Lemm Helps Indigenous Voices Shine

Leah Lemm 2021
Leah Lemm (Courtesy Leah Lemm)

A seedling, having been wafted along by the wind, fell to the ground. Roots dug deep into the soft, dark soil. It started to grow. The roots grew hungry for more. They grew farther down to support the growing stem. Leaves sprouted in the sunlight. Buds sprinkled the tips of the branches, promising future blooms. 

Leah Lemm, a podcast host and member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, describes time within her community as a growing plant.  

“We’re at the bud. You can’t ignore the stem, or the roots, or the dirt, or the planets, or the water that goes into it. These are all on a continuum,” she said. 

Although she could split Native stories into past and present, she intertwines them. 

“I don’t see us being separate from our past. We are looking toward our next generations,” she said.  

Lemm is sharing stories using modern technology, but the tradition of storytelling stays true. Telling stories of the past, and the present, honors her ancestors. She acknowledges her tribe’s past and has her eyes on the future.  

“Native Lights: Where Indigenous Voices Shine” is one of Lemm’s multiple podcast projects. She created it for Native people, wanting a space where they could share their stories, humor and hope.  

“I feel like there was definitely a time when I would have needed this podcast. … There are times when we can feel driftless,” she said. “But it is a way to share how we’ve worked through challenges and have found purpose or have worked towards finding purpose.”  

Being driftless is a familiar topic for Native people, especially the young. Lemm wants them to find others who are working through that feeling of being driftless and persevering until they find their purpose. 

“Native Lights” “focuses on how Native people around Minnesota use their gifts to share with their communities. … We’re given these gifts by the Creator, so we need to use them to help our communities.”  

Featuring Native people who are actively working toward their goals and creating a path for those who come after them is a stark contrast from the types of stories mainstream media tends to report. If topics of addiction, violence and erasure of Native American culture do come up, Lemm ensures they do not overshadow the positive work being done. Lemm said as important as these topics are, she does not want to dwell on them. 

She quotes her father: “If you can do something about it, you can’t complain about it.” 

“When I was asked to work with Minnesota Native News, I was like ‘No, I don’t know what I’m doing.’ … But I knew it was a step in the right direction. So, if I could do it, then that’s what I needed to do,” Lemm said.  

Lemm described them as marching orders; looking at it as “work to do” rather than an insurmountable wall is essential to being a story sharer, a term Lemm uses to describe herself. 

Culture, connection and community are the words to describe Lemm. She embraces her culture, despite the erasure it has faced through imperialism. Her connection and community outreach are inspiring. She has created an experience using modern technology with contemporary issues, but the story sharing tradition stays the same. It is also vital to keep the Native way of life around.  

The flowers have bloomed and their pollen has spread throughout the land. Lemm has come to a crucial understanding of time and her culture. We are all intertwined and continue to grow together. One generation’s flowers will be used to create a new family. Culture, connection and community have grown, and it is thanks to Lemm and her supporters that we have a revitalized and blossoming Native community in Minnesota. 

These reports on health equity were created by ThreeSixty Journalism’s summer 2021 News Reporter Academy high school students. The Academy and its theme of racism as a public health crisis were supported by Center for Prevention at Blue Cross Blue Shield, which connected students with story topics and sources.