CMN students do well at Minnesota conference

Ryan Winn

The word kenāēheqtam can be stated of any of the nine College of Menominee Nation students who competed at the tribal college conference last month. In English, the compliment translates as, “You did good” or “You are skilled.”

This year’s American Indian Higher Education Consortium’s (AIHEC) Student Conference was held March 9-12 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This gathering of the 35 accredited schools from 15 states rotates through five regional venues, with this year’s convention being hosted by the Woodland tribal colleges, including CMN. The annual conference brings together hundreds of tribal college students for competitions and celebrations.

The Woodland Host Committee wrote in its welcome message: “Throughout the conference, you will have the chance to participate in various events and competitions that showcase your academic prowess and foster a sense of camaraderie and friendly competition. Embrace the opportunity to learn, grow, and make memories that will last a lifetime.”

While there are passionate rivalries among the schools competing in categories including archery, art, business, hand games, film, math, theater, traditional plants and writing, the event’s aim is to celebrate the thriving students within the tribal college movement. This year’s meeting attempted to encapsulate that continuing success with its theme: “Honoring our traditions, adapting to our future.”

CMN’s preparation for success was evident in students’ victories, but the reality was that the gathering proved more meaningful for them than merely a place to collect trophies and accolades.

Menominee tribal member Shawn “Sonny” Pamonicutt returned for his second consecutive year.

The biological and physical sciences major shared his reasoning: “My favorite part is connecting with Native American students from diverse tribal colleges nationwide. The student conference opens the doors to valuable interactions, knowledge-sharing and the development of lifelong relationships.”

Menominee student Elora Waupoose concurred. The liberal studies major said, “I liked that I was busy but I also had time to relax and do homework. I also loved the sense of community. I felt like I was meant to be there.”

Pamonicutt, Waupoose and fellow Menominee Evelyn Schmidt took third place in the Science Bowl. Waupoose and Schmidt also took first in the Serious Duo Interpretation Speech competition. Pamonicutt and Cedar Fernandez took second for their Serious Duo Interpretation Speech, as well as first place in the Humorous Duo Interpretation Speech.

“I really felt inspired by the duo interpretation speech competition that I did with my speech partner, Sonny,” said Fernandez, a Menominee tribal member. “I loved representing Native characters in a comedic way. My partner and I put life into our characters and shared so much with one another in doing so. This opportunity helped me step into the world of Native storytelling and how much fun we can have with that together.”

Menominee student Kelsey Kitson and Oneida tribal member Chenoa Webster took second place in the US AID International Development Challenge. Majoring in elementary and middle school education, the students’ project was titled, “Menominee Theoretical Model of Sustainability: A Model of Practical Application for Academic Learning and Understanding of Indigenous Nations Netaenawemakanak (all my relations) Curriculum Guide and Framework.”

“It is a curriculum guide and framework using the Menominee Theoretical Model of Sustainability to help educate students about other Indigenous nations on a local, national, and global level,” Kitson said.

“My favorite part of AIHEC was the ability to be surrounded by the support and good energy of fellow tribal school scholars, educators, administrators, community members and tribal nations,” Webster said. “The conference was uplifting, inspiring and an exemplary model of what our strong future looks like when we continue to come together to share, learn, teach and collaborate in positive ways. Tribal colleges are places where students are loved and recognized for their unique gifts and AIHEC celebrates and honors those amazing accomplishments and talents beautifully.”

Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation member Dakota Waupoose made his engagement with AIHEC a yearlong endeavor. The digital media major ran a successful campaign to serve as the AIHEC Student Congress-Great Lakes Region representative.

“I was inspired by my trip to lobby for AIHEC in Washington, D.C. during their most recent legislative summit,” Waupoose said. “It gave me a real passion to advocate for our people.”

Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe faculty member Dr. Vicki Besaw coached CMN’s Knowledge Bowl Team, which included Menominee Nation members Sasanehseah Shawanokasic and Adrian Demarce. Dr. Lucy Fenzl served on the conference planning committee and coached CMN’s Science Bowl, Poster and Oral Scientific Research presentations and the US AID International Challenge. I coordinated and coached the Speech Team. We were joined by CMN staff and Menominee Nation members, Melinda Cook, Susan Waukau and Lorenzo Warrington.

To the participants, the Woodland Host Committee wrote, “Together, let us honor our tradition while paving the way for a future that reflects our indigenous communities’ strength, resilience and adaptability.”

To CMN students who competed last month, Kenāēheqtam.

Ryan Winn teaches communications, English, history and theater at the College of Menominee Nation. Visit for more information about the school.