Life sciences communication professor Patty Loew and instructor Don Stanley went into this summer’s Tribal Youth Media Workshop at the Bad River Ojibwe Reservation with the goal of helping participants learn how to tell environmental stories. But the torrential rains that swept through northern Wisconsin on July 11 quickly changed that plan.

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Don Stanley (left), Zach Oja (second from right), Donovan O’Claire (right) and other workshop participants travel by foot in Bad River.

“Last night, Bad River received 11 inches of rain, which has created a state of emergency,” shared Loew in an email on July 12. “Bridges have collapsed, roads have washed away and Bad River is an island. The tribe is shut down, the casino is closed and Lodge visitors are stranded.”

The workshops Loew and Stanley lead teach Native American teens about video production and story telling. With a real-life news story unfolding in front of them, two of the teens were able to turn their camera on the aftermath of flooding of Denomie Creek. Zach Oja, age 16, shot video, while Donovan O’Claire, age 14, conducted interviews. Both young men are students at Ashland High School and Bad River Tribal members.

To produce the video, they talked with first responders and lodge guests and recorded B roll of the devastation. The video is available on YouTube, and their footage was already used by Madison’s NBC 15. Other stations requested the video, as well.

“It was a baptism by fire, but what a great opportunity for Native teens to see the power of media and how important it becomes during crises like the one Bad River finds itself facing,” said Loew.

The workshop is on hiatus for the rest of the week, at least, as the area recovers from the storm. Loew, Stanley and those involved with the workshop are now pitching in to help the community get back on its feet. The next story the teens tell can be one of recovery.

Banner photo: Workshop participants Zach Oja and Donovan O’Claire film an interview with Andy and Terri Baird, who were traveling through from Ottawa, Canada.