Nurturing Nature — Curt Kalk Shares Cultural Knowledge


Photo and Story by Amikogaabawiikwe (Adrienne Benjamin) Mille Lacs Band Member

Curt Kalk is a former Secretary-Treasurer and has also served in other capacities for the Band, including Commissioner of the Natural Resources. Curt is an avid traditional harvester; spearing, netting, making maple sugar, and wild ricing are just a few of his hobbies.

As this small sliver of his story will show, this is where his passion in life lies. His interview was so rich and full of stories that there will be a part 2 in next month’s Inaajimowin.

I asked Curt to explain, in his own words, what he feels is missing in today’s generation... “It’s strange even now, when I think about how I used to think about stuff in so much detail when I would be in the woods and look at a piece of birch bark really closely as a child. I’d look at a leaf and see how the veins run through it and wonder how it worked. I think everyone does, every kid does, but they don’t stick to it. No one does anymore,” he explained.

“We’ve gotten so far away from nature nowadays, everything is at a kid’s fingertips, but if a kid stopped for one second to look inside the rice husk, you can’t then help but talk about the plant. You would then have to talk about the roots and then you would talk about the water that it grows from. Kids truly do have the world at their fingertips nowadays, but we always have; you just have to change your perspective! Ecosystems are truly the most important part of our world as not just Anishinaabe people, but as humans!”

In speaking more about today’s youth and what he feels is lacking, Curt brought up the need for mentors and the role of Elders in a child’s life. “Back then, the Elders or other community members would make suggestions to you based on your talents. My grandma always said that I should be this or be that based on what I was good at naturally or even because of my personality. The power of suggestion to kids makes a huge difference!” he proclaimed.

Curt also explained that while he understands and loves technology, he worries that if things in the greater world were to ever fail and we would be forced to hunt or harvest our own foods again, he wonders how many kids really could do those things. This is why he is choosing to spend his time teaching at Nay Ah Shing Schools as the Four Seasons Lead Worker.

“When I was young, I would wonder how does maple syrup look like water then turn into sugar when you cook it? My grandparents would teach me the science of it usually; the how and the why. They would talk about the sugar, and I was amazed that even back then they knew about that stuff. It blows my mind to this day. How did they figure out how a tree squeezes water through wood when you use wood to hold water?” Curt pondered. It’s easy to hear Curt’s love for the natural world when he speaks.

“The year my father died we went ricing. I still remember going with him; it was one of the best years of my life, and I enjoyed it so much. The places I am taking kids out ricing and netting now are the places that I went ricing and netting when I was 7!” Curt recalled fondly.

“I remember fishing with him (my dad). It was so damn important, how you handled that net, and how you approached that water. I think it was common sense back then that you needed to approach those things with respect. How you enter into something means everything! How you enter that lake and rice bed matters; you have to take the time to think deeply about it and respect it. It’s not just a religious belief, it’s being conscious of the environment around you. A perfect planet was made for us to be on, as long as we don’t wreck it, of
course! Now I teach the kids that same thing. They can consume healthy rice and deer meat, or they can go out and get speed boats and jet skis and run through rice beds oblivious. It’s all about choices and respect,” Curt articulated.

He went on, “Kids are not learning about how we’ve al- ways been in survival mode with hunting fishing, gathering, wigwams, and no running water. Once you have houses, electricity, and things like that, you stop using that survival education. It almost seems like it’s less important. That’s why education is so important, because some day they may need to use it again. We don’t have to be doomsday preppers. We always were. Tell me when we weren’t! Somebody show me when we weren’t, whether it was other tribes opposing us or a bad year for rice or maple sugar. How do you teach a kid that that’s important when everything around them is saying that it isn’t?” Curt finished.

Miigwech, Curt, for an amazing interview and sharing your well-earned knowledge with me, the Inaajimowin, and the rest of the Band. Your words hold much that we can all learn from!

Photo: Band member Curt Kalk is the new four seasons lead worker at Nay Ah Shing schools, and he also runs his own harvesting business.