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Wild rice & wild kids

"Wild rice & wild kids" Continued...

Issue: "Effective compassion," Sept. 2, 2006

No statistics were available about the success of the program in changing attitudes among young professors, but Dalton said 10 of the 23 teens in the last group valued the program. He added, "I think our kids learned more about themselves . . . in two weeks than they would in a substance abuse program in six months. This is one of the things that, in 20 years, those kids will remember. We were part of that rice."

Juvenile court Judge Michael Anderegg said the program was valuable because it "brings kids into contact with positive adult role models." For him, the interest some teens have in continuing to participate beyond the two weeks indicates success. But not all participants learn to love wild rice. Jordan, 15, enjoyed last year's program but struggled to put up with the bad attitudes and lack of participation among other kids, who spent most of the time trying to sneak away to smoke a cigarette-a habit he has kicked.

Social worker Tom Reed offered other anecdotal evidence: One boy told him word was spreading that the program was "cool," and another teen recognized him during a chance encounter, smiled, and waved hello.

From a bench overlooking Lake Superior's placid waters, director Magnuson, an Evangelical Lutheran minister, extolled the project's core value of respect for self, others, and the earth, and connected it with wild rice and also spirituality.

Cedar Tree participants may abstain from religious activities that offend them, but the group gathers in church buildings and learns Ojibwa beliefs about the religious significance of wild rice as a "spirit food": Chosa said wild rice plays a prominent part in tribal activities, from naming ceremonies to funeral offerings. The Ojibwa treasure a prophecy they believe brought their people to the region and told them their journey would end at a place where "food grows on water."

Some of the activities would offend most Christians. Before the rice is harvested, Manoomin Project leaders present a tobacco offering on the water, and Magnuson asks Mother Earth for permission to partake of her: "We're promoting a respectful spirit."

Creation concern

Program looks for better ways to dispose of dangerous waste

The Cedar Tree Institute also houses another Samaritan Award finalist, the Earth Keeper project, that combines worthwhile environmentalism with some curious theology.

The project involves nine religious groups-Catholic, Episcopalian, United Methodist, Zen Buddhist, Baha'i, Evangelical Lutheran, Reform Judaism, Presbyterian Church USA, Unitarian Universalist-and over 130 congregations. It gives residents of Michigan's rural Upper Peninsula more environmentally friendly options than the dumpster for the "serious seven"-herbicides, pesticides, car batteries, mercury, drain cleaners, anti-freeze, and old lead and oil-based paint-plus old computers, televisions, and so on.

On Earth Day this past spring, for example, volunteers collected 320 tons of electronic waste, or e-waste, in church parking lots across the Upper Peninsula. Most of the junk arrived via cars, vans, and pickup trucks, while residents of Mackinac Island, where motor vehicles are banned, transported old or broken equipment with horse-pulled drays, then ferried it to trucks. Volunteers sent the e-waste from collection sites to Technology Asset Disposal, an Environmental Protection Agency-approved recycling facility in Livonia, Mich.

Federal funding and a grant from Thrivent Financial provide part of the annual $19,000 budget. The project also has a student arm led by a Zen Buddhist professor at Northern Michigan University. Cedar Tree director Magnuson states that "when you heal the earth, you heal yourself." United Methodist minister and Earth Keeper theological consultant Charlie West says the project embraces a broad spectrum of beliefs: "All of our faith groups acknowledge a god, whom [Christians] call God, who is involved with and concerned about creation."

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