In November 1998, I attended a lecture in Lusby, MD, during National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. A Piscataway Indian showed us beautiful ancestral cooking pots made of clay and spoke about the different Potomac and Patuxent River clay soils used historically and now to make clay cooking pots. When I asked him where I could learn more about Native American studies, he replied, “They teach it at American University.” I thought, “Why would I go to a non-Indian school to learn about Native Americans?”
In my youth I lived in Peru where I worked in a cross-cultural learning environment with the Quechua Indians. Learning ethnobotany from indigenous people was my passion, and I considered myself fortunate to have this learning experience in a foreign country.
Reading The Spooner Advocate, a newspaper from Spooner, WI, I learned about the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation in Hayward, WI, and the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Community College. I requested a catalog from the registrar, learned that the college offered plant studies including ethnobotany, and began to ponder the possibility of moving to Wisconsin to attend a tribal college.
It takes time, funds, and patience for a dream to unfold. Being a flea market hound, I started recycling old items and selling them on eBay in 1999. Gaining confidence from this venture, I started an on-line company that sold herbal products and teas. Selling in cyberspace gave me the option of moving the business to Wisconsin.
It may not have been a great money earner, but I could show my husband that I was serious about the move because I was trying to come up with a workable economic solution to empower my dream.
A major obstacle was that I was 53 years old at the time and didn’t drive. Due to childhood trauma of repeatedly riding in a car with a drunken parent, I suffered with a fear of driving, and doubted I could ever learn. My husband patiently taught me, and I gained confidence and eventually overcame my fear of driving. Fear anddoubt are two horsemen that can kill a dream.
When my stepmother-in-law, Dot, suffered a heart attack in 2000 and was living alone in Minong, WI, my husband gave serious thought to my relocating to Wisconsin. I discovered that trust in the Creator removed the spirit-killer called worry. Feeling a sense of guilt about leaving my home and temporarily my husband on the East Coast, I told my husband how I felt; however, he reassured me that it would be all right. Another mind-killer called guilt was overcome, and I made the move in spite of it.
The actual drive across country, 990 miles in 6 days on back roads, was my training ground for learning to drive in snow. My husband led the two vans across the country by walkie-talkie during a blizzard in December 2000. Steadily the storm worsened, and I drove into raging whiteouts and couldn’t even see the road ahead. Ohio and Indiana eventually closed down their highways because snowdrifts covered the roads.
Driving through this stressful and challenging winterscape, I pondered, “Either it will make me stronger, or the trip will kill me. I am going to die trying to follow my dream.” Even when I couldn’t see the way, I focused on my dream. Believing in this vision enabled me to pass through the training of learning to drive in snow.
I was coming to a tribal college. The Catholic educators from my early childhood through high school drilled into me that I was not “college material.” But the most amazing thing happened at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Community College: I learned that I could both learn and thrive in this nurturing environment.
As an elder student, once taught that I was not college material, I now have a 4.0 GPA. Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Community College has the finest professors and caring administrative staff anywhere, and I absolutely love going to school here.
The four horsemen of mind death are fear, doubt, worry, and guilt, and I am a living testimony of overcoming these dream killers. I learned to trust, listen to my heart, and follow my dreams. A way is always provided when one listens to Inner Voice and follows where it leads. I am grateful that I followed my dream to Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Community College where I have the honor of learning from the Ojibwe people.
Mary Ellen Ryall grew up in Saratoga Springs, NY, and is 59 years old. In 1999, she founded Happy Tonics, an on-line company. After moving to Wisconsin, Mary Ellen graduated in 2003 from Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College with certification as a food safety educator from the Woodlands Wisdom Nutrition Project.
A master gardener and herbalist, she gathers and dries herbs for home remedies and teas and wild foods for the table. Her herbal gardens are prolific, and she scatters wild flower and herb seeds in abandoned, logged, and burned-out land sites near her village. The plants can flourish in beauty and also give sustenance to birds and animals. Happy Tonics’ mission is to promote biodiversity and educate about the dangers of genetically engineered crops.
Published by Tribal College Journal, August 15, 2005 and on the Internet at http://www.tribalcollegejournal.org/archives/8298