Dispatches from Our Own Wisconsin: Dylan Jennings of Bad River Band
Dylan Bizhikiins Jennings, an enrolled member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013. He is now the Director of Public Information for the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission and also serves as an elected Tribal Council Member for the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe. Jennings was a key collaborator for the Wisconsin Idea Seminar’s 2018 Big Lake Tour, which included a special boat ride in the Kakagon Sloughs, the lush wetlands of Lake Superior’s southern shore on the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe Reservation.
We caught up with Dylan to ask a few questions about how the community-oriented Bad River Band has been coping with isolation amid this unprecedented time.
Have you seen your community come together in response to COVID-19? If so, how? Yes, our communities have an acute sense of coming together and helping one another during tragedy or crisis. During the COVID-19 pandemic, locally we have seen tribal members checking in with one another and our departments stepping up to help elders and families. Regionally, we have seen many communities providing much-needed traditional medicines and traditional foods to their people.
Have you had to modify the daily operations at Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) in response to COVID-19? If so, how? Yes, early on, the staff was directed to work from home to limit exposure to one another. GLIFWC leadership understood that the tribal communities we work with have major health disparities that could potentially make our tribal nations extremely vulnerable to Covid-19. We did not want to unintentionally spread any sickness so all Division Heads developed work at home plans, and made the necessary shifts to protect staff and our communities. Springtime fish harvesting is also a big part of the Commission’s work and one of the best times to collect harvest data. GLIFWC Division’s worked tirelessly to develop monitoring plans that incorporated the necessary safety measures to abide by social distancing orders and best practices.
Can you tell us about the GLIFWC’s cookbook, Mino Wiisinidaa! (Let’s Eat Good) and how recipes that feature traditional foods are especially helpful during times like these? It’s a known fact that our traditional foods are medicine, and have helped our communities to thrive for many generations. The Mino Wiisinidaa! cookbook was developed years ago by our Planning and Development Division. Tribal leadership was adamant that we work vigilantly to help our communities return to old knowledge and food systems to help address the glaring health disparities that exist in Ojibwe country. The project features many wonderful recipes and harvesting tricks that anyone can pick up and try. During a time when food is sometimes scarce with all of the “panic buying,” it’s extremely important to become more food independent and to know where to find food- it’s all around us.
As an elected Tribal Council Member for the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians, what is your biggest concern during these uncertain times? And what has brought you hope? During these uncertain times, I worry about our community members, our elders, and our youth. I know our people are very strong and extremely resilient, but the isolation is extremely tough for a community that is accustomed to hosting gatherings, visiting each other, and sharing meals. I also worry about the residual psychological trauma that could be caused by this pandemic. I do see a silver lining and hope. Covid-19 has caused people to slow down and spend more time with family. It has also compelled many families to spend more time outdoors and harvesting. When I see families out catching fish, or gathering food, this gives me hope.
Are there ways that you or others in GLIFWC are collaborating with UW-Madison as your community responds to COVID-19? They have reached out to check on our community so I’m sure there is some collaboration to come.
Do you have any advice for others on keeping spirits up during times like these? There are many teachings and old stories that our people maintain that talk about the power of our earth. Our teachings tell us that we shouldn’t be reckless during these times. Instead, we should respect this sickness by exercising caution and taking care of one another. Check in on your neighbors, family, and elders. Also, plant a garden and dive into the food sovereignty movement. This is the perfect time to equip yourself with invaluable harvesting knowledge. Spend time outdoors in the sunshine and stay busy!
We also highlighted Dylan Jennings in a Hello, Wisconsin profile in 2017 where he shared advice for students and what inspires him to learn world languages.
Dispatches from Our Own Wisconsin is a profile series that showcases fresh stories, observations, and insight from our Wisconsin Idea Seminar partners who are facing, engaging, and addressing critical issues in their communities.