Wisdom Steps conference promotes health among tribal elders

June 23, 2016

Discussions and celebrations were abundant at the 16th annual Wisdom Steps conference, which took place June 14-16 at Grand Casino in Hinckley. The three-day event provides health education, health screenings and healthy living activities for elders in Minnesota’s American Indian communities.

Workshops covered such topics as sacred tobaccos, healing touch and eye and mouth health. The conference also featured a morning walk, a play performance, a traditional dress fashion show and special awards and acknowledgements.

Terry Kemper, a spiritual consultant of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, spoke about his experiences with sacred tobaccos. Kemper sprinkled tobacco in the hands of each audience member at the start of the presentation, and provided them with tobacco plants. “I can tell you all my stories, but it won’t help until you pick up your own tobacco,” Kemper said. “Then you’ll get your own story.”

Tobacco companies have given the plant a bad reputation by putting chemicals in tobacco and pushing it on children, Kemper said. Native Americans have used the sacred plant for ceremonies and prayer and, when people see how the tobacco plant is connected to everything, they become alive, he said.

At a time when Kemper was struggling in the world, he remembered seeing 50 little birds fly down to eat some tobacco. This made Kemper realize that no matter what one is feeling, those birds will always sing their song. “I’ll always remember that,” Kemper said. “That’s how powerful that tobacco is.” From his experience with tobacco, and seeing more and more people use it in ceremonies, he says he began seeing the good in people.

Following the workshops on Wednesday, participants saw a traditional dress fashion show as well as a 10-minute play “Wiiiwaaganag” (“Friends”) performed in Ojibwe and English.

The Shakopee Medical Mobile Unit was available for attendees to receive cholesterol, glucose, and blood pressure checks.

Wisdom Steps began in 1999, and is a partnership of the Minnesota Indian tribes, the Minnesota Board on Aging and the urban Indian communities in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth.