Forest County Potawatomi Community Center now open for everyone
CRANDON, Wis. (WSAW) - After decades of conversation about it and two years of building, the Forest County Potawatomi Community Center is open to everyone.
“We’re going to be able to go back to our elders and say, ‘remember 30 years ago when you said we should have something, look what we’re planning,’” tribal chairman, Ned Daniels Jr. exclaimed.
The $60 million facility, built in the shape of an eagle, has endless opportunities for people to explore. It features a 50-yard turf field, track, rock climbing wall, gymnasium the size of three basketball courts, fitness center, aquatic center, an industrial kitchen, classrooms, Fab Lab, woodshop, industrial kitchen, and massive community space.
“We could have large Packer game parties here. The sky’s the limit,” the center’s director, Brian Tupper said. “We have something for everybody, from the youngest to the oldest.”
Friday, the center was officially opened to the full public. It is meant to be a place where all interests can be explored and supported, where people can build and maintain their health, and grow in culture and community. It offers annual, monthly, and day passes and is open to tribal members and non-members alike.
“It doesn’t do no good to wash just a part of your hand; you’ve got to wash the whole hand,” Daniels said.
Daniels explained the tribe went through a lot to get to this point of opening this facility.
“The opioid epidemic has left us some problems to do the best we can to mitigate those problems. Some of them problems being no mother, no father, homeless.”
The opioid epidemic was the big push to make a facility like this a reality. Forest County was one of the counties hardest hit, having one of the highest overdose rates per capita in Wisconsin when the epidemic began. It also pushed Daniels to run for chairman. Before he was elected, they had already buried 30 of their tribal members, he said many between the ages of 18-30.
“We had to do something to start to heal and recover and not to leave any of our children out and make sure that all them ones that are like that get an opportunity to express themselves and show how they can awe the world with their skills and their own creation,” he urged.
That set the foundations of what the community center would be, a place to empower children, provide support for the community, educate, build skills, and play. They took input from people of all ages.
“We wrote down everything single thing that we heard the children say so that the kids themselves would have input into their own facility,” Daniels said.
Along the window of the second floor looking down at the gymnasium are the hands of the roughly 1,700 tribal members, with Daniels saying God knows the fingerprints, so he wanted to show their hands all had a part in making this happen.
They also want to immerse people in the tribe’s culture, allowing people to learn the language, culture, and traditions. Throughout the facility are symbols of the tribe, whether it is mosaic columns showing the four seasons, floral patterns, the thunderbird, or rugs with all of the clans represented.
Many of the signs also show the tribe’s language alongside English words to help people learn that language. There are inspirational saying from tribal members throughout too, hoping to encourage people to follow their dreams and support their community.
For the children of the tribe, they plan to use the tools and resources now available at the facility to get them more involved, such as creating the signs that will go on all of the tribal buildings.
“That’s another way to promote the language, to promote working in hand and hand with the elders to the kids,” Daniels began. “Also, (if) you let the children do it, they protect it out there on them signs. You let them do it, it’s theirs; they’ll get made if they see people trying to hurt that or throw rocks at it.”
Daniels said last week he learned that their tribe had their first year without an opioid death since the epidemic began.
“And I was so happy. I feel accomplishment and more so, I feel our creator said ‘You’re doing good, going the right direction. I’m going to help you.’ And with that kind of thing showing up, it shows me that he’s on our side and we are going to win this and our kids are going to have a brighter future full of hope.”
On the day of the soft opening of the facility, he said a bald eagle -- which the tribe believes to be a direct messenger to God -- was circling over the facility for several minutes. Daniels and others took it as another sign God was on their side.
He said he is also already seeing a change in the youth as they look optimistically at the future.
“There’s talk of going to the Olympics! There’s talk of all these little ones are creating their own Olympics before they go. And that is just exciting to me to see that they got that kind of mindset, that already, ‘hey, we could get ready and we could go to the-- they really-- man… That’s exactly what we were after.”
He urged, the fight with opioids, along with the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. He asks for help from everyone, whether it is parents teaching their children to do the right things, governments helping their citizens, or partnerships to keep everyone healthy holistically, we are all in this together.
As for the facility, they encourage partnerships, like the ones they already have planned with the local colleges. They welcome people to have their events, conferences, camps, lessons, sporting tournaments, whatever they can dream of at the center.
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