Micah Clipperton is a resident of the Circle of the Beloved, the Minnesota chapter of the Episcopal Service Corps. Four residents live on the North side of Minneapolis, in intentional community that acknowledges and deepens kinship across many lines of difference, while serving full time at AmeriCorps sites that work to close opportunity gaps in Minnesota.
Last summer I took a bit of a risk. I quit my job at Chipotle and decided not to renew my lease at my apartment in Plymouth. I did this because I was offered a job with a non-profit mobile bike shop my neighbor founded called RezCycle that operated on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Northern Minnesota. The real risk was not planning what I was going to do when I returned to the cities after my work was over. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to pay for the two months of rent that would be needed while i was gone. Also, I was getting an allergic reaction from the dishwater at Chipotle so I knew that a change had to happen. At Chipotle I was in line for a promotion to Kitchen Manager; a position that would be accompanied by a raise. However, because of the rash I was developing, I knew I wouldn’t be able to perform the job properly. All this lead up to an experience I will not soon forget.
The purpose of this non-profit bike shop was to equip the youth of several of the villages on the reservation with the knowledge and the tools to build, repair, and maintain bicycles for them, and their tribesmen; These skills and materials were given at little to no cost. Many people came up to us while we were working and asked us how much our services cost. With excitement, I would reply that all services are free-will donation. I was quite surprised by the amount of donations we received from the congregation of St. Michael’s and many of the children’s parents. RezCycle’s Mission statement is: to create access to transportation, and self empowerment while building a safe bicycle community for Native American Reservations across the continent. The White Earth Reservation was the pilot for a program that will hopefully be spread to as many reservations as possible.
When we first arrived, we met with the Vicar of White Earth, Jackie Bernacchi, who welcomed us with open arms and room and board. Jackie was often busy officiating funerals and leading worship on Sundays at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Nay Tah Waush, Minnesota. That didn’t stop her from offering help to us and the children we were working with whenever she was able. The building that we stored the mountain of donated bikes was on her property. While we stayed with her Jackie showed us unsurpassed love. everything that she did was for the benefit of those around her. The work we did would not have been the same without her support. With her help we were able to gain the trust of the community.
I didn’t expect the sheer number of young people who showed up each day. During the week we could have between 15-20 kids arrive throughout the day, dragging their broken bicycles behind them. Our team consisted of three young adults. I think we could have used more hands, but as a non-profit, the budget was quite tight. The parts we couldn’t get funding for, we pulled off of donated bicycles.
The main two communities we worked in were Rice Lake, and Nay Tah Waush. We worked closely with the Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs in each village. Since kids were usually already at the club when we got there, our work started as soon as our big blue bus rolled into the parking lot and didn’t end until the sun started to go down. The kids who were most interested in the program were between the ages of 4 and 14. Listening to the stories that were being told by the kids opened my eyes to new perspectives; stories often containing horrifying details, although in contrast, many stories were hilarious. As we listened to stories, we had no choice to act as mentors and lead by example. When fights broke out between boys or girls, we had the conflict resolved by talking it over with each of them and then having them communicate directly with each other.
Our work on the Reservation is not meant to be continued by us. Another part of the mission is to have the organization on each reservation be handed off to a board of directors, filled with the very youth we had been working with. The tools, bikes, and vehicles are also to be handed down so that the community can be self reliant and self empowering.
I showed love to the people of the White Earth Nation. I know that because of our work, the community has been filled with love, and bicycles. I could feel the love shown back to me by the copious amounts of food given to us by the community; both food for the body, and the soul. By setting an example of what is possible if you work together and serve each other, I believe that the youth of The White Earth Nation will realize that they have something that not everyone has; Hope and Love for the earth, and for their people.