Dream Catcher


“Bozhoo.” Hello. I grew up on the Grand Portage Reservation in northern Minnesota. I am a member of the Grand Portage Band of Chippewa/Ojibwe. The name for Grand Portage in Ojibwe is Gitchi Oningaming, or “the great gathering place” in English. My mother’s family is from Grand Portage, and my father’s family is Sioux from South Dakota.

On the reservation, I know everyone and am most likely related to them. I had a similar feeling when I was a student at Northwestern, where if you didn’t know a person directly, you knew of them. Northwestern helped me come out of my shell and not be afraid to step out of my comfort zone. I am a quiet and introverted person by nature; Northwestern allowed me to open up and learn in a more relaxed environment.

When I moved into the dorms, I was a rez kid from way up north going through culture shock. But within the first two months, I had a group of great friends I could talk to. In my culture, we put people first and our task second. Northwestern let me foster that and in turn made me more confident when talking to people and more able to relate to them. Going to Northwestern pushed my boundaries in more ways than I could have imagined and allowed me to grow as an individual.

As part of my college education, I studied in Romania. That experience was unique and enjoyable. Culture shock didn’t last as long as I had expected due to my previous experience moving from the reservation to Northwestern’s campus. Being in Romania exposed me to a beautiful culture, language and geography. Romania’s diverse history is incredible, and I drew parallels with Native American history in the United States. The food was terrific and memorable; eastern European food is super diverse yet so good. I was with an excellent group of students, and some even became lifelong friends.

I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in youth ministry and cultural studies. Since then, I have been living in Grand Portage, serving as an associate pastor at the church I grew up in: Mt. Rose Community Church. In 2015 I graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth with a master’s degree in tribal administration and governance and started my current job as the air quality specialist for the Grand Portage Tribe. In 2020 I started a Ph.D. program focusing on leadership in intercultural and international education through the University of Minnesota’s Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development.

Since I was at Northwestern, my goal has always been to serve my community. My dream has been refined a bit since graduating, but the core is still the same. I want every Native American young person to reach their potential and flourish. This idea will be the basis of my Ph.D. research. I would like to study how Native American/First Nations students within the Great Lakes area of the United States and Canada understand schooling.

Long term, I would like to help more Native American students get to the next stage toward their dreams after high school. I want to encourage and connect them with people already in an area they are interested in pursuing, through both formal and informal education. To see Native American students realize their dreams—as I have done with mine—is my ultimate goal.

Vallen Cook is an environmentalist and youth worker for the Grand Portage Band of Chippewa in northern Minnesota. He also volunteers at an indigenous youth center in Thunder Bay, Ontario, while pursuing a doctorate in leadership at the University of Minnesota.

Classic Comments

All comments are moderated and need approval from the moderator before they are posted. Comments that include profanity, or personal attacks, or antisocial behavior such as "spamming" or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. We will take steps to block users who violate any of our terms of use. You are fully responsible for the content that you post. Comments posted do not reflect the views or values of Northwestern College.