Cass County Board: Youth donates painting depicting Native American culture

The painting has various meanings inspired by Native American culture, from the colors used to the representation of women and the length of the hair.

A painting donated to Cass County from the Northwestern Minnesota Juvenile Center. Photo by Kyndra Johnson

BACKUS — Artwork from a youth at Northwestern Minnesota Juvenile Center will be on display at the Cass County Courthouse.

The Cass County Board accepted the painting during its Tuesday, April 6, meeting. The painting has various meanings inspired by Native American culture, from the colors used to the representation of women and the length of the hair. Commissioner Neal Gaalswyk requested that a plaque with explanation of the importance attached to the painting to help residents understand the meaning when viewing it.

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According to information provided by Northwestern Minnesota Juvenile Center officials, the mural expresses Anishinaabe descendancy showing unity and friendship.

“The Mural is focused on the relationship between humans and the aadisookaang (plural for spirits) i.e. other human persons, the Four Winds, Sun as life giver and the sacredness of Water (Nibi) to human life. The image conveys Unity and Friendship with the 3 women shown facing Nigaabiwaanoong (West) to express appreciation of a good day of Minobimadiziwin (Good Life).

“The 3 woman wear Traditional long hair braids to be close to Mother Earth – Aki. The women depict the significant roles in Anishinaabe Culture as the caregivers to family who pass down survival knowledge and techniques for each succeeding generations. The white and black dots in a linear position at the bottom represent the generations from pre-contact to the future, right to left.


“The women provide continuity to the aesthetics and motifs connected to the past by the colors of their coverings. Yellow and Orange is typically a positive color representative of bravery and determination of the person wearing it. The color Green is representative of endurance and healing.

“The Red band below the women represents Faith, Beauty and Happiness and the Blue band represents Wisdom and Intuition.

“The Purple clouds to which all three are looking towards is a sacred color and symbolizes power, mystery and magic.

“The black lines are perceived as a living color and considered to convey strength.”

Mindy O’Brien, superintendent of Northwestern Minnesota Juvenile Center, shared the annual report along with a programming update with the board. In the annual report it was stated that although there were 30 less intakes during 2020 from 2019, expenses for the year were up. The majority of children taken into the program were between the ages of 14-17 years old and were of Native American ethnicity.

O’Brien also shared various programs the center offers. She said Northwestern Minnesota Juvenile Center applied for a $5,000 grant to use towards craft supplies, but received $20,000. With this money they have purchased paints, canvases, beads and other various crafting supplies for the youths to use. Also joining the meeting were two youths from the center to share the paintings, bead work and hand-sewn moccasins the residents have made. They shared that beading and other crafts have been a beneficial outlet for their emotions, when they feel angry they put that anger into a constructive project and it takes their mind off of what they are feeling.

O’Brien mentioned there are many other programs at the Northwestern Minnesota Juvenile Center that help teach the Native American youth their heritage and traditions, although these programs are open to all youth that reside at the facility. Other programs offered at the center are Bible study, on-site fruit/vegetable garden and community volunteer work.

The board also approved a memorandum of understanding for a joint partnership for the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative between Cass County and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. It was shared that this agreement has been wanted for quite some time, but the state felt each government needed to have its own individual program. At the annual joint meeting last November the two governments decided it would be in the best interest to work jointly, and have the support of both judicial judges.


Cass County Courthouse

Cass County Courthouse

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