Mark L. Wilson, MPA
Mark Wilson, founder of New Leonard Media, is an enrolled member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. Wilson serves many roles in his community in northwest Michigan, including on the City Commission and Brown Bridge Advisory Committee for Traverse City. For nearly a decade, Wilson served on the tribal council for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, including in the role of vice tribal chairman.
Mark holds a Masters of Public Administration from Central Michigan University (2016), Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies with an emphasis on Tribal Governance from Grand Valley State University (2014), and is a graduate of the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences (2008). His background is in visual communications, audio/video production, community advocacy and political science.
Mark Wilson was given a career start at Britten Studios as a production artist in the art department. At Britten, he gained experience working on large and complex projects for national events, retail centers, and major sporting arenas. He stayed with Britten until moving on to work with the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (GTB).
At GTB, Mark worked in the Communications Department as an associate editor. In this role, he was given more room for growth and ultimately, he demonstrated the need for and created the job position for a Multimedia Specialist, enhancing the GTB’s online presence and ability to maintain the tribal government website, graphic design, and video production needs in-house. Working on a team with UpNorth Media Center, Mark implemented an automated video system for streaming GTB Tribal Council Sessions and meetings from other GTB Constitutional Commissions and Committees. His job also included the ongoing training of various Department Managers and Program Directors on the utilization of the Content Management System so that they can update their respective webpages.
In 2014 Mark ran a successful campaign for a seat on the GTB Tribal Council. Prior work in communications, volunteer efforts, and involvement in the community helped to support Mark’s ability secure a seat and confidently advocate for the Tribal citizens. Mark’s portfolio on the Tribal Council includes: Vice-Chair; Chairman, Natural Resources and Environmental Committee; Board Member, GTB Economic Development Corporation; Board Member, GTB LLC; Trustee, Great Lakes Fisheries Trust; and representative on the Chippawa Ottawa Resource Authority.
Serving on the GTB Tribal Council and joining with the National Congress of American Indians, the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, and the United Tribes of Michigan has also given Mark experience meeting with members of Congress on Capitol Hill to solve complex issues impacting Indian Country.
Mark Wilson, maintains and grows strong relationships within the local Tribal as well as inter- Tribal communities and finding work that aligns with passion and projects that give back to the community are of constant focus. He believes in doing business ethically and with those who care about making their communities and the lives of the people in it better places for current and future generations.
Working with change makers and influencers over many years, coupled with real experience and serious training, Mark has created an impressive network that he is fortunate to serve and to connect to one another to ensure that everyone who has a voice is heard.
AWARDS & RECOGNITION:
2022 – “20 Fascinating People” Northern Express
2017 – “Outstanding Alumni” Grand Valley State University, Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies
2014 – “40 Under 40” Traverse City Business News
Mark Wilson runs a growing media production company and is a city commissioner in Traverse City, Mich. He’s also a long-time leader in the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.
Before all that, he was an adult student—first at a community college, and then years later at a public university where he got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Wilson recently partnered with our team at Sova on a Lumina-funded project to explore what kinds of data and information adult learners of color actually want from colleges and universities. His work on that project—as a cultural liaison and media consultant—was informed by his own experiences as an adult student.
At the beginning and end of the project, I interviewed Wilson. In the first interview, I asked him about his educational background, what he knew about college before he ever enrolled, and what he thinks about college now. In the closing interview, after focus groups and interviews with 36 Indigenous adults in northwest Michigan, we talked about what we learned. The following edited interview combines elements from both interviews. For more on the larger project that these focus groups were a part of, see our new report Turning the Mirror.
Can you share some of your experiences in education?
Mark Wilson: As a kid, I had experiences that I now understand to be about systemic racism, just little things. If there was lice in the classroom, the first kid to get blamed was the Native American kid and the Jewish kid. I got labeled as the troublemaker really early on, and I got held back. At that time I didn’t recognize that teachers were bringing in bags of clothes as their kids hand-medowns to me. Those are all things that used to make me feel a little less, because other kids saw that and would point it out. I went to all these different elementary schools. At one of them, the principal outright told me I was a troublemaker, and the kids were sure to remind me that I wasn’t white. This is by third grade.
