By Li Boyd Mille Lacs Band Member
The dictionary definition of a cohort is simple: a band or group. This is what the Blandin Foundation calls the training groups that take part in their Blandin Reservation Community Leadership Program (BRCLP). Mille Lacs Band community members Craig Beaulieu, Li Boyd, Govinda Budrow, Gilda Burr, Colin Cash, Maria Costello, Shelly Diaz, Jeremiah Houser, Shena Matrious, Amy Opager, Dean Reynolds, Arlyn Sam, Kaitlin Thompson, and Virgil Wind graduated from this acclaimed program last month.
This program is tailored to help trainees become more effective leaders in their community groups at home, but it goes a step further. Each individual is also taught skills to better function as a part of any group and even promote cooperation between different groups.
This might seem counterintuitive in a leadership seminar, where one could expect more focus on individual development and tactics for self-reliance. While these are included in the BRCLP training, understanding the advantages and strategies for group work are strongly emphasized core concepts within the program. As a community leadership initiative focused on Indigenous modes of operation, inclusion is a priority. As Margaret Mead said, “A small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” And that’s what the Blandin Foundation strives to create with each cohort – world-changers.
The full cohort – comprised of individuals from the five Minnesota reservation communities of Lower Sioux, Upper Sioux, Shakopee Mdewakanton, Prairie Island, and Mille Lacs – officially reconvened on February 6. They spent nearly an hour and a half catching up with each other, talking about the significant changes already made in their lives.
They returned eager to learn and excited about the ways in which they might be able to use their new skills. This day and a half of additional training provided the opportunity to study group dynamics, especially in regard to peacemaking. Participants seemed to have no doubts about the value of the training, and for some, even obstacles to attending became opportunities to practice problem-solving skills. Absentee participant Maria Costello kept tabs on progress through daily updates with Mille Lacs participants and other members of the full cohort.
Blandin cohorts work from a place of sharing and experience. Each person brings their own knowledge into the group and gains perspectives and ideas they might never have had on their own. In the end, the whole of the group is stronger, more prepared, and more motivated.
The training concluded with a family feast and commencement ceremony hosted by the program’s generous trainers. Each cohort member was awarded a plaque not only for completion of the training, but for ongoing participation as leaders in their communities. Gifts also included a book of stories by previous graduates, a jackpine pin symbolizing new beginnings, a journal, and a photobook chronicling this cohort’s training from start to finish.
Each graduate took a moment to speak about the training and reflect on the benefits of the program. Many admitted to coming to know themselves better and feeling free to recognize their own gifts as personal strengths. Many were thankful for new friends, a trusted network of like-minded community leaders, and the chance to take new knowledge home and make a difference.
Applications for the next cohort of the Blandin Reservation Community Leadership Program will be accepted by nomination only, though self-nominations are encouraged. Blandin also supports an alumni network hundreds strong with connections to initiatives such as the Oyate Network through the Tiwahe Foundation. Grants are available to program graduates for community initiatives, and the Mille Lacs community’s newest Blandin alumni are already getting together and making plans to be the difference they want to see in the world.
Q/A: What did the BRCLP training give you that you think will be most useful to you as a community leader?
Gilda Burr: Blandin developed and enhanced my skills, knowledge, and understanding while giving me insight into my own gifts. It gave me tools to use all these things together to address issues and work on ways to build and sustain my community.
Arlyn Sam: The ability to work with people who are cut from a different cloth, even if they have different personalities, viewpoints, or priorities.
Dean Reynolds: The most important thing I got out of the training is trusting other people. I usually take things into my own hands, especially at work. But with the group that went, I know I can trust them to have my back with important issues or even let me know a better way to solve problems with the community.
Govinda Budrow: I think it’s the structure of creating community change and then having a network of people that are trained in that same structure to do the work that needs to be done.