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Indigenous Men's Summit explores health, masculinity

BEMIDJI--What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be an American Indian man? How do you overcome personal or historical traumas? Those are the sort of weighty questions more than 100 American Indian men have pondered this week at an In...

BEMIDJI-What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be an American Indian man? How do you overcome personal or historical traumas?
Those are the sort of weighty questions more than 100 American Indian men have pondered this week at an Indigenous Men's Summit in Bemidji. The four-day summit, which ends Friday, covers a broad spectrum of issues facing men in general and American Indian men in particular-practicing and promoting spiritual, mental, and sexual health, for instance-within the context of traditional Indigenous teachings about a man's roles and responsibilities in a family or community.

"As Indigenous men...we live in two worlds," said Ken Thompson, one of several summit organizers. "As we become accustomed to doing things in ways that aren't our ways...we learn how to be men, and not necessarily the men that we're meant to be as Indigenous people."

Many of those traditional ways fell or were pushed to the wayside by colonialism, many organizers said.

"What assimilation did to us. It didn't make us human beings. It took away our humanity," said Joe Day, another summit organizer who's the chairman and co-founder of the Northwest Indian Community Development Center, which hosted the summit.

Several dozen attendees, young and old, on Wednesday night played the Moccasin Game, which challenges teams to strategically search for a special marble hidden, with an equal amount of strategy, by an opposing team underneath one of four squares of fabric. There was some tongue-in-cheek bravado-"I'll find it no matter what you do"-style banter-but even that light-hearted wind down to the day tied into "ogichidaa" teachings, which can help guide a young man toward and into adulthood, explained Chuck Grolla, another summit organizer.

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"The Moccasin Game teaches how to work as a team. How to lose. How to win. How to lose with grace. You're not always going to win everything," Grolla said. "It teaches teamwork. It teaches focus. The game goes better when you're more focused, and anything in life is like that."

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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