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Foster grandparent program connects tribal elders with local youth to pass down cultural knowledge

Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council

The Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council recently recognized volunteers of its foster grandparent program, which is an effort through the Americorps Seniors Program to engage seniors in the community.

The initiative connects elders like Bill Roundwind with tribal youth in need of mentorship.

As the Bad River Tribe’s pipe carrier, Roundwind leads healing and talking circles in the tribal community.

As a foster grandparent, he started doing the same thing for kids – both at the local high school and at the Lincoln Hills youth prison.

“We go around and hold a feather and each person takes a turn and gets to talk. They talk from their heart and no one interrupts,” he explains. “When I listen to them, I try to pick up – as an elder – what they are saying that maybe I can offer some wisdom to.”

Roundwind says sometimes, he lets these conversations flow freely. Other times, he picks a topic that’s on everyone’s mind.

“If it was today, we might want to talk about what’s going on in the world in terms of the violence, the shootings,” he says. “How is that affecting our young people? How are they feeling?”

This fall, he’ll start leading healing circles at Lakeland Union High School.

His goal is to alleviate some of the tension that results as students transition from a local elementary school where nearly all their peers are indigenous to a high school where very few of them are.

But Roundwind says kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from the foster grandparent program.

“By the time you leave, you feel like you received a gift as well,” he says.

It’s given him and other foster grandparents a purpose and a way to pass on lessons learned over a lifetime.

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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