Get to Know the HDT Board – Erika Bailey-Johnson

At Back to Basics, our annual sustainability event, I get to do a lot of the picture taking and video recording. There’s usually so much going on during the day that I need to plan out where shots should be set up, which interviews need to be recorded, etc. During the lead up to the 2014 B2B, I found that during session 3 (right after the lunch break), there were way too many interesting session to properly cover.

However, as the event date rolled closer, our conundrum was solved on its own. One of the presenters pulled out unexpectedly, leaving us free to mic-up the presenters in the other workshop.

It was at this session where I first met Erika Bailey-Johnson. Stating that she wished to become closer to the Ojibwe culture, Bailey-Johnson introduced herself in fluent Ojibwe. What started as a passion to get to know her local culture, Bailey-Johnson has been able to turn into a project that can influence young generations to think globally.

We are so fortunate here at HDT to have a leader who eats, breathes, works, and probably even dreams about living the resilient lifestyle.

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Erika Bailey-Johnson during a presentation.

As the Sustainability Director at Bemidji State University, Bailey-Johnson’s day job gives her the opportunity to engage her community at different levels. Overseeing sustainability projects at both the university and the city, Bailey-Johnson is able to weave sustainability practices into the everyday lives of both student and citizen.

Some of the projects include removing bottled water from campus stores, enabling student engagement of energy-reduction in their dorms, and even bringing bike sharing programs to the relatively small city of Bemidji.

When Bailey-Johnson agreed to be a member of the HDT board, we were excited to see how her vision of resilience could influence what we do here.

“The work of HDT lines up so closely to what I do and what I believe,” Bailey-Johnson said. “I am so excited to be a part of the board and what the organization stands for. HDT contributes to my quality of life, to my job, to me personally, and to the future of my family.”

Not one to simply sit passively on the board, Bailey-Johnson has bold ideas for the future of this non-profit.

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Bailey-Johnson, right, talking with Bob McLean and Paul Hunt before a March 2017 HDT board meeting.

“We all benefit from HDT’s programs. It’s exciting to see the rippling effect they have. One can never be sure when you start something where it will lead, but HDT has a lot of experience and it’s rewarding to see the impact over time.”

Bailey-Johnson added, “However, we need to explore innovative ways of reaching people. We network well with organizations that have similar missions, but a big priority is to better promote the good work we are already doing.”

One way that Bailey-Johnson is trying to bridge the gap is through writing. Publishing a book that teaches Ojibwe words to children.

Bailey-Johnson explained, “The idea came to me because there wasn’t any good resources for my children to learn the language. I thought this would be a good example of not only connecting to the language, but also to the Earth.”

The books are about animals and plants that inhabit northern Minnesota. She wished to be able to teach her children the Ojibwe language, but found nothing that could be easily used. So, she put together a series of books that help translate Ojibwe to English using rhyme. She explained, “The books are about the senses. So it’s about smelling, seeing, and touching these different things in our environment. But, my favorite part of the books is that they were all illustrated by local children and artists.”

In the summer of 2016, BSU students took activities, curriculum, and programs from our Eco Camp and replicated the summer day camps on the BSU campus to positive reviews. BSU student counselors even came down and shadowed Michelle and Nora to better understand the Eco Camp model.

Bailey-Johnson explained, “The power of education is so important and HDT has this wonderful energy flow that really moves ideas forward. An immediate example is the Eco Book we are working on. It is an outgrowth of an idea I have had for years which really came to life last summer when we did an Eco Camp at BSU. That experience has led to a book that will soon be published. It is so exciting!”

However, Bailey-Johnson sees the book publication as only a first step in engaging a wider audience for HDT.

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Erika Bailey-Johnson at Back to Basics in 2014.

“Another future path to address is engagement with Indigenous People. Perhaps we could have a greater presence within First Nation Communities, work with them to promote a more resilient, sustainable lifestyle for their people. Not only that but to reach out and be receptive to what they can teach us…So much of what we see today is far too focused on the immediate with little consideration to ramifications down the road.”

With Bailey-Johnson’s ability to organize, network, and influence, the path of HDT is laid clear.

“We need to continue to keep doing what we’re doing – keep it fresh, innovative and keep focused on the quality of the things we’re working on and give the world a chance to hear more about what we’re doing. If we can do that, we can achieve much.”

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