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Fostering Lifelong Growth and Learning: Adventure Learning and Native American Wisdom Encourages Respect, Understanding and Compassion

Nov 25, 2011 ● By Carrie Jackson

Native American Ohsamin Judy Meister believes there is hope for the future. An herbalist, wisdom keeper and author of two books, Ohsamin has dedicated her life to passing on the ways and acumen of Native Americans in the Great Lakes area. As an elder of the Minis Kitigan Band of the Ojibway tribe, she travels around the region teaching the traditions, ceremonies and songs of her people.

In February 2012, Ohsamin, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin, will bring her message to educators, students, social workers, coaches, administrators, troop leaders, recreational therapists and anyone else that wants to learn this information at the Teachers of Experiential and Adventure Methodology (T.E.A.M.) Conference at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU), in Chicago.

Now in its 23rd year, the T.E.A.M. Conference is run by an eclectic, energetic group of volunteers that are dedicated to promoting and supporting experiential and team-based learning. Professor Dan Creely Jr., from the NEIU Physical Education Undergraduate Program, Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Athletics Department, is a member of the planning committee and has been involved from the very beginning. Teaching in physical and health education for 35 years at NEIU, he saw firsthand how well team building, rock climbing, problem solving and adventure programs worked when he first introduced it as a class in 1988. “All of a sudden, the students were animated, engaged and excited to be a part of the learning process,” Creely recalls. “There is no competition in team building, skill development, or rock climbing, so everyone gets a chance to shine.”

The focus of T.E.A.M. is social and emotional learning (SEL), which acknowledges that empathy, selfawareness, mood management and relationship management are important indicators of both academic and social success. Creely sees SEL as crucial to a student’s development. “Climbing crates, navigating through a labyrinth, brainstorming with coworkers, problem-solving with other students—there is something here for everyone to be good at,” he says.

In SEL and adventure-based learning, the “quiet” students are asked to contribute in their own way, and are often surprised and excited at how much they have to add, which can be very transformative for them. “After each experience, we debrief and have the students write about it, talk about it, process it,” he says. “That’s where the real learning takes place. The power and potential of the impact that these activities have to help kids feel like they belong is the best tool I have ever used in education. It changed me as a teacher and facilitator and impacted how I worked with students over the last 23 years”

Although the T.E.A.M. Conference has enough talent and support that Creely refers to it as a “national conference right here in your backyard,” it is run a little differently than most. The first event, held in 1989, was funded by a $100 grant and has since been selfsufficient—the conference pays for itself through the cost of admission alone. The volunteers who run it have no titles or officers; they’re all in it together. Their goal is to remain friends by not getting their egos involved and truly working together. Some people have been on the planning committee for more than 15 years. From undergrad students to high-end executives, they give their time for the thrill of being involved in such a powerful and moving experience.
The T.E.A.M. Conference has included presentations by Native American elders since 1996, and Creely says it was a natural addition. “The core of what we do aligns with the Native American life philosophies and cultural philosophies,” he says. “It was very easy to blend their workshops into what we do.”

Ohsamin says it’s about learning from the past and looking forward. “We try to work towards a future that’s a little more peaceful and productive,” she explains. “Instead of dominating

Ohsamin Judy Meister and Momfeather Erickson
Ohsamin Judy Meister and Momfeather Erickson
the Earth, we can live with the Earth.”

At conference workshops, the elders relay the importance of listening and not interrupting, and only taking what you need. “In today’s society, there’s such an allure of money and power,” says Ohsamin, “and not sharing.” She tries to show that it’s more than just “things” that make us happy. “It has to do with songs and ceremonies and rites of passage that connect to our spirits, so we can see a way to live in peace,” she says.

Momfeather Erickson is another elder who has presented for more than 10 years. She runs the Mantle Rock Native Education and Cultural Center, in her native Kentucky, and grew up in the traditional Cherokee culture. Creely remembers her telling the story of the Cherokee Trail of Tears to a group of ethnically diverse students one year at Northeastern. “I looked out in the audience and was surprised to see many of them crying,” she says. “I realized many of them have a similar story—their people have been relocated or killed for different reasons and they could identify. It was a major awakening in my own life that all cultures have their own Trail of Tears.”

This year, Ohsamin will speak in a session called Dreams and Visions, which touches on spirituality and the sacred. She says that for the most part, participants really want to foster a deeper connection to the Earth. “It doesn’t take long for the truth of it to get to people,” she says. “Their mouths fall open; they ask questions and soak it up. They get a glimmer that there’s something they haven’t been told yet. This is how we share our purpose.”

Carrie Jackson is an Evanston-based freelance writer and blogger. Visit her at


T.E.A.M. Comes to Chicago in February

The 23rd annual T.E.A.M. Conference will be held February 3 and 4, 2012, at Northeastern Illinois University, in Chicago. The theme this year is Connecting People: Building Peaceful Schools and Communities, and features dozens of workshops such as Brain-Based Creativity, Social Emotional Learning, Health and Relaxation, Wisdom of Elders, Facilitating Groups, Wilderness Skills, Personal Growth and Anti-Bullying Suicide Prevention.

Speakers include Native Elders Momfeather Erickson and Ohsamin Judy Meister, as well as Ray Piagentini, Lori Frank, Michelle Cummings and other experts on leadership, community and education. Throughout the weekend, attendees can attend sessions, visit the Rainbow Peace Fire Lodge, walk through a labyrinth, try a crate-climbing session, shop for books and handmade items at the vendor fair and see the 11-year-old Peace Pole.

Continuing education units (CPU) and continuing professional development units are available at no extra cost. Advance registration before January 5, 2012 for the whole weekend is $100 per person, and group rate discounts are available. Single workshop rates are also available.

Location: Physical Education (P.E.) Complex, at Northeastern Illinois University, 5500 North St. Louis Ave., Chicago. For more information or to register, call 773-442-5564, email [email protected] or visit