White Earth Extension Agent Visits Pygmies

May 15th, 2005 | By | Category: 16-4: International Indigenous Education, Tribal College News
By Philippina Halstead

Stephanie Williams, extension service coordinator at White Earth Tribal and Community College, served on an assessment team to the Republic of Congo for several days in January 2005. Williams, a member of the White Earth Band of Chippewa Indians, was chosen for the assessment team after answering a nationwide search by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service and the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service.

On this trip, the team explored developing a program to increase the skills of Pygmy youth. If funded, the program will focus on training for Pygmies in home gardening, market gardening, and health and nutrition.

“I have a life-time goal of getting back to more self-sustaining practices with less emphasis on materialism,” Williams says. Before becoming the extension service coordinator at the tribal college in 2003, she was the director of the Project Grow -White Earth Health Division, providing community education on various aspects of home and forest gardening as well as food and nutrition. She is certified in Native herbal medicine.

She sees her work as helping the greater community. Last year White Earth Tribal and Community College (Mahnomen, MN) initiated an Environmental Science Program, which she hopes will eventually support student exchanges in conjunction with the indigenous gardening project.

Despite the recent wars and the present fragile peace in the Congo, Williams found the assessment trip exciting and informative. Although she admits the trip was dangerous, she hopes the project is funded so she can go back.

The Pygmy people were very receptive to the team. “They are still slaves and want very much to be accepted by the neighboring Bantu people,” she says. Williams sees it as an opportunity to work through historical trauma with the Pygmy people in the indigenous garden programs by adapting an Ojibwe model.

Presently the team is hoping that funding will be approved by USDA, Smithsonian Institution, or other sources to begin the project.

Philippina Halstead is a freelance writer based in Atlantic City, WY.

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