By the time I got to seventh grade, my anxiety was through the roof. And I kind of leaned in more to being the troublemaker. I thought it was just funny to not try anymore. And you skate by. And so thinking about higher education, I didn’t think much. There was a program called Upward Bound that Northwestern Michigan College had, it was a grant for students who would be first-time college graduates. My parents hadn’t graduated college and my father hadn’t graduated high school, and it was that program made me think about college for the first time and had me experience a summer camp, staying on campus.
The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians had an adult school, which basically was GED coaching for high school drop outs, which I was that point. But I wasn’t successful at that either. So, I kind of floundered for a while and I sold weed, which eventually got me arrested, and worked various part-time jobs. But I didn’t do a whole lot of much.
My anxieties came to a head by the time I was maybe 19, and more or less felt like I didn’t have purpose or direction in my life or community. I wasn’t contributing. It started leading to some suicidal ideation. And some time went by, a couple of friends of mine had been in jail and they got their GED. I thought it was cool those programs existed, and I figured if friends were doing the work to get a GED under those circumstances, I really should do that too. So, I got my GED.
Then about six months later, I decided to take advantage of the Michigan Indian Tuition Waiver. And I learned that the Grand Traverse Band offered a higher education stipend if you go to school. I wasn’t really thinking about what I would do with school, just that it was kind of a means to get by. You either work some lame part-time job or treat school like a part-time job.
How did college go for you?
Once I started, there were some prerequisites. I had several courses I had to take just to get to a place where I was allowed to take college courses, and that took a lot of time. But once I had taken intro to psych, it inspired me to take abnormal psych and anthropology. And then I took a sociology class. Those social sciences classes taught me a lot more about myself. And that’s when I was able to reflect on my childhood and see some of these things that I had gone through. That made me want to go to school more. The English course I took was mainly just sitting down and being forced to look inward and write about yourself and look at your life. And it really helped. So I got the bug, and I stuck it out, and I started taking courses related to music and anything towards marketing my own music.
I had pretty much taken every visual communications course that the school offered without formally enrolling in the visual communications program. And then I learned that there were other students that I was working alongside of who had already gone and got jobs doing these various tasks that we were learning. And I hadn’t even grasped that that’s why you would even take that course in the first place. Why would you take a graphic design course if you don’t plan to be a graphic designer? Why would you take time-based media if you don’t want to work with some film? I was just doing it because it was fun. So it really blew my mind to hear you could get a job doing these things. And that’s primarily what inspired me to even finish the associate and then the bachelor’s and eventually my master’s degree and start a career in multimedia.
When we first met, you told me a little bit about your general journey, and I was stuck by the parts related to your language and math requirements. Can you say more about that here?
When I enrolled to get my bachelor’s degree, I was married by then, with my kids and mortgage, and seeing some hard times. I had gotten an audio certificate from a trade school, an audio production trade school outside of state that was more of a private for-profit. I owed money and a good way to buy myself some time was to go back to school.
So I enrolled in a liberal studies program through Grand Valley State University. And that temporarily settled the student loan situation. When I was at Northwest Michigan College, I barely got through any of my math. I was always like, ‘When am I ever going to want to know how to calculate the speed of a river?’
I didn’t care about taking any higher math classes. And every single time I’ve tried to move on, the requirement of a higher math class would just stop me. And so Grand Valley says, ‘You can get the Bachelor of Science, but you have to take a higher math class. You have to go take statistics.’ And I didn’t want to do that. And I said, ‘Well, what about the Bachelors of Arts?’ They say, ‘Well, that will require a foreign language.’ I say, ‘Great, because I would like to study Anishinaabemowin, which is the language of my people from here.’ And at first Grand Valley didn’t want to honor that. I presented several arguments and this went back and forth for a while.
