Red Lake Nation Decolonizes Child and Family Services
August 17, 2023
Red Lake Nation is taking a unique approach to the delivery of child and family services. Ombimindwaa Gidanawemaaganinaadog, formerly known as Red Lake Family and Children's Services, used their Ojibwe language to rename the division, which translates to "Uplifting All of Our Relatives."
This uplifting of the community was felt last month when the department hosted an event called July Extravaganza. The event brought families together by reclaiming connection through natural resources, culture, and community. The event featured a ceremony, lots of food, cultural teachings, games and activities, a sweat lodge, and more.
"We are reclaiming who we are, decolonizing our practices and going back to our Anishinaabe values," Cheri Goodwin, Executive Director of Ombimindwaa Gidanawemaaganinaadog told Native News Online.
Goodwin said the Tribe's family and children's services system started out by using the Western child welfare model; now, the team is working to decolonize the system to make it better for Red Lake families. For example, when the department is alerted to a child safety concern, providers work with the family to identify natural supports and the strengths within the family. Resources are provided to keep families together and to reduce the risk of out-of-home placements.
Goodwin said Ombimindwaa Gidanawemaaganinaadog staff learn about the current impact of historical and intergenerational trauma as it relates to the difficulties that Native families face today.
"When a family doesn't have their basic needs met, it's the system that is failing, not the family," Goodwin said. "The system we currently work in was set up for us as Native people to fail."
Their intergenerational family wellness model is led by culture and includes an interdisciplinary, across-systems approach that honors the resiliency of families.
The Izhaadaa Agwaajing, "Let's Get Outside" program is a collaboration between Ombimndwaa and Red Lake Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The program includes some of the resources that Red Lake has to offer. Red Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake located entirely in the state of Minnesota. The two parts of the lake are known as Upper Red Lake and Lower Red Lake, which lies entirely within the Red Lake Reservation. The lake is a popular destination for outdoor activities like fishing and cultural ceremonies.
Goodwin said one of the focuses this past summer of the Izahaadaa Agwaajing program was the July Extravaganza, an event held on the east side of the lake, an area known to Red Lake Band members, as the "Cut Off."
"This area is one of the most pristine areas of our homelands," Goodwin said. "The "Cut Off" has historically been a place the Red Lake citizens gather to pray, heal, swim and celebrate family ties. We set up a dock, water toys, beach toys, kayaks, and a pontoon for the community to utilize and they really loved it. We are finally going upstream instead of downstream."
The success of the July Extravaganza was greater than what Goodwin and her team anticipated. They planned for 300 attendees, and more 1,300 people attended. Additional food was purchased from community vendors and staff stepped in wherever needed to make sure all who wanted to participate were able to.
"I think what happened when we did that ceremony at the Cut Off prior to our events was that a big blast of good energy landed right in the area and spread through the community like wildfire," Goodwin said.