Brian and I rolled up to the Ojibwe Language camp with our bikes on the back of a Toyota Corolla. Not exactly the entrance that we were hoping to make, but Brian’s uncle offered to drive us up from Minneapolis and, in my own mind at least, I would far prefer a ninety-mile car ride over a ninety-mile bike ride. Just saying. So, we got dropped off at summer camp, and walked down to the community lodge where the campers were spending the afternoon learning about the Ojibwe history. Walking into this situation, we had no idea how many campers we’d be working with, what their ages were…in fact, we hadn’t found out the physical address for the camp until just a few days before we were supposed to get out there. We had only been invited to this camp a couple of week before, and after we sent several emails requesting, then asking, then pleading for more specific details, it became clear that we were going to have to go in blind.
On the ride up, I had fallen asleep and had a mini-nightmare that it would be a camp of fifty or more kids, and Brian and I would be overwhelmed and thrown in a ditch in the backwoods. This turned out not to be the case. Walking down to the makeshift arbor that we later found out was the sacred circle, I was starting to have an internal freak out. Working with Native American youth was the whole reason for doing this summer trip, and now that we were actually going to have twelve hours over the next six days to conceive, rehearse and perform an original theater piece, everything seemed a little scarier.The campers were in a state of semi-concentration, half listening to the lecture, half attacking each other verbally or with rocks. This, we eventually realized, was about as much attention they were willing to offer anyone. Sally Fineday, the coordinator of the camp, finished giving her lecture, and then introduced us to the campers. She then told us to get up and tell the kids a little about what we were doing. Brian and I stood up and were immediately met with an explosion of name-calling. Before this camp, I had kind of forgotten how ruthless and demonic twelve- to fourteen-year-old kids can be. I will never forget that again. It was like I had been transported back to junior high (the beginning of the bad years). After quieting the group down, we began to give them our spiel on what we were doing and why we are doing it… The kids couldn’t have cared less. They were having too much fun making fun of the two hippie-looking fools from California.
Awkward and demoralizing introduction? Check.