You don’t know what you don’t know. I entered the Bush Foundation Fellowship program with a specific mission and leadership development pathway. I laid out my plan for the path I believed I wanted to follow. But once my Bush Fellowship journey actually began, the reality of what I thought I knew—and what I expected from this experience—set in. And things changed. The end goal for my leadership development remains the same; however, my pathway has evolved. I still want the same growth in the areas of culture, language, leadership development and community impact, but I now understand that how I get there will be different.
As a new Bush Fellow, you must be prepared for the launch of your journey, and be cognizant of the fact that you will have to shift other responsibilities so you can manage your new Bush-focused opportunities. You’ll need to prepare all the people with whom you work and live for the inevitable changes that will occur in terms of time, focus and physical geography. You will need to pay attention to where your time and energy are flowing. You cannot drop everything, but you must set new priorities. And you must definitely be prepared to travel, because you will be required to attend Bush-related events and workshops across the country, and even around the world. Accepting a Bush Fellowship means embarking on a journey in every possible sense: physically, mentally, personally, professionally, academically, financially and spiritually. You, and the others who rely on you, should be prepared for the many dramatic and necessary changes in your life.
The start of my Bush Fellowship presented significant challenges for me. Not only did the fellowship begin right in the middle of several large-scale projects related to my work with the Cheyenne River Youth Project, I had to delve into my Bush Fellowship journey immediately due to the time of year. A significant focus of my fellowship centers on expanding my experience and understanding of Lakota culture and language as it pertains to leadership development, and summer is a very critical time for specific Lakota cultural and spiritual ceremonies and events. I observed and immersed myself in several such events, and my understanding of what I did not know seemed to grow infinitely. I also became acutely aware of my need to analyze and reshape some the cultural pathway aspects of my Bush Fellowship leadership development.
Another surprising element: I was unprepared for how much I would have to learn to reset and re-establish myself when interacting with the mainstream world. For me, this “repositioning” happens for two reasons. First, my priorities and focus as an American Indian woman can, at times, be in conflict with other mainstream views of women. Historically, American Indian woman were revered and viewed as critical elements of Lakota society. American Indian cultures are matriarchal, so woman were not historically viewed as unequal to men. As Western philosophies have entered tribal communities, however, there has been a shift in how woman are viewed and valued.
When I attend meetings, it is important to explain this distinction; in Lakota communities, there is a desire to return to traditional women’s roles, but that means something very different in Western society, where traditional females roles are—in my opinion and experience—viewed as being unequal to their male counterparts. In fact, I’ve found myself facing a cultural conflict between my goals of returning to traditional cultural roles for women in Lakota society, versus staying with traditional roles in Western society and culture. But, this is a critical part of my personal journey to educate myself, and to educate the world around me about women’s roles in traditional Lakota society.
Next, I have learned my leadership journey will require me to pay close attention to the energy and stimulation I gain when I attend conferences or workshops, and how I transition back to an everyday environment. I work hard to make the world in which I live and work a place of empowerment and high energy, but if I focus too much on the fact that this energy is not yet present, then I start to question myself and ask if this is the place I am supposed to be. In that moment, however, I can find self-awareness and self-realization, understanding that my journey as a Bush Fellow is to develop and expand my leadership abilities to create an environment of empowerment and positive energy. It’s very important to remember that one of my passions is to rejuvenate and strengthen my community through leadership—and that my mission is to gain knowledge and learn how to create this environment in my community so more people can experience it.