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Bemidji area explores its ethnic diversity

Bemidji leaders complete training to celebrate and incorporate all voices in community work.


As the “First City on the Mississippi,” Bemidji is a progressive, northern Minnesota city of 13,000 people. Serving approximately 228,000 individuals within a 75-mile radius, the city is a regional hub for education, finance, medical care, government, culture, recreation, and retail.

“Bemidji” is derived from an Ojibwe term meaning “lake with cross waters.” The Red Lake, Leech Lake, and White Earth Indian reservations are all within this radius, which accounts for some of the community’s diversity. Another driver is the fact the Bemidji State University’s International Program attracts students from 40 countries around the world.

Recognizing themselves as diverse community, area residents invited the Blandin Foundation’s Leadership in Ethically Diverse Communities (LEDC) program.

“I always want to continue to get to know all of my community,” said LEDC participant Rebecca Hoffman,” this is a beautiful approach to creating leadership in our culturally rich community.”

The LEDC program, offered once a year, is designed to help communities identify and work across cultural differences. Both established and emerging leaders from the Bemidji area participated. The four training sessions were completed in June 2010 with a record number of 71 community leaders in attendance.

During the third and final session, teams proposed different “going forward” projects to bring back for the community. Ideas generated included:

·          A monthly honoring of Chief Bemidji to foster relationships and engage youth

·          Developing a “Native Plant and Usage Revitalization Project,” which would involve the traditional use of plants as medicine and food. This project could work with community gardens and Ojibwe language usage which would lead to recreational, educational, and cultural opportunities

·          A “Living Recorded History Project” is intended to have interaction between youth and elders where youth will learn community history from those who lived it. Video recorded interviews would be accessible to all community members and traditional language will be encouraged. The stories that people share would help to bridge the past and strengthen our community members. Traditional language will be encouraged

·          Create a culturally inclusive gathering place/community center that educates and promotes diversity (race, culture, gender, age, class, etc.). It could provide a central location where respectful and intentional relationships can be built on the understanding that we all have something to share and learn.

Participant Dunsey R. White, Jr. summed up his experience saying, “It was great, getting to know other people and all the things which make us different and special.”

LEDC has taken place in the communities Fairbault and Blackduck and was previously known as Partners in Leadership. For more information please contact Malissa Bahr, Sr. Training and Curriculum Design Manager at 877-882-2257 or


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