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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


July 26, 2003 - Issue 92


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Native Dreams Help Kids' Real Dreams Come True

by Monique Balas Green Bay News-Chronicle

Operating a Video CameraFourteen-year-old Lenita Cornelius of Oneida used to want to work in a beauty shop.

Now, thanks to a two-week, precollege summer camp that teaches television production to American Indians, Lenita wants to be an actress or a scriptwriter when she grows up.

"It made me think more clearly, 'cause before I wanted to be a cosmetologist," said Lenita, who has already written a play for another project. "Acting is really fun."

Lenita's dreams have grown bigger, but that's what the "Native Dreams" program is all about: Getting American Indian kids to realize they can make their dreams come true.

Taught by Alex Zacarias, and assistants Miguel Barrientos and Dean Thomas, the program comes out of the combined efforts of Zacarias, Northeastern Wisconsin In-School Telecommunications, Wise Women Gathering Place and Wisconsin Public Television.

The program gives 18 Oneida and Menominee Nation middle-school students a chance to learn about film production as they produce a 30-second public service announcement promoting abstinence, which will air on WBAY-TV Channel 2 in August.

"If they create the message, then they start to believe the message," Zacarias said.

Judging by some of the kids' comments, his words ring true.

"It changed everything I knew about sex," said Aloysius Zhuckkahosee Jr. of the Menominee Nation. "I didn't know there were that many STDs in the world."

Fourteen-year-old Maria Gomez agreed.

"Abstinence works 100 percent," Gomez, a Menominee, said authoritatively.

It wraps up the first year of a new program called Community Based Abstinence Culture, which teaches abstinence education to eighth-graders at Oneida and Menominee tribal schools. Those who are participating in "Native Dreams" have gone through their first year of CBAC and will continue with it as they go through high school.

"We've been spending the year helping these kids understand the benefits and value of abstinence," said Alice Skenandore, executive director of Wise Women and Gathering Place and the woman responsible for obtaining the CBAC grants.

Funded by a combination of grants from the state and federal Department of Health and Human Services, as well as numerous local and state organizations, the CBAC program is designed to slow the growing rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases among minorities.

It was Skenandore who wanted to cement the messages the kids have been learning all year long by using television as a medium. That's why she turned to NEWIST Director Eileen Littig, who frequently works with kids in her TV productions.

"The difference about TV is it reaches many people," Littig said.

Plus, Skenandore said a television broadcast seen by many people can be a real source of pride.

"They can hear good comments from elders and the community, saying to them, 'Boy, that was a good thing you did,' Skenandore said. "It will help turn them in a direction that's Upward Bound."

But the program does more than teach kids about the value of abstinence and the lessons of film production, it also serves other important functions.

"It demystified the campus setting," Zacarias said. "The first few days, they were very apprehensive. Now, they don't want to go home."

Aside from breaking down barriers between kids and college, Native Dreams breaks down cultural hurdles as well.

Many Menominee and Oneida kids do not know much about each other and cultural stereotypes don't help.

Here we've been able to bring them together, they work as a team and break down barriers," Zacarias said.

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