Community Learning Exchange

Lummi C.E.D.A.R. Project

Lummi CEDAR Project, located at the Lummi Indian Reservation in Bellingham, Washington, helps young people engage in leadership opportunities and get involved in their community. They promote collective leadership across generations to advance individual and community well-being. The Lummi nation is part of the Coast Salish people. They have endured generations of discrimination and are working to create a more just and healthy future for the community.

How do they support young people?
The Lummi CEDAR Project believes that Native American values and traditions that have existed for generations can be used as tools to rebuild the community. Elders carry the community's schelangen–the Lummi way of life–and youth carry the Tribe's future and dreams. By connecting the generations – uniting the wisdom of the elders with the dreams of the youth – they are creating a renewed capacity to work together on changes that will strengthen the community. These youth adult partnerships are working on projects in the community. They are educating the community through their Safe Streets Project. Too many young people were being hurt or killed in traffic accidents or through substance abuse. Safe Streets helps people be safe and valued in their environment or community.

They are also working on helping tribal agencies implement a restorative justice model that helps young offenders and community members restore the wholeness of community while holding the offender accountable. They are doing this by learning to use the circles process from Roca Inc. in Chelsea, MA (see KLCC Bridge article below, May 2008).

Creating collective leadership capacity.
Community based organizations often struggle through leadership transitions. Culture affects the way people have conversations about different perspectives. The Lummi CEDAR project ultimately learned how to let go and allow leadership succession to take place in a culturally appropriate way. The result was that young Native American leaders emerged to collectively hold the stewardship of this organization with the elders in the community (see second KLCC Bridge article below, June 2009).

KLCC Bridge
May 2008, Volume V, Issue 4, page 11

Like many Native American cultures, the Lummi Nation has a long tradition of using talking circles to address issues in the community that affect the wellbeing of the community at large. In times past, however, the talking circles, though an intrinsic part of the life of the community, were not used to address specific community problems. From April 22- 25, there was a chance to revamp the traditional view of the applicability of circles to addressing specific ills confronting the modern Lummi Community. During this weekend, Saroeum Phoung, formerly of KLCC’s Roca site in Chelsea, Mass., arrived at Lummi to conduct the Lummi Peacemaking Circles Workshop, an intensive training in peacemaking circles. “This was my first time coordinating circles having an outsider come to talk about it, and I was nervous,” says Shasta Cano-Martin, Lummi CEDAR Project program manager.

According to Cano-Martin, there was a core group participation of about 20 to 25 people who attended the workshop all four days, with daily attendance fluctuating between about 20 and 40 people, and she plans to rely upon them to be a support system for people in the community keeping their own circles. They will be trained as keepers so that there are a critical number of people familiar enough with the process that they can be called upon if any contentious or problematic situation arises.

Beyond the everyday challenges that can be addressed through peace circles there are applications for individuals facing the criminal justice system. Chief Justice Tim Gailey accompanied Phoung from Massachusetts because of his commitment to providing widespread training in jail alternatives programming. He believes in the process and came with Phoung on his own time to offer information on useful ways to approach different situations within the court system if there is a commitment to finding better ways to help people deal with conflicts or even criminal situations. Justice Gailey has been using it in his own court and recognizes its value.

Other broad applications are also possible, in Cano-Martin’s opinion. “Circles can be brought into organizations and adapted to everyday life,” she says. “[They] can go into meetings and boardrooms, too.” The key is to keep it going in the community. With this end in mind, Lummi is planning to expand future impact through another training that will take place in June to reach out to a broader segment of the community. “Although we use talking circles, it’s not a process we use consciously every day to deal with tough things going on in our community. Here, we broke it down to building relationships, honoring and respecting one another, not just rushing through.”

KLCC Bridge
June 2009, Volume VI, Issue 5, page 5

Over the past several months, changes have unfolded at KLCC’s Bellingham, Wash., host site, the Lummi CEDAR Project, which have opened opportunities for young people. Misty Oldham has been part of the local fellowship since she was 16 and now, at age 21, she has become an integral part of the newly constituted two-person staff as a program and administrative associate.

“For me, I feel like in [under] a year, I have grown into a whole different person,” says Oldham. She has taken on a level of responsibility that she could not have envisioned for herself when she joined the fellowship. “I didn’t feel, even when doing community work, like I could really express myself or really speak up,” she says. “Over these past few months, since the leadership has overturned, I’ve stepped up to the plate and offered skills I didn’t even know I had.” As her role has shifted over the past year, she and the newly minted director, Shasta Cano-Martin, have shouldered the majority of the staffing and program work, and have learned to work cooperatively to make it work. “We are both balancing our work and how we can help one another; it is important that we support one another administratively and [with regard to programming].”

Oldham’s personal story over the past five years has taken a series of interesting turns as well. After high school, she moved away to attend Spokane Community College for a year, intending to remain away from Lummi. She was working through some family issues and wanted to be someplace where she could be in charge of starting to define her own life. She found being in a new community to be a challenge on another level, however. “Being in a big community, I did not find a lot of opportunity to volunteer and get involved in the right place where I could fit in, or where my skills could,” Oldham says. Some urgent family issues drew her back to Lummi where she found that her time away had reshaped her view of home. “I decided to move back and [was surprised] at how much more I appreciated Lummi; I just wanted to be back home knowing that there is a sense of family to help support you in any work that you do.”

The work that occupies the bulk of Oldham’s time is at both the CEDAR Project and at the Northwest Indian College where she is enrolled as a full-time student. She is committed to using her education to further the Project’s goals. “I have to better myself in order to benefit the community in a more productive, meaningful way,” she says.

Under the collective leadership of Oldham and Cano- Martin, the Project continues to promote peacemaking circles, safe streets and digital storytelling for young people from the youth academy. They rely heavily on peacemaking circles within their staffing structure as a communications tool, incorporating their learning into their day-to-day operations. Things are starting to come full circle for Oldham. “I’m finding my place back at home.”

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