What’s it like to attend a Heart of the Continent Partnership meeting?

By Allison Dobscha and Arielle Johnson, Friends Interns


A little over two weeks ago, we had the privilege of taking part in a quarterly meeting for the Heart of the Continent Partnership, a coalition of Canadian and American organizations working together to sustain the economy, ecosystems, and culture of the Ontario/Northeastern Minnesota region. As interns for the Friends since September, we have had the opportunity to taste wilderness-inspired beer at Brews and Canoes, listen to Jamie Pinkham’s engaging stories at the Annual Gathering, and discuss the work of the Friends with interested individuals at the Midwest Mountaineering Outdoor Adventure Expo. Before the HOCP meeting, we expected to simply sit, listen, and absorb everything we could from upcoming meetings and events. We did not initially anticipate that our own voices and opinions would be valued and encouraged by the HOCP participants.

HOCP attendees toured the Soudan Mine as part of the meeting.

HOCP attendees toured the Soudan Mine as part of the meeting.

On Thursday, we had the opportunity to sit in on the steering committee meeting, tour the Soudan Underground Mine, and learn more about local coalitions. We learned specifically about the Iron Range Partnership for Sustainability’s techniques for connecting citizens and nourishing strong partnerships, as well as their definition of sustainability as a three-legged stool: resources, economy, community. On Friday, several panelists spoke about their experience with Environmental Education in the region, and the entire group was asked to take an active role in exploring potential ways for the partnership to contribute to regional outdoor education projects. We brainstormed ideas for how to better educate children and families about the kinds of outdoor activities available in this beautiful part of the continent. At one point, the discussion facilitator asked to hear specifically from people under the age of thirty. Joining with some students from Vermilion Community College, we floated our ideas for creating cross-border networks and drew attention to the existing gaps in environmental education.


Laurentian Environmental Learning Center is beautiful in winter.

Arielle and I were proud to be included in this discussion and to find that we had opinions worth contributing. These conversations are common in the Friends office, but we were excited and energized by how many organizations were interested in tackling the same issues through collaboration as well. HOCP struck me as a unique group, committed to dialogue even in the face of challenges and boundaries. Our experience at the meeting genuinely raised our hopes for the future of environmental problem-solving, and for our own roles in it.

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