Reconciliation through giving
Accountancy adds culture night to annual winter-coat drive, bringing awareness about American Indian culture
It was obvious early that a special culture night event by UND’s Accountancy Department, to aid American Indian communities in the region and raise awareness, was going to be smashing success.
Held at the UND American Indian Center, admission was either a winter-clothing donation or $5. By night’s end, the donation box for UND Accountancy’s Coat Drive, now in its seventh year, was full. Most items collected around campus and the community were donated to the Spirit Lake Reservation through Cankdeska Cikana (Little Hoop) Community College.
Mike Hendrickson, an executive-in-residence at UND’s College of Business & Public Administration and organizer of the winter-clothing drive, added that, this year, some items will go to White Earth Reservation in Minnesota.
More than 2,700 were delivered to Spirit Lake in two cargo vans (contributed by the father of a UND Accountancy student) and Hendrickson’s own Toyota 4Runner. That’s an increase from about 2,000 items that were donated to Spirit Lake last year. The grand total, this year, including items going to White Earth, is near 3,000.
“We saw how essential our efforts are and we knew that we would do it all over again… and again!” Hendrickson said of his experience at Spirit Lake near Devils Lake, N.D.
Hendrickson heads up UND Accountancy 494, which focuses on ethics-based accounting and is as much about public service as it is about debits and credits. Each year, he recruits students from his class to participate in a “Truth & Reconciliation” group, which he provides as an alternative to the class’s typical final project.
“The first groups (of the first two years) focused on the ‘truth’ aspect of it, and addressed the history of Native Americans,” said Zachary Plante, an accountancy senior from McIntosh, Minn. “Now we’re focusing on the ‘reconciliation’ side. As in, what can we do to change what we do now and in the future?”
Plante says one of his big takeaways is that it doesn’t take much to help out.
“From where I went for the (winter-clothing) drive and asked for donations, you can see there are people out there who do want to help and affect change,” he said.
Standing room only
The group’s culture night and winter-coat drive, which took place on Tuesday (Oct. 23), was supposed to kick off at 6 p.m., but people kept walking through the door.
Zsofia Barandi stood close by, smiling, between moments of last-minute preparation.
“We already increased our order from 75 to 100,” she said with slight, nervous laughter. “I’m a little scared that there won’t be enough food for everyone.”
The 100 orders were for fry bread – a crucial component for her group’s Indian Taco Night hosted by the American Indian Center on campus.
It soon became apparent that even if they didn’t run out of food, they’d at least run out of chairs.
A graduate student in accountancy, Barandi is originally from Budapest, Hungary. She’s earning her master’s degree this spring, but felt compelled to contribute to Hendrickson’s undergraduate Truth & Reconciliation project.
Historically, Truth & Reconciliation groups are government-sponsored commissions that use testimony of victims and witnesses to recognize war crimes and human rights abuses.
“I read about Truth & Reconciliation in Canada a couple years ago, and I thought it was an important issue and something that hasn’t happened in the United States,” Barandi said. “When I heard about Mr. Hendrickson doing this project, I really wanted to get involved – even if it’s a grassroots thing that’s just run by students and not some government-directed initiative.”
Apart from the winter-clothing drive, the Truth & Reconciliation group’s goal this semester has been to raise awareness of issues facing modern American Indian populations as a result of generations-long trauma. Poverty and addiction are prevalent in reservations, regionally and nationwide.
Student-members brainstormed ways to address such issues at its culture night.
Tyson Libby, another of the seven-member Truth & Reconciliation group and an accountancy senior, made the suggestion of having his grandmother, Bev Libby, make an appearance.
Bev and her husband, Jim, live on Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation, an hour-plus drive southwest of Grand Forks. She characterizes herself as outgoing, determined and someone who “walks the walk” when it comes to taking on issues faced by her community.
“I do all kinds of work both in White Earth and in Red Lake,” Libby said. “I help the homeless, I feed people, I clothe people, I make up care packages – I just serve.”
She says she carries a “gut concern” for people she sees struggling, regardless of what ails them. It’s something she implored of her audience, once everyone had a chance to eat.
“We have a lot of stuff going on and people are having a hard time,” she told UND Today. “Food is short. People need clothes, blankets, everything. I know you can’t meet all the needs, but you can do something.”
Libby earned her perspective and can-do motivation through her upbringing, saying she was raised in a household that practiced traditional self-reliance.
The room was silent and attentive as she detailed the laborious methods of harvesting wild rice, tanning deer hides and collecting maple syrup. She brought bags of rice and other commonly gathered materials like swamp (Labrador) tea and chaga, a growth from birch bark used to make tea, for people to see.
Libby stayed by her parents’ side and learned everything she could about her Ojibwe culture, which included the hardships associated with poverty.
“What I’m sharing tonight is: let’s think about some of our neighbors who aren’t as fortunate as others,” she said.
Tyson says that growing up, he learned everything his grandparents taught by seeing it in action. If someone needed help, grandma would always offer something.
“Watching them go out and get involved to help people was encouraging and affected me in a positive way,” he said. “That’s how I learned — by example.”