WHITE EARTH, Minn. - A group of students from the Circle of Life middle
school met recently with science teachers Steve Dahlberg and Mike Bunker,
who conducted a lesson on permaculture in South America, using a science
video to create visual images of the concept. The teachers coaxed students
to draw pictures of contrasting gardens from South America and White Earth.
Later, they reviewed several drawings with the class.
Bunker is a tribal member from the Naytawaush village. He's been teaching
Science and high school-level Health at the school for 17 years.
He described several students who've turned around their lives, including a
recent graduate who had a baby and then transferred in to Circle of Life.
"Her community was the school," Bunker said as he depicted the level of
care students receive here.
Dahlberg is a bioscience instructor at the White Earth Tribal and Community
College in Mahnomen Village. Originally from the Red River Valley not far
from White Earth, he now collaborates with area schools, including Circle
of Life, on programs that promote science and math literacy.
Bunker and Dahlberg's students moved to the shop facility where John
Shimick, a young Chippewa from the White Earth Land Recovery Project,
hauled in a bulky, 60-pound wood-frame contraption and set it on a shop
table. As the students circled around the object, Bunker and Schimick
introduced it as a homemade solar panel that any family can efficiently
construct in their back yards.
The White Earth Land Recovery Project is a nonprofit organization started
on the reservation by environmental activist Winona LaDuke. The project
seeks practical, low-cost ways to eliminate pollution, save the environment
and educate people about alternate forms of energy.
Schimick guided students in the building of the solar panel. Everything,
including the soda pop cans, was painted black to absorb the sun's rays on
a cold day. The cans, cut in half lengthwise and strung together by No. 3
wire, lined the interior of the panel.
In January, temperatures sometime reach 30 - 40 degrees below zero with
blowing winds and blinding snow off the prairie.
"This solar panel can heat your bedroom in the wintertime," Schimick told
the students as he helped anchor another screw in the panel wall.
"With low-cost, homemade solar panels, we can reduce the expensive sources
of oil or wood heat on our reservation," he added, then turned his
attention to threading a line of soda pop cans through holes in the panel
"There's no shortage of pop cans in Indian country," noted Winona LaDuke,
who stopped by to visit the students working on the project.
"Renewable energy is a growing industry," she said, "but we spend a great
deal of time waiting for the experts when we have the capacity to do it
ourselves. It's all about the receptiveness of a school to connect with its
community and tie the curriculum to problem-solving experiences."