Dawnland Native Ministries
My name is Biidassige which means “Light that is Coming” (one of my friends referred to me as Light Bringer). I was named with my Great Aunt Ella Jane Petoskey asking me to carry her grandfather’s name. He was born at first light and was given the name Biidassige at birth. The City of Petoskey is named after him.
The Abenaki called their homeland “Dawnland” because the morning sun reached them on the east coast first before traveling west. We also teach that the eastern direction is the direction knowledge, birth and light come from. I am sharing this to explain why we have titled our outreach effort “Dawnland Native Ministries.”
I was the House Manager and Spiritual Traditionalist Counselor in a Native Treatment Program. Clients often shared their feelings and I became aware of some core issues that were consistent with every Native client. I also was aware that these core issues existed in our family. I wanted to do something to address these residuals.
I made a proposal to the program director with some suggestions. He approved the idea on a voluntary basis, but it was decided by management that addressing boarding school residuals and historical trauma might jeopardize their government operating grants. I prayed about this and the Creator told me I was going to have to take this effort outside of any jurisdiction.
I had planned and written incorporation application before, but not in a stand-alone program as “Dawnland Native Ministries” needed to be. The purpose for it to be a stand-alone effort was because the history that we needed to address in assisting any healing process from these historical trauma residuals would prove caustic and accusatory. Our purpose was not to do that, but to become one of the educators with information that would inspire a greater sensitivity and consciousness in our Native population and non-native population as well.
We needed a non-profit identity. After looking at the application process and realizing I would need a Philadelphia lawyer to fill it out we were at kind of a loss. I decided to approach our home church, The Apostolic Church of Auburn Hills, and show our program format to see what their reaction might be. After seeing our videos and hearing my presentation the ministry of the church supported our commitment and offered to put “Dawnland Native Ministries” under one of their missionary 501 3c licenses.
We created some basic informational brochures and began mailing them to different entities in academia, tribal governments, local, state and federal agencies, and public schools. It was a slow process with few invitations, but with each appointment more invitations came. We were presenting in tribal conferences, federal agencies, state colleges and before school student bodies.
Because the idea was relatively new, there were little funds that could be appropriated to such an effort. We did receive honorariums at many of the programs, but they did not cover our expenses, so I sold my art work and books to supplement our costs. Eventually, we started receiving donations to help us with our expenses which also allowed us to provide funds for critical needs among some of our people. After our third or fourth year of operation our bookkeeper was preparing our annual statement for our 501 3c mentors and said that she did not know how we were doing what we were doing because there were not enough funds coming in to support what we had been doing. Of course, we were using whatever funds we could garner from our art and book sales and using our personal funds to help meet the need.
I worked and studied to get better at what we were trying to do. My wife and I have approximated the amount of hours I have spent in just research and believe it is somewhere around 30 to 40 thousand hours. I use to have four large totes filled with research papers and printed material regarding the subject matter.
In 2011 I had been praying and told my wife that I was feeling guilty. We started out identifying a target population, but were presenting at events and conferences most of the target populations could not get to or pay registration fees for. My wife asked me if I had considered a motor home. She had a part time job and I was trying to develop more income with my art and through book sales. I did have a social security check coming and Barb was working part time as a latch-key teacher in a local elementary school. We had not credit and I did not think our bank would even accept an application for a loan to purchase such a vehicle.
I started looking on Craigslist and we found a 1992 Ford Coachman for $9500.00 and only 39,000 miles on it. We rode in it and despite my lack of faith filled out an application for a loan and three days later our bank called us to say our check for the loan was ready. We had a 28 ft. vehicle setting out at the end of the driveway with no money for gas to drive it anywhere, but we marveled at the idea.
We knew if we liquidated what material goods we had, pooling the money, it would be a good start. Years before we had met a couple who were genuinely interested in what we were doing and planning to do. They also had an agenda involving a Salmon Ceremony on the west coast near Bay Center, Washington. They called and told us they wanted us to attend this ceremony with them. I had to tell them we did not have the financial resources to make this kind of trip. They, in turn, sent us the expense money we needed and we would have my social security check to fall back on (did we know what we were doing? Absolutely not)!
In early September of 2011 we left Lincoln Park, Michigan and drove to Monticello, MN where we parked overnight in a Walmart parking lot. The next morning we took off and that night stayed in Dickinson, N.Dakota. The next leg was to rest area on our way west and then on to a KOA outside Butte, Montana needing showers. The next morning we left and arrived in Long Beach, Washington.
We were part of the Salmon Ceremony and had to stay four days in the RV park due to high winds off the ocean before heading south into Oregon and California. We traveled on to Prescott Valley, Arizona and then on to Albuquerque before traveling on to El Paso, TX to visit our daughter and her family.
At one point we were stranded outside Modesto, California out of funds. We called our home church and they wired funds to the local Walmart so we could continue our journey.
After visiting our daughter in El Paso we traveled back to Prescott Valley and then on to the San Carlos Apache Reservation where we met Rev. Billy and Rita Grant and heard our first Bible study in the Apache language. I was asked to minister in the second half of the service. We went on to an RV park west of Phoenix and then on to Banning, California to spend the winter on the Morongo Mission Band Reservation and visited the Soboba and San Caliente Reservations.
I had a speaking engagement in Battle Creek the following May. As soon as the winter broke we headed east visiting the Cherokee and Creek Reservations before going on to Tennessee and then, back to Michigan.
In preparing our final report we had traveled 12,000 miles over a ten month period and I can’t remember the number of tribes we visited. While in Banning, California and riding the public transit we met a woman who had been a professor at San Jacinto College. She contacted them and they asked us to come and do a presentation for them.
I have said all that to say this: we did not preplan any of this trip. It happened step by step and day by day. Financially, we were not sure how we would do it when we started out, but the funds came when we needed them. I believe this happened because it was what the Creator wanted to happen.
When we began addressing historical trauma issues there were no academic programs anywhere addressing these issues. There was an annual program held in Albuquerque and a well-briety group in Denver. I was asked how many of us Native people were on the road doing what we were doing. My answer is, “I did not know of any.” We were blessed to be given this responsibility.
Initially, this road was not easy. This type of effort was new and tribes were reluctant, as well as local, state and federal agencies, but day by day and year by year the amount of interest increased.
Today, there are many academic degreed programs for anyone pursuing counseling degrees in this field. Our RV sets out at the end of the parking lot. We are getting the mechanics checked out in preparation to go on the road again. Most of our trips will be local due to my age and medical issues.
We hope to travel to the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona and the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Reservations in S. Dakota. If all goes well we will be traveling to St. Ignace, Michigan, Garden River and Batchewanna Bay, Ontario, Baraga and Watersmeet, Michigan. Our outreach effort still is based on donations and we are glad to say that there are people who support what we are doing.
I will be 71 my next birthday. I cannot think of doing anything else. Miigwech (many thanks) for reading this.