I found a college up north in Petoskey, North Central Michigan College, that did offer Anishinaabemowin and Grand Valley eventually agreed to accept that. It was great of them to accommodate that request, and I hope it’s something they offer to their students now in general. Luckily enough, one of the language teachers at the tribe knew the instructor for the course and introduced me to her. They made it possible for me to take the class. I would go on my lunch break at work, at the tribe, to my language class. I’d bring my homework assignments and do them with the instructor there, and then I’d just go up to NCMC for my tests.
And that satisfied my language requirement, and I also think does a real service to my people, anybody that’s learning the language and using the language. And I got through that degree program. When I went to enroll for my master’s degree, they required statistics because there was going to be a lot of research. And I successfully convinced them that my final research paper, my thesis for my bachelor’s program, would suffice as proof that I’m capable of doing research.
And so I was able to get accepted into this program, once again, without a higher math course. At the very end, for my master’s thesis, it would’ve been impossible for me to do it without learning some statistics. So when that time came, I had about six weeks to get on YouTube every single night and teach myself statistics. But it worked out, and I was able to get my MA. Yeah, so it’s been a long journey from my GED to trade certificates and an associate degree from a community college to the bachelor’s and finally my master’s degree.
When I reached out to you about these conversations and about working together on this, what did you think about it, and why was it appealing to you?
I’m going to answer this in a roundabout way. So, from a very young age I wanted to be an MC and a DJ in the hip hop community. And that’s what led me to all the things that I enjoy doing to this day. I still DJ professionally, and I love that. But it’s also what led me to graphic design and video editing and audio engineering. But the important thing for me is that hip hop culture is a sociopolitical movement because it gives identity to those that have had their identities stripped from them, whether involuntarily or even voluntarily in our society.
So even those that have migrated to the Americas whenever, it’s a new, pure American art form and culture. So, it was hip hop music that made me think about my own community and where my cultural identity had been stripped. And saying that means, I was raised by a full-blooded Odawa who had been removed from his home and raised in a white foster care system. And other brothers and sisters, parents, his parents, parents’ parents, et cetera, ad nauseam for generations, had been forced into the Catholic boarding schools through a forced assimilation.
And so for me, luckily in my lifetime, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians had taken their federal reaffirmation, and was recognized by the federal government as a sovereign tribal nation. So I was very privileged to be raised as a dual citizen, a citizen of the United States of America and a citizen of my tribal nation. I am both of these things, and hip hop as a social movement has always spoken to me in this way. So my question for myself became how can I contribute to those same ideas and give back to my community, my tribe, and my country?
Before I was elected to the tribal council, I was the multimedia specialist in the communications department. It was an entrepreneurial role, where I found a lot of the grantfunded programs, and helped them come up with creative ways to solve their communication needs. And I really liked that work and wanted to get back to more of that kind of thing.
When you reached out, I’d already been working with several clients through New Leonard Media to help them with various digital tasks, clients that share my values and care about community and advancing positive change. And when I saw that Sova shares those same values and was looking for a cultural liaison to the Native communities here to help make sure our voices are heard when it comes to education, and then also utilize some of my digital handyman skills, it spoke directly to my heart.
As you reach out to people in your community for these focus groups, what kinds of questions did they ask and how did that shape how you went into the groups?
What I said about my anxieties growing up—there’s a lot more of that in our community. And so you can trust that a lot of the participants have similar backgrounds. Some maybe less anxious, some a lot more. When I started making phone calls, people were skeptical and they asked a lot of questions. They trust me, but for good reason they don’t trust researchers. Some of the conversations that were supposed to just be quick outreach ended up being long conversations. And I’d direct people to the Sova website so they could see for themselves that you were an organization trying to do good work. But there was a lot of skepticism and I could hear some of that anxiety. Before we did the groups, I was worried that we wouldn’t be appropriately sensitive to that and I remember we talked about that and made decisions about location and catering to help create the right environment. And that worked, though we didn’t get it all right. Looking back there were things we could have done better, like when we realized that we needed a smudge space away from the conversations for people who needed to step away from conversations that can be emotionally hard. I feel like I should have anticipated needing that, and in the future we’ll definitely do that. That’s part of the learning.
