Campfire inspires a vision of hope


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You can support the Spirit Journey dream with a gift to Northport Indian Mission UMC, as outlined in the story.

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NORTHPORT, Mich. (WMC) -- Memories … sometimes they become road blocks. And sometimes they become building blocks. For Brandon Ahmicasaube Smith childhood memories of camp meeting have become a constructive vision for the future.

Brandon’s father, Kemo Ahmicasaube Smith, is a full-blooded member of the Traverse Bay Band of Odawa. “Growing up my dad started bringing me to camp meetings at Northport,” Brandon remembers. “When I first set foot on campground in Northport and saw Indian kids like me running around, I knew it was special to be together with each other.”
Having grown up in Grand Rapids, Brandon had little connection with his Native American culture. After graduating from high school, he would move to Northport, go to school at Northwestern Michigan College, and become an active part of the community.
Coming home
Soon he learned that the Peshawbestown PeeWee Football Team needed a coach and he volunteered his services. “This is when I truly felt that working with young people is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” Brandon recalls. After a year of coaching, Brandon left the state for two years to attend the Haskell Indian Nations University in Haskell, KN.
He returned to Michigan to live in Grand Rapids but “I knew in my heart I wanted to go back north,” he says.
When he did return to Peshawbestown, it was not the place he remembered. “That group of awesome boys, who were 10 years old, are now 20,” Brandon explains, “and they are in trouble.” Lots of potential and few opportunities is how he describes the situation for the young adults of the Native American community. “A cycle of drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence has been going on for generations,” Brandon adds.
A dream is born
Brandon’s concern grew deeper when he returned with his family to Northport in the summer of 2012 for camp meeting. “Camp meeting used to be a week long,” he says, “and now it has declined to one weekend. There used to be lots of kids running around and now there are barely any. That scared me.”
It also set him thinking. Both of Brandon’s grandfathers were pastors—on his father’s side, Methodist; on his mother’s side Nazarene. Brandon recognized the difference that Christ had made in his life growing up. “That’s when it really hit me,” he confesses. “You have been blessed with a Christian background and you are aware of God’s love. Your duty is to share God’s word and Christ’s love!”
Around the campfire
Suddenly aware as never before that “the best thing my dad ever did for me was take me to camp meeting,” Brandon sat around the campfire after others had gone home. He started talking about a Bible camp with his mother, father and a good friend. “I had this awesome feeling that my people are not alone. Christ is with us!. We must tell them! This camp must happen.”
Sitting around that campfire in Northport, a plan started to take shape, beginning with a name—Spirit Journey. “Spirit Journey is a lifestyle, not just a camp,” Brandon notes. He also understands that while his own spirit grew over many years through Christian nurture, others are starting from a different place. He believes that Native culture and the Christian faith share many common beliefs and approaches to life. “The Great Spirit and Jesus both tell us to live our lives for God.”
Plan moves forward
The campfire has died but Brandon’s dream is very much alive. In the months since the initial conversation, the dream has been designed and shared. “I want to give Native American young people a real chance and a choice to live in a new way,” is how Brandon sums it up. Spirit Journey’s audience is kids 8-14. Brandon says currently that generation lives by this saying, “Crabs in a bucket will climb all over you and push you down to get to the top.” Spirit Journey seeks to counter that outlook with a sense of community and a recapturing of traditional values. At its heart, Spirit Journey is about new attitude and new tools.
First steps could involve expanding camp meeting from a weekend back to a week-long event that initially involves the kids in music, arts and crafts and then invites their parents to participate. “I want the parents to say, ‘Wow!’ and then, ‘What can I do next?’” Brandon remarks. It is important to note that Brandon has the support of the Northport United Methodist Church and its pastor, the Rev. Tom John.
Next steps
The Spirit Journey team recently had a meeting with Conference leaders, Anita Hahn, Benton Heisler and Dennis Dull. They met with enthusiasm for the dream but a need to establish a broad, strong foundation to assure significant financial support. “I don’t want to put something together that is not ready,” Brandon says with resolve. “That’s what Native American kids get all the time…something thrown-together and half-hearted. That’s the last thing I want to do.”
The family effort continues with Brandon’s plan to involve his brother, a licensed contractor, with the building of the first cabin at Northport Camp Ground. After that, the plan is to build ownership into the very walls of the cabins by involving local youth “old enough to swing a hammer” in further construction. The Spirit Journey vision includes teaching a trade.
Join the Journey
So as the Spirit Journey team continues to develop their base, “in order to do this right,” interested persons can contribute financial support through the Northport Indian Mission United Methodist Church. Checks maybe sent through the Conference Treasurer, P. O. Box 6247, Grand Rapids MI 49516. It is important to memo the check to Lane 5—Northport UMC—Spirit Journey.
Those wishing to learn about Spirit Journey in greater detail should contact Brandon Smith at 231-590-4063; email him hereBrandon and his father, Kemo, will be doing a series of presentations at Grand Rapids Trinity UMC, 1100 Lake Drive SE. The Discover Class will feature the history and traditions of Native Americans in Michigan and The Methodist Church on Sunday, April 7, 14, and 21 at 9:30. On Sunday, April 14, Brandon and Kemo will share the Spirit Journey story in worship at Trinity, 8:30 and 11:00 a.m.
Brenda Hendley, Brandon’s mother and a member at Trinity Grand Rapids, relates, “Brandon recently called to tell me that the need is great. ‘Mom,’ he said, ‘there’s almost a tragedy a week up here.’ That makes it difficult to be patient!”
Superintendent of the Grand Traverse District, the Rev. Anita Hahn, understands that a dream this size requires a lot of support. But she is enthusiastic. “This is a God thing!” Anita concludes. “I think this is an amazing thing trying to happen.”
~reported by Kay DeMoss, Weekly News Senior Writer. Homepage photo courtesy of Brenda Hendley; Brandon is shown with Northport's Children's Choir at the Christmas Service.


1. Sandra VandenBrink wrote on 3/6/2013 10:50:40 PM
How awesome! Way to go, Brandon! The need for Native kids to learn about Jesus is very great. Keep the vision alive!
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