Educators within Carlton County have recently joined forces in an effort to produce a series of webinars called “Niibidoon: Relationship Weaving,” geared specifically towards engaging members of the tribal and non-tribal communities in an effort to build relationships.

Each webinar is free and open to the public, with funding split among the Carlton County Initiatives Department, Systems of Care grant funds, REACH Mentoring, the United Way, Community Memorial Hospital and the Carlton County Collaborative, according to Troy Homstad, of Carlton County Public Health.

The main goal of the project is to create a healthier community, said Carlton County Community and Collaborative Support Specialist Mandi Rosenbrock, and the idea was initiated by youth in the area who expressed concern following the murder of George Floyd last summer.

“Conversations with Jay,” hosted by Jason Schlender, was the first presentation given on Tuesday, Feb. 23, with four more set to occur between now and the end of June.

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Schlender works as an educator through the University of Minnesota Extension program and has an office in Cloquet.

The remaining webinars will be split among Schlender and Minnesota educators Lisa Hinz, Jocelyn Hernandez-Swanson, Fawn Sampson and Holli Arp.

Schlender's work focuses on American Indian leadership and civic engagement, and he is a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe in Wisconsin.

Jason Schlender (Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota Extension)
Jason Schlender (Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota Extension)

“It’s really just about a .. space to have some progressive conversations,” Schlender said.

“Conversations with Jay” saw about 35 participants from the area, and focused heavily on rural equity — specifically the issue of white supremacy.

“It’s an opportune time to have those discussions about serious topics and events that have taken place in this country, and more so on a microscopic level within some of our rural communities, too, so that we can get to know our neighbors better and provide some opportunities for education and conversation,” Schlender said.

At one point in the evening, Schlender asked participants to put in the chat area something that comes to mind when they think about white supremacy. Answers included “Trump,” “fear,” “capital (sic) insurrection,” “blaming” and “unequal response.”

Schlender said he did not want people of a white heritage to feel guilty, but rather for everyone to come together, learn from one another’s experiences and “coexist.”

He shared personal stories of his heritage and family life, while also speaking on issues such as human trafficking and police brutality.

Schlender brought forward many ideas throughout his presentation as well, such as providing a better education in Carlton County high schools about tribal communities — especially the ones in the area — and adding tribal information to some road signs.

“For myself, I’m honestly a little bit afraid … I kind of live in fear because sometimes you just don’t feel safe being a person of color,” he shared. “There’s a lot of work to do.”

Rosenbrock said she felt the presentation went well, with a quality discussion and questions brought forward.

“We’re making small steps and that’s something to be proud of,” Schlender said.

The county is hoping to pursue similar projects in the future, Homstad said, and officials want to host as many of these types of events as possible.

Future "Niibidoon: Relationship Weaving" webinars

March 23: “Thanksgiving Unstuffed: The St. Patrick’s Day Edition," presented by Jason Schlender, Jocelyn Hernandez-Swanson and Fawn Sampson.

April 27: “Let’s Talk About Race," presented by Lisa Hinz, Jason Schlender, Jocelyn Hernandez-Swanson and Holli Arp.

May 25: “Exploring Unconscious and Implicit Bias," presented by Lisa Hinz and Jason Schlender.

June 22: “Finding Your Voice; Leading for Change," presented by Lisa Hinz and Jocelyn Hernandez-Swanson.

All programs run from 6-8 p.m. and require registration.

To register visit https://extension.umn.edu/courses-and-events/niibidoon-relationship-weaving.

Holli Arp (Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota Extension)
Holli Arp (Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota Extension)

Jocelyn Hernandez-Swanson (Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota Extension)
Jocelyn Hernandez-Swanson (Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota Extension)

Fawn Sampson (Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota Extension)
Fawn Sampson (Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota Extension)

Lisa Hinz (Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota Extension)
Lisa Hinz (Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota Extension)