Overall, I think we did a good job of creating the right kind of environment for real conversation. But it’s hard, especially when you ask somebody in their 40s to come talk about why they never went to college. Some said, “I never needed to. I had the tribe.” The tribe recognizes years of service in lieu of a degree. So if a job requires a bachelor’s degree, but you’ve worked in human resources for six years, the tribe recognizes that experience as qualification.
But then others really surprised me. One in particular is a very successful businessperson who sold their business recently and can retire in their early 40s if they want. But they’re not, they continue working because that’s what’s in them, to grind. And I really expected them to be the same way. ‘I didn’t need to—didn’t need college.’ But no, they told me that it was a self-esteem issue, that they weren’t raised by anybody that went to college. They didn’t feel confident in it. I really admired hearing that, because I’ve known this person for a while and I wouldn’t have thought that.
I think the report you ended up producing really captures the insights from these conversations, and not just these conversations but the focus groups with Black and Latinx adults your team did as part of the project in other states with Ambassador Stories playing the role New Leonard play for the Indigenous groups here in Michigan.
So what’s next for Mark Wilson and New Leonard Media? I know our crew at Sova is looking forward to more collaboration with you. You and I have been talking about deepening the work we did together on “Turning the Mirror.” I’m excited about that, but what else is on the horizon for NLM?
Yeah, I’m excited about more work with your team, too. I’m getting sharper in how I position and explain what New Leonard can do for clients when it comes to media consultancy, fullservice recording studio offerings and the rest. I recently rebranded and relaunched the New Leonard website because it feels like it’s time to really dial into and express who we are and who we want to work with. I’ve been thinking a lot about the ideal customer avatar. I want to work with organizations like yours that aim to advance positive change, organizations that go beyond the bottom line and care about leaving the world a better place. Ryan and I are going to keep our In Pursuit Of podcast going which, as you know, is about highlight the work of people and organizations in Northwest Michigan that are working to create positive change. On the horizon, I hope New Leonard and Sova get to work together on that deeper dive we’ve been talking about on Indigenous learner voice in the Great Lakes region. But tomorrow I’m leaving for a weeklong editing retreat to work on a documentary Pathway to the Sea about Māori connections to the ocean and the responsibilities Māori tribes and individuals take on to care for coastal bio-cultural communities. I’m a part of Dr. Nick Reo’s team on the project, and it’s been an incredibly meaningful experience and one that resonates with me as an Indigenous person in the Great Lakes region.
And when I get back, I’ll be finishing up a collaboration with the Michigan Community College Association on a set of digital resources for colleges. That has been a lot of fun to work on. There’s a lot of good work to be done, and I want New Leonard to be a part of it.
To learn more about Mark Wilson and New Leonard, visit newleonard.com.
1 Alison Kadlec conducted the interviews that make up the source material for this edited piece, and Mark Wilson hosted the interviews at New Leonard Media’s studio.
BY CRAIG MANNING | AUG. 6, 2022
Live music is raw, passionate, spontaneous, immediate, magical, and temporary. Hearing a great band lock into a groove or ignite a moment of dancefloor revelry is electric precisely because of its ephemerality. When the song is over, when the house lights come up, when the band leaves the stage, there’s no way to relive that magic in quite the same way again.
Suffice to say, there’s a good reason that music studios exist. A live performance is fleeting, but a knockout studio recording is forever. If you think about your favorite band or songwriter, there’s a good chance their definitive work is not a concert or a live recording, but a song or album with all the sparkle and shine of studio magic.
But what goes into creating and capturing that magic in a studio? How does a great live band convey what they do without an audience on hand? And how can you—if you are an aspiring musician—turn your songs into lush, beautiful recordings that will last forever?
For this week’s music issue, Northern Express connected with one of the region’s recording professionals—Mark Wilson, owner of New Leonard Media—to pull back the curtain on how the music we love gets made.
