From Europe to South America, Dylan Bizhikiins Jennings has traveled the world, but still calls the state of Wisconsin home. Originally from Odanah, Jennings graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, double majoring in Anthropology and Archaeology with certificates in American Indian Studies and Environmental Studies. He is now Director of Public Information for the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission and also serves as a Tribal Council Member for the Bad River Band of Lakes Superior Ojibwe.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC)? Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission works with eleven member Ojibwe tribes to protect, preserve and implement treaty protected rights and resources. On the tribal side, I serve my community as an elected Tribal Council Member for the Bad River Band. We develop and pass legislation to better serve our community and advocate for our membership in D.C. and everywhere we go. We work very hard and diligently to bring opportunities to our community so that our people can continue to live a long and healthy life.
As communications director of GLIFWC, what projects or initiatives are you most excited about right now? We began a project known as Ogichidaa Storytellers which has been a wonderful adventure. In the Ojibwe language, “Ogichidaa” refers to warrior, and we’ve set out to document the work that many tribal leaders have done and sacrifices made to protect harvesting rights, directly linked to preserving a very old way of life.
What skills and experiences did you gain from your time at UW-Madison that helped prepare you for life after graduation? UW-Madison has exposed me to a wide array of contacts that I still utilize today. I was able to network and form relationships with individuals, professors, and agencies that are critical to the work we do with natural resources and education. Coursework and study abroad opportunities allowed me to broaden my perspectives and see other parts of the country and world. I come from a small community and being able to bring what I learn back to my people has always been critical for me.
What advice do you have for students who are considering returning home after college? For those that come from smaller communities, we are very proud of every student that makes it to postsecondary education. We will be happy no matter where you end up. However, we need new leaders to emerge and expose our communities to new ideas and help us tackle real world problems. We need our community members to retain our way of life while learning new problem-solving strategies to help our communities thrive. My advice is, if you have the opportunity to return home and offer newfound perspective and knowledge, then do so – your community will be grateful!
Thanks in advance to you and other members of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa for agreeing to take our 2018 Wisconsin Idea Seminar participants out on the Kakagon Sloughs on the southern shore of Lake Superior. Can you describe what they will see when they are out on the water? We are excited to host the [Wisconsin Idea Seminar] in 2018. Education is the key for people to understand different viewpoints and we use our pristine area as a nexus for preparing the region for environmental threats that could affect everyone. The sloughs are a very unique watershed with a lot of healing properties both physically and spiritually. Sometimes people describe the sloughs as a place where food literally grows on water, or a place where the water meets the sky. Words cannot accurately express the beauty of this place and we will allow visitors to formulate their own interpretations.
Who or what inspires you? I am continually inspired by our young people. Our children never cease to amaze me for the compassion and empathy they show. The kids in our communities do amazing things and their voices are very powerful. I am also inspired by our spiritual leaders around Indian country. They always put their people first and this selfless attitude is something I try to live by every day of my life.
We understand that you enjoy learning languages. What languages have you studied and how has studying languages shaped the way you think about communication and relating to others? I’ve been blessed with many opportunities to learn different languages. I was able to take many years of Spanish in high school and college. I was also fortunate enough to travel to South America and utilize what I had learned. I have also learned some Hindi-Urdu, and Italian. I studied abroad in Naples, Italy, and became immersed in the culture and language. Currently, I work hard to learn our Ojibwe language and work with other language learners to revitalize ojibwemowin in our community. I think language has been an integral part of my life and has shaped my perspective on preservation of culture. It has also taught me about how our people used to communicate with each other and I hope someday we can return to these efficient and eloquent ways of speaking and interacting. Our language is very colorful and descriptive and it teaches a lot of compassion. I think we could all do with a little more of these virtues in our everyday lives.
Hello, Wisconsin! Stories of the Wisconsin Idea is a profile series that highlights the remarkable ways Wisconsin Idea Seminar alumni, collaborators, and others are animated by the Wisconsin Idea on and off campus.
Answers have been edited for length. All photos courtesy of Dylan Jennings.