To kick off Labor Day Weekend, Project Mezinichigejig hosted Lakeside Stories, a presentation of theater developed by Mille Lacs Band youth. The event featured dramatic readings of plays and re-enactments of memories written by Mezinichigejig participants.
In the Eddy’s Resort conference room after a hearty taco dinner, Claro de los Reyes and Marion Lopez, both from the Atlantic Pacific Theater, explained some of the work they had done with the youth that led to the modest stage in front of the lake. Claro, founder and Executive Director of Atlantic Pacific, hoped that the project would give the youth space to storytell and create narratives that too often go unheard.
The plays were read by Mezinichigejig staff and volunteers, including Charmaine Shivers, Tony Buckanaga, Pamela Johns, and Byron Ninham. The dramatic readings were both humorous and deep, touching on issues such as defying expectations and gang violence. Thematically, virtually all of the stories were about families, with the Mille Lacs Reservation and its outlying communities at the epicenter of the individual dramas. It was an impressive body of work for a youth summer program.
Most impressive, perhaps, was the amount of interest and work put into the production by Mezinichigejig participants. The youth — boys and girls — were a mix of shy and excited to show off their work, and each bravely played their part, shining brightest as they re-enacted each other’s memories in a sort of mixture between monologue and improvisation. The short memories — about anything from a questionable sandwich to crafting lessons — were narrated by an individual student while fellow participants acted out the story. These too were both funny and touching, and the students deserve credit for not being self-conscious and for supporting one another.
Project Mezinichigejig has had a busy summer developing the artistry of Mille Lacs Band youth. From poetry videos
to school murals — all created with the help of established artists — it has been one project after another. The results have been unique to see, partially because of their artistry but also because of the variety and sheer number of projects. Mezinichigejig has brought youth (and a few adults) opportunities to work with silversmiths, poets, playwrights, fashion designers, painters, actors, and animators.
While the program is not scheduled to be continued next year, project organizer Adrienne Benjamin is proud of what it has accomplished. She credits her staff and assistance from language teachers and other supporters as instrumental to Mezinichigejig’s success. This success can be evaluated in participation records or in the colorful evidence left behind, such as the mural that Jon Thunder designed and painted at Nay Ah Shing Upper School with the help of students.
Perhaps, though, a better measure of success for the program comes in the form of this quote from one of the youth participants concerning the theater workshops and performance. "This was therapy for me and was a lot of fun. It also helped me to get up and talk in front of people, something I don’t normally do."
Lakeside Stories wasn’t the last that Mezinichigejig had to offer. Finishing out the summer of 2019 was another seminar with Jon Thunder. This time, program participants learned how to do stop-motion animation. Between Jon's experience with animation and the kids' enthusiasm for making things that are uniquely theirs, the video turned out to be intriguing and full of the lessons our children have to teach us. Hopefully Mezinichigejig has opened the flood gates for all kinds of new projects.
Visit Project Mezinichigejig on Facebook for more inform tion on the program and to see the debut of the stop-motion project.