New Leonard Media is a Native American-owned recording studio that specializes not just in music production, but also recording for podcasts, voiceovers, promotional materials, and even video. Wilson, New Leonard’s owner and operator, says it’s often necessary for studios in smaller markets like northern Michigan to do “a myriad of things” in order to pay the bills.
Still, make no mistake: Wilson is a music man to the bone. The New Leonard website describes him as “a lifelong DJ with a love of hip hop culture and the production of organic and classic boom-bap instrumentals.” He also graduated from the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences, an esteemed technical recording school based in Arizona; holds certifications in Logic Pro and Pro Tools; and welcomes musicians of all stripes into his studio, from rappers to folk singers to rock bands.
So who exactly shows up at a northern Michigan studio to lay down a track or record an album? According to Wilson, it’s a motley crew of different clients. (Not to be confused with hair metal legends Mötley Crüe, who haven’t swung by just yet.)
“I’ve tracked a lot for people where their grandma just loves their voice and they want to have a compilation of some of their songs, either originals or covers,” Wilson explains. “In those types of situations, we can get the backing tracks and basically just record their voice, karaoke-style.”
Other times, the clients coming into New Leonard are hobbyists who enjoy playing music together and just want to create a document of that experience. A few weeks ago, Wilson recorded a family of musicians who all live in different parts of the country. When the family members found themselves Up North at the same time, they took advantage of their fleeting proximity by booking some recording time. “My studio was suitable for that [project],” Wilson notes. “It was banjo, violin, guitar, and singing, and it was really just a family thing, where there’s not a lot of high pressure for what the release is going to look like. They were just having fun, and we could give them something good and professional sounding.”
Occasionally, a larger project will roll through New Leonard’s doors. For instance, over the years, Wilson says he’s worked with a noted producer who has both local roots and a record label full of “larger touring bands.” Sometimes, those bands would come to northern Michigan to work on their albums, and the New Leonard team would get the call to lend a hand.
The Recording Process
Regardless of who the client is, the big question is this: How do you actually go about making a professional-sounding song in the studio?
In most cases, Wilson’s go-to starting strategy is to lay down what is called a “scratch track.” A scratch track is essentially a rough sketch of a song, not meant to act as the final recording but instead as a map that the audio engineer and the artist can use to navigate the rest of the recording process.
“If it’s a band, they’ll play together once with a metronome in their headphones, so that the timing stays correct,” Wilson explains. “We call that recording the scratch track. Then we’ll go back through and record each player separately, one at a time. So, for example, we’ll play just the acoustic guitar, and I’ll put [that player] in the booth and mic it up properly and record that audio alone. We do that for all the individual parts, playing along with the scratch track until we have everything. Then, in the end, we get rid of the scratch track and mix all the parts to build the final song.”
In most cases, Wilson says artists or bands only need to bring their instruments and themselves to the studio to record. New Leonard—and any other professional recording studio—is going to be fully equipped with all the necessary gear, like microphones and mixing boards. There are some exceptions to that rule: For example, Wilson notes that he doesn’t have a grand piano at his studio, which might mean going somewhere else to get a piano track if the artist wants or needs one.
The Frequently Asked Questions
If you are thinking about booking some studio time to record a song or make an album, you probably have a few big questions you want answered before you write a check and schedule the recording block. We asked Wilson some of the most frequently asked questions so we could provide a crash course on what you need to know.
How much does it cost? This question, Wilson says, is the toughest to answer, if only because there are a lot of different variables at play with any given recording project. Everything from how big the band is to how much the musicians have rehearsed can impact how long it takes to record, which in turn can add dollars to the final bill. In most cases, Wilson says his recording projects land somewhere between $50 and $2,000.
