At-Risk Teens Restore Nature

     I deeply believe that nature is a great healer.  Time spent outside, in the natural world can be especially therapeutic for young people who have had little opportunity in their young lives to be healed by nature.  So I was excited to learn that one northern Michigan county is working to provide such opportunities for teens who have committed minor crimes, in lieu of community service.

     Instead of assigning young offenders meaningless busywork, explains Marquette County Probation Officer Bill Mankee, his county’s Juvenile Court gets the kids outside, engaged in efforts that benefit the natural world and the community. 

     One particularly impressive Marquette County youth progam is the Manoomin Project.  For the last four years, 13-15 year old at-risk teens helped restore wild rice to Upper Peninsula waterways where it had once grown abundantly.  Under the supervision of local Native Americanguides, the young people planted wild rice in seven Upper Peninsula sites where it had disappeared years before.  

     The wild rice, “manoomin” in Ojibwa, is central to the Upper Peninsula environment and the Native culture, explains Don Chosa, one of the guides.  Food for fish, waterfowl, deer, and other animals, the wild rice is also central to the area’s Indian tribes.  For centuries it was a major source of nutrition and is still used ceremonially at a wide variety of occasions.

     The teens helped their Native guides plant and harvest the wild rice, and they even monitored the growth of the rice they had planted by testing water for temperature and acidity.  

     Throughout their participation in the Manoomin Project, the teens were treated with appreciation and respect.  “You are the first ones to bring wild rice back to the area,” they were told by David Anthony, their guide from the Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.  The teens were reminded, adds Marquette County Juvenile Court counselor Jim Rule that what they were doing mattered.  After all, they were giving something back to the community and to nature. 

     While many teens were not at all happy at first to be compelled to participate in the Manoomin Project, many came to appreciate it.  They were excited by the wildlife they saw, and they valued their time in the woods, the experience of broadcasting seed from a canoe, and the new relationships they formed.  The teens also learned about Ojibwa culture, and some even volunteered for the program after they had completed their mandatory service.       

     To view photos from the Manoomin Project, click on the link below:

One Response to “At-Risk Teens Restore Nature”

  1. Jim Z. Says:

    Hi, April,

    This seems to be a great program! I’ve forwarded the link to our friends who run a high school for at-risk youths in Colorado.

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