I am a student at FDLTCC, where I am pursuing my associate’s degree in liberal arts while also earning my Chemical Dependency Counselor certificate. The college’s web site reads; “The mission of Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College is to provide higher education opportunities for its communities in a welcoming, culturally diverse environment.” At the age of 49 years I am considered an older student at FDLTCC. Being a business owner and an army combat veteran, I have had a lot of experience with mission statements. I have seen plenty of beautifully written mission statements that promise one thing but deliver the complete opposite. FDLTCC has proven to me many times that they are guided and live up to their mission statement. So when I was asked by FDLTCC president Larry Anderson to speak at The Heart and Soul Feast I gladly accepted and felt honored to do so.
The feast was held in the college gym on April 8, 2015 from 1:00 P.M. through 3:00 P.M. and was very well attended by students and facility. I arrived early to this event because it was my first time attending an Anishinabeg cultural ceremony. My fellow students and faculty members greeted me at the door much like one would expect when arriving for church services. There were posters on the gym wall with markers close for anyone that wanted could write something positive down to share. I watched as a gentleman walked around the gym floor with a bowl of smoking sage. When he made his way over to me he explained that he was smudging the room to purify it and I stood and participated as he explained this to me.
Earlier in the day I was talking to a fellow student named, Jeremy Wilson. Jeremy is a Native gentleman who is also a connect retention liaison at FDLTCC. I had Jeremy in my Astronomy class last semester and enjoyed learning with him. I was telling him that after years of not sharing my combat experience I recently wrote a story about how my father’s friend and one of my boxing coaches Tommy Legarde appeared to me in Iraq and got me through a very rough time. Jeremy explained to me that in the Ojibwa culture the ones who you hold dear are always near by to help us if we invite them and are observant. While smudging I invited my Dad and Tommy to the feast.
I later found out that the gentleman who was smudging the room is named Dan Jones and is one of the FDLTCC instructors. Dan also explained the proper protocol of the ceremony to those in attendance, and the importance of the drums and how when they are being played that the Spirits may hear and start to notice that we need them to attend. He also explained how the Pipe is offered to the seven directions inviting the spirits and to show respect to them. The one thing that stood out to me was when Dan shared an Ojibwe saying, “If you take one step, the Creator will help you take the other step.” There were pencils and paper on the tables where we sat. Dan explained anyone who wished could write down any burden or anxiety and along with a tobacco token we would cast those things that are holding us down into the fire and ask the Creator to alleviate them from us.
When I was called upon to speak I discussed how my experience in Iraq in combat was my heaviest burden. I told the group on how much FDLTCC has helped me to grow academically, personally, and to my great joy Spiritually. I put that burden of war into the fire and asked the Creator to take this burden from me.