How can you prepare? While some legendary albums were crafted by bands just hanging out, jamming, and writing songs in the studio—if you watched last year’s The Beatles: Get Back, you know what we’re talking about—Wilson says that approach isn’t necessarily ideal and can be extremely expensive for the average person or band. Instead, he encourages artists to come well-rehearsed and with a good idea of what they want to accomplish in the studio. Musicians who know what they are hoping to record and who can nail their parts in a few takes will get more value out of a studio time than artists hoping to “figure it out” in the moment.
What can a studio offer that a DIY approach can’t? With the advent of GarageBand and other recording software technology, it became way easier for artists to make decent-sounding music at home, without the help (or cost) of a professional studio. For his part, Wilson doesn’t view home recording as a “rival” to the services he provides. In fact, he even encourages prospective clients to try their hand at recording, layering, and mixing music on their own. “No matter what level you consider yourself as a recording artist, that’s going to be your scratch paper,” he says. “You need to have that freedom to play, record, and listen back, because those are the types of things that will make you more prepared before hiring somebody to help produce your music.”
As for the value that an expert can provide, Wilson points to two things: objectivity and time. Having an extra set of (impartial) ears on your music, he says, is valuable for guiding any musician toward a better finished product. As for time, Wilson notes that many of the steps involved in producing a superior studio recording are time-consuming and tedious. “If you know a person who can do it faster, or is just willing to do it, that’s valuable,” he says. “Often, if someone has the budget, they would rather pay somebody else to tune their vocals or edit the drums, simply because those aren’t the sexiest parts of the process.”
Learn more at newleonard.com.
The Future of Studio Anatomy
Since 2012, Studio Anatomy has been a key cog in the Traverse City music scene, with owner Brian Chamberlain turning the business’s basement digs in downtown TC’s historic Arcade building into a hybrid recording studio, music venue, record shop, and all-around hangout for music fanatics.
That chapter of Studio Anatomy has come to an end. Earlier this year, Cherry Republic announced that it had purchased the Arcade building and would be renovating and repurposing the structure as its new Traverse City location. That news meant long-running leaseholders like Studio Anatomy would have to move out by Sept. 7 and find new homes. When Northern Express reached out to Chamberlain for this article, he said the studio had finished out its final sessions several weeks ago and that he was busy packing up the space and “working on finding a new location for Studio Anatomy.”
In March, when news broke about Cherry Republic’s purchase of the Arcade building, Chamberlain told Northern Express sister publication The Ticker that he was in talks with the management for Cherryland Center about potentially converting the old Younkers department store space as a new home for Studio Anatomy. Chamberlain envisions the space becoming the home for not just a recording studio, performance venue, and record shop, but also a cluster of artist studios, an art gallery, an indoor skate park and roller rink, a brewery, and more.
That plan is still in the works: On Aug. 19, Studio Anatomy will team up with the Traverse City Roller Derby to host a “Save The Studio Benefit Show.” The event will take place at Howe Arena and will feature local bands Tiny Tree, Ficus, Avid Kain, Infinium, and Captain Lemo. Tickets are $20 in advance or $30 the day of the show, and can be purchased online at studioanatomy.com/shows.
Northern Express – Mark Wilson: The Pursuer of Change
Mark Wilson certainly knows how to stay busy. He has served on the Tribal Council of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians since 2014, presently as its Vice Chair. Last November, he was elected as a Commissioner for the City of Traverse City. And he’s also the owner of New Leonard Media, a Native American-owned multimedia recording studio that offers podcast and vocal production in Traverse City.
“Having grown up during the golden era of hip hop music and culture, I wanted to be an entertainer in the arts of rapping, disc jockeying, and break dancing,” Wilson says. This led him to work as an audio engineer, DJ, and multimedia specialist, all of which informed his work as a creator and storyteller today.
Wilson says his different roles in the community come together “in effort to support those who advance positive change.” Indeed, Wilson is part of this change, both through his public service and through his podcast called “The Pursuit Of…”, where Wilson and friend Ryan Buck interview guests who are in pursuit of making life better through nonprofit work, entrepreneurship, art, environmental protection, and more. You can find them on your favorite podcast platform to hear what other fascinating people and organizations are doing in northern Michigan.
