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INTERVIEW

Prairie Rose Seminole - “We must reclaim our land where we can and make our voice heard”

Prevention Specialist for the Boys and Girls Club of the Three Affiliated Tribes in New Town, ND, USA explains why the land is so important to her community

Prairie Rose Seminole at the Salzburg Global session Beyond Green

Prairie Rose Seminole at the Salzburg Global session Beyond Green

Patrick Wilson | 26.02.2016

When considering the role the arts can play as a catalyst, as was the topic for the Salzburg Global program Beyond Green, it is important not to overlook the role heritage can play, as it often comes hand-in-hand with our connection to the natural world and how we produce food.

Prairie Rose Seminole is a prevention specialist for the Boys and Girls Club of the Three Affiliated Tribes in New Town, ND, USA. She is a citizen of the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota, a descendant of the Sahnish/Arikara, Northern Cheyenne and Lakota Nations, and a member of the Waterbuster Clan.

In her role with the Boys and Girls Club, Seminole uses data from different agencies including law enforcement, public health and government, to understand and explain the scope of issues facing Native American society – such as alcoholism, depression, obesity, domestic violence, and low life expectancy – with the ultimate goal of find effective strategies for intervention.

“It allows us to make culturally relevant approaches and, for a tribe like us, allows us to lift up our heritage and culture and the art forms within that, whether related to food or quality of life. Sustainability is really at the heart of that because it allows us to reflect on who we are and what our legacy is as a people.” 

Seminole works very closely with food and encourages people to respect nature and understand the cultural practices surrounding food.

“I took for granted the education my dad gave me on planting, gardening, stories of the food we plant, and the songs we sing around our food. It all helps to represent the idea that food is sacred – we have a relationship with it. Food has spirit and life because it gives us life. 

“We don’t use pesticides or harmful things that will impact the earth in a devastating way. We were taught how to live with the earth. Certain things go into the earth and give us life and compliment what else can grow. So we look at complimentary plants: what can grow well with corn, beans or squash?”

Like so many Native Americans, devastation of their land is something Seminole’s tribe is all too familiar with. After the forced relocations due to floodings for hydroelectric dams in the 1940s and 50s, the Three Affliated Tribes’ land is now facing the scourge of unregulated oil exploration, with oil being extracted directly next to farmland.

Seminole now passes on her learning surrounding heritage and food culture to the next generation, some of whose knowledge is sorely lacking. 

“I remember when we took the kids out to garden and told a story about a corn seed and they didn’t know that by planting a kernel of corn a whole stalk would grow! They just didn’t know that’s where corn came from. Being part of enriching the soil, planting the seeds and weeding allows them to make the connection that they can feed themselves and that they’re not just dependent kids anymore. They can be a provider and provide for their family. It’s a rite of passage that comes with all these teachings; you learn you’re not only a provider for your family but for the environment too.”

The multitude of health and environmental issues faced by Native Americans are compounded by their lack of representation and participation in the state and federal government and electoral system.

“We’ve been left out of the system for so long it’s going to take huge organizing efforts from inside our own communities to feel a part of that system and structure again.

“We have been seeing native voters shifting election results but the fact is that they have to come to us. We don’t go to them to get their interest in serving us as a population or to feel like our interests are being kept in mind from a federal level.”

Polling locations are another issue facing Native Americans. Tribal and federal elections can take place on the same day at two different locations.

“On a reservation, my interest is going to vote at the tribal election because that benefits me. It’s hard for people to see how the state and federal system will actually affect them or having a direct impact even though it really does when it comes to policymaking.”

At her “fireside chat” on “We Are What We Eat,” Seminole told Fellows, that her community urgently needs to “reclaim our land where we can and make our voice heard.” 

Seminole’s participation in Salzburg was made possible thanks to a grant from the Bush Foundation. Reflecting on her time in Salzburg, she said: “I’ve had an incredible experience here. The insightfulness of each of the participants and the dialogue we’ve had has allowed me to gain so much knowledge of international frameworks of environmental justice. I think my biggest take away is having a better understanding of the language we use to speak about the issue of sustainability and better channels to actually effect decision making.”


Prairie Rose Seminole was a participant of the Salzburg Global Seminar program Beyond Green: The Arts as a Catalyst for Sustainability, which was supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and the Bush Foundation. More information can be found here: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/561

26.02.2016 Category: FACES OF LEADERSHIP, SUSTAINABILITY, IMAGINATION, FELLOW UPDATES, JUSTICE
Patrick Wilson