Sharing tales of her own native legends, Kathy (Bolduc) Eisenschenk helps Anoka-Hennepin’s American Indian students uncover and understand their own sacred stories.
Eisenschenk, an Anishinaabe Ojibwe from White Earth of the Mississippi Band Eagle Clan (doodem migiza), serves as Indian Education adviser for the district’s native American students and was recently named Outstanding American Indian Home School Liaison of the Year for the state of Minnesota.
“I just use my life’s experiences to relate to native kids. I look at what they need, what they’re lacking, and try to help them figure it out and get there. They are my kids, my family,” Eisenschenk said. “And each one has so much to give. They are artists. They are musicians, athletes, performers – and each has a sacred story to tell.”
Eisenschenk doesn’t just teach lessons and advise native students in her position with Anoka-Hennepin. She wraps her heart around the young people, embracing them with a mother’s wisdom and stepping along with them as they journey toward a proud embrace of their own heritage.
The adviser creates “touchable” lessons for her students. She has traveled the country, visiting native American reservations in every one of the United States save two — New Jersey and Rhode Island. She has also visited the American Indian museum at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
Eisenschenk is determined to learn and grow and evolve in her native pride with each passing day. And she shares those lessons and that pride with her students, always eager to nourish and support their own growth along the way.
She attends her students’ concerts, cheers for them on game day, watches their performances. She also communicates with her students throughout the day and night, exchanging texts and phone calls, coming to their aid, steering them toward the truth, and – yes – giving advice when advice is needed.
“I just try to open up their world, encourage them to take pride in their history and sometimes I give advice that their parents couldn’t give. Sometimes helping them know how to survive, escape, get away if needed,” she said.
As the students learn their own heritage, develop their own pride and write their own stories, Eisenschenk teaches them how to use their voice and be heard.
“I tell them, ‘If you hear something wrong, use your voice.’ There may be teachers teaching the wrong thing (about native American history). I tell my kids, ‘Use your voice. You are now the speakers of history.’ We are all teachers. Everyone can learn from someone – why not (let) it be you,” Eisenschenk said.
Anoka-Hennepin’s Indian American Administrator Todd Protivinsky sees much passion and devotion in Eisenschenk’s work.
“Kathy is passionate about work in supporting and advocating for the students she works with,” he said adding that many times students stay in close contact with Eisenschenk even after graduation.
“Some actually come back to help with the (Indian Education) special events. I think this is a true testament of the relationships that Kathy has formed with her students and families and the impact that she has made on their lives,” Protivinsky said.
Eisenschenk’s introduction to Anoka-Hennepin’s Indian Education program came when she got her own children involved in it when they were students in the district. Soon, she became an active member of the parent committee, and in 2002 she was hired as an adviser as part of the Indian Education program staff.
At the close of the current school year, Eisenschenk will retire.
“It will be exactly 15 years when I retire, but I’ll still be around. I will attend graduation ceremonies for my students. I will remain in their lives and they in mine. The relationship doesn’t end,” she said.
“People ask ‘What do you want to leave behind? What is your legacy?’ Well, I’ve left it behind. My legacy is preserving their stories, resurrecting their history, establishing life-long relationships with them. That is my legacy. That remains,” Eisenschenk said, and then, “Miigwech. Pidamaya. Thank you.”