Traverse City Record Eagle – Mark Wilson brings his cultural identity as an Odawa Anishinaabe to his role in becoming one of Traverse City’s newest commissioners.
TRAVERSE CITY — Mark Wilson sits comfortably on a couch in a busy downtown coffee shop with a piping-hot cup of Earl Grey tea.
Donning a snug sweater, sneakers, and a black beanie he said he’s had since 18, his dress reflects a calm and collective demeanor.
Wilson is a believer in good governance, and has served many roles for his community, stating that they all have mirrored his passion for tribal sovereignty, and the preservation of Anishinaabek culture.
Moving thoughtfully through his words, Wilson reflects on the town that he has called home his entire life and how his cultural identity as an Odawa Anishinaabe plays an important role in becoming one of Traverse City’s newest commissioners.
Wilson said that Grand Traverse region is bleak of Anishinaabek representation, adding that many people who were raised here are disconnected to the history of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.
“Our identity is often reduced to the casinos, and our culture isn’t really celebrated here, but it could be and it should be,” Wilson said.
Wilson points out that the tribe’s 1855 reservation land starts along the iconic M-22. Although his ancestors historically had fishing settlements in the Grand Traverse region, the town doesn’t acknowledge the significant contributions Anishnaabek had on the region, he said.
He hopes to bring a better government-to-government relationship with Traverse City and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, which he said could be improved.
Wilson grew up on the outskirts of town in Grawn, and moved to the Traverse Heights area 15 years ago.
He said that he’s lived through and witnessed being on the lower priority of the town’s agenda.
“I’ll be the first to say that I am not the best or the brightest,” Wilson laughed. “But I got here because of my community, both tribal and the city … I was able to invest in myself.”
Wilson never graduated high school, but obtained his GED and went on to earn his master’s from Central Michigan University.
He wants to give back with service to the communities that helped him get where he is today.
Wilson was sworn in earlier this month, where he took an oath to office. He said that he is excited to see government on a different side.
With his new role as a city commissioner, Wilson stated that he hopes he can help “bring a balance,” to the local government with a perspective that the city hasn’t had before now.
Since 2014, Wilson has served on the tribal council for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, where he currently sits as vice tribal chairman.
During his almost two terms, Wilson has served on the Board of Directors for the tribe’s economic development corporation- Grand Traverse Resort and Casinos, Grand Traverse Economic Development, the tribe’s federal contracting entity, and as a member of the Board of Trustees for the Great Lakes Fisheries Trust. From 2014-2018, he sat as committee chair for the tribe’s Natural Resources and Environmental Committee.
In 2017, GTB signed a resolution in support of the capstone, 20-year restoration project on the Ottaway (Boardman) River, which will reconnect the river with Lake Michigan. Wilson was among the all-council approval that supported the action.
Wilson said that for the Odawa of the region, like himself, there is a spiritual connection to the river, and he hopes that residents of the GT region “come back to the river.”
FishPass will replace the deteriorating Union Street Dam with a new, complete barrier, that will have the ability to sort and selectively pass “desirable” fishes while blocking, invasive species that have harmful impacts on the river’s ecosystem.
Wilson said FishPass is an innovative solution that aims to bring the river back to its former glory before the centuries of colonization that stripped its hydrological and ecological connectivity to Lake Michigan.
For him, it’s about the health of the river.
“My hope is that the people can approach the river with reciprocity, and honor what the river gives us already and not just view it as a means to an end.”
Wilson isn’t stopping there — he said he has big plans on looking at the city’s infrastructure system, and investing more into the people that call the region “home.”
“I love that Traverse City has become a destination place, where we can show the beauty that this region has,” Wilson said. “But I want to make sure that people who keep the region thriving aren’t overlooked, that the people are not forgotten.”
For Wilson, that means investing in residents to keep the city sustainable. He said that one of his cultural teachings of “looking seven generations ahead” is always in his mind when he makes decision on behalf of the community to move forward.