By: Mary Leaver, Citizen Potawatomi Nation Public Information Department
The window will be closing soon for the chance for Potawatomi youth to apply for this summer’s Potawatomi Leadership Program.
The program, which welcomes college-aged Citizen Potawatomi Nation Tribal members, will run from June 14 to July 27, 2024.
The six-week program teaches participants about CPN’s culture, governance and business operations, but it also works to develop leadership skills that will help students succeed in their academic and professional lives.
“The Potawatomi Leadership Program represents an incredibly unique opportunity for CPN youth to learn about their heritage, get connected with the Nation, and explore their personal relationship with what it means to be Citizen Potawatomi,” PLP Advisor Rachel Watson said. “If you’ve ever felt like being Potawatomi is difficult to talk about, or if you grew up hearing traditional stories from your family, or if you’re anywhere in between, there’s so much to be gained from making connections with your Tribal government and CPN Tribal members your age.”
PLP participants visit CPN departments and enterprises and spend time with Chairman John “Rocky” Barrett, Vice-Chairman Linda Capps and Tribal legislators. They participate in language classes, ceremonies, dance lessons and traditional crafts that help connect them to their culture. Students also complete an intensive leadership training curriculum that helps them develop and build their skills.
Issak “Ike” Decker, a member of the Ogee family who participated in the 2023 PLP program, described his experience.
“The beginning is all about getting adjusted and familiar with the environment and schedule and process,” he said, adding that there were several fun activities scheduled throughout the program as he got to know housemother Margaret Zientek and his roommates. “There is important work, as well, and projects you must complete. It’s a learning program, not a vacation.”
Some of that work included department sessions where students learned about the inner workings of the Tribe, a language class, and collections and research that Decker said helped him connect to his Tribal heritage.
“You must be able to work effectively with others under deadlines,” he said. “You have to see past personal differences and potentially work with people you may disagree with. All of these, however, train extremely useful skills for the workplace.”
For Grey Doster, a member of the Johnson family who also participated in the 2023 PLP class, a desire to learn more about Potawatomi heritage inspired them to apply for the program.
“I had always known that I was Potawatomi, but didn’t know what it meant to be Potawatomi. I got the flyer in the Hownikan and had been looking for ways to reconnect with my heritage, and a full summer immersion in the culture seemed like a great way to do that,” they said.
A part of the program that was memorable for Doster was the drum circle, where they could connect with other Potawatomi women and two-spirit people.
“I wasn’t sure if I belonged there, but one of the women said that I belong wherever I feel that Creator means for me to be, which meant a lot in terms of reconnecting as a two-spirit person,” Doster said.
Doster said they feel a better understanding of the Potawatomi culture, language and ancestry since being in PLP, and they have even incorporated things they learned into their daily life, such as smudge, speaking the language, attending local powwows and even competing in the Southern Cloth Dance.
Watson took on the role of advisor in 2023, when the program was in its 20th year, and said they are excited about working with the next group of students in 2024.
“In our department, our guiding light is how our work contributes to not just this next generation, but the next seven generations,” Watson said. “The PLP participants are always just the start of that ripple. They share what they learn with their family and loved ones, and they play a vital role in keeping our traditions and culture not just living, but moving forward and growing.”
To be eligible, applicants must be enrolled CPN Tribal members between 18 and 20 years old by the program’s start date, have a 3.0 or higher GPA, and should be enrolled in a college or career tech for the fall 2024 semester.
The application window opened Nov. 15, 2023, and will close Feb. 15, 2024.
“If you’re even considering applying just a little — apply,” Doster said. “PLP is an incredible opportunity for CPN youth. It taught me so much about Potawatomi culture and gave me a second family miles away from where I grew up.”
To learn more or to apply, go to plp.potawatomi.org.