CMN’s new president explains leadership philosophy

Ryan Winn

Netāēnawemākanak translates to “all my relations” in Menominee. College of Menominee Nation’s new president, Christopher Caldwell, also sees it as the school’s obligation.

Caldwell, an enrolled Menominee tribal member, told me, “I understand the term goes beyond my family relations to community relations, and non-human relations. Our responsibility is sharing what we’ve learned with the Menominee people, but also with our Indigenous and non-Indigenous relatives who want to learn from us and take that knowledge back to their own communities.”

Before becoming the third president in CMN’s history, Caldwell served as the director of the college’s Sustainable Development Institute helping to foster local, national, and international conversations grounded in Indigenous knowledge. Caldwell explained that SDI’s mission is grounded in reflection and dissemination.

“Some see sustainability as a nebulous concept with no local application, but we approach the concept by looking locally and then expanding upward,” he said. “That philosophical concept was not difficult to carry over to the president’s office.”

Caldwell has already demonstrated how this theory could be put into practice in the school’s executive office. While he assumed the presidency on July 1, Caldwell has served as the interim president since February 2020. From the get-go, he has looked to the teachings of his people for guidance — particularly, the Menominee practice of diplomacy as a strength of his nation.

“It’s practical because it draws from the past, is vision-orientated, and steers the nation forward as we address and deal with the uncertainty that will always be there,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell noted that during his tenure the school had to contend with “COVID, cyber-attacks, and adherence to health and safety protocols while ensuring the quality of the education experience.”

“We’ve been able to turn COVID into an empowerment, as we’ve created opportunities to address long-standing funding inequities amongst mainstream and tribal colleges,” he said.

In the past year alone, CMN has invested in a learning management platform, funded the training of faculty, upgraded classrooms at both their Keshena and Green Bay campuses and purchased laptops and portable hotspots for students to use to complete coursework remotely.

Caldwell emphasized: “We didn’t just move online. We created a quality experience that in itself provides exciting opportunities of connecting with other communities.”

CMN has also progressed towards expanding its degree options. This fall, the school will begin offering courses in a new sustainable agriculture baccalaureate degree, and its new interdisciplinary studies in sustainability bachelor’s is slated to begin in 2022.

Still, Caldwell is looking beyond CMN’s immediate future, as was evident in his titling the public lecture that resulted in his hiring “Omāēqnomenēwak Māēc-kaehkīnūhamatiwikamek, Pursuing the Best Path for the Next Seven Generations.” Caldwell recognized the potential in the school he now leads.

“CMN is a vital center for relationships connected to language revitalization,” he said. “We have resources for high school students and Native students, and we offer a unique experience rooted in a tribal context. We are open to adult learners who want to start or restart their college careers, and our programs offer growth potential through learning by doing.”

Caldwell speaks from experience, as he earned his associate’s degree in Sustainable Development from CMN, before earning a bachelor’s in natural resources at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a master’s degree in environmental science and policy from UW-Green Bay.

“CMN gave me my voice,” Caldwell reflected. “It allowed me to expand what I knew, and it pushed me to talk in front of groups.”

Currently, Caldwell is also a Ph.D. candidate in environment and resources at UW-Madison’s Nelson Institute. He stated, “I’m focusing on Indigenous research methodology, tribal forestry, and sustainability science. I’m deepening my understanding and connecting it to a broader understanding of Indigenous responsibility and leadership.”

He reflected, “The act of going through the program has been transformational.”

Transformations are something Caldwell takes to heart.

“I see my journey as arcs in a circle — community member, adjunct faculty member, administrator, and now as president,” he said.

While these arcs are unique to Caldwell, they provide evidence of the potential he sees for all of his relations.

Ryan Winn teaches communication, English, and theater at College of Menominee Nation. For information about the school, visit