Menominee Nation; Katherine MacHolmes, DEIAJ Associate for Second Nature; Wade Fernandez, international award-winning Menominee musician, and Rosa Cabrera, University of Illinois Chicago. Other panelists and session leads led conversations with openness and humility which allowed the small group to share personal and vulnerable experiences with each other. 

“Let the stories lead and the science follow.”

These words come from Jeff Grignon, whose Menominee Forest tour was a highlight for many. Jeff’s natural ability to speak about the forest as part of us will hold a special place in all participants’ hearts. He compares fungi, critical to the health of the forest, to our internal (heart)work being critical to our ability to do the external work of climate action and social justice. If we have not done the work internally, it will show up in our relationships – tending to what people cannot see is just as important as tending to what they can. 

Participants head into the Menominee Forest on a tour with Jeff Grignon, who shared stories of the forest’s ecology and encouraged us to “let the stories lead and the science follow.” Photo credit: Nicholas Schwitzer

Jeff also spoke about looking to the plants like we do our human elders, observing them to find the teaching they have for us. To fully experience this, Jeff asked us to go find a group of plants and observe them using all of our senses, to let them teach us. Each of us felt humbled to be welcomed not only onto the Menominee Reservation, but also to the Menominee Forest. This is a place the Menominee have carefully and lovingly stewarded for centuries, which we were given permission to visit during our stay.

For Blythe Coleman-Mumford, Second Nature’s Southeast Climate Programs Manager, the Midwest Gathering was a unique space that fostered dialogues that manifested authenticity and genuine curiosity. The experience encouraged her to sustain a softness, vulnerability and presence that enabled her to connect with people in a way she hadn’t allowed herself to before, or had previously felt unsafe doing. Blythe was deeply encouraged to see the space created by the Midwest Gathering offer an opportunity for growth for non-BIPOC participants, and a site for reflection for BIPOC participants on their own journeys in cross-racial and cross-cultural relationships. The Gathering created a rare chance for both BIPOC and non-BIPOC participants to see each others’ work being done in real time. 

In Katherine’s words, the space felt like it honored everyone in the room. It honored and held each of our diverse identities, and left us with the understanding that a new world is possible. But in order to build it we have to slow down, intentionally come into community with each other, moving beyond our fast-paced culture and develop our ability to hear, see, feel, touch, and taste this newness.

We can do it together. We’ve felt it now.

Thank You

We are extremely grateful to Rebecca Edler and the College of Menominee Nation for their support of this event; to the Menominee who graciously welcomed us to the Menominee Reservation; Wade Fernandez who shared the gift of his music and presence; the staff at the Menominee Casino and Resort who hosted us; Jeff Grignon for sharing his wisdom and teachings about the Menominee Forest; Nicholas Schwitzer of CMN’s Sustainable Development Institute for sharing his photos and videos with us; and to all of the speakers for sharing their time and wisdom:

And, thank you to all our participants who joined us from across the region!