Hau Mitakuyape (Hello my relatives)
Cante wasté nape ciyuzapelo (I shake your hand with a good heart)! We were asked to put ourselves on the path of a new Bush Fellow for this post.
For me the biggest thing that stand’s out is the path we all travel on to apply for the Fellowship. Many times I’ve found myself reflecting on the path that was laid for me by a lot of people who believed in my abilities and my own journey down this path. Our lives take many different directions and we are shaped by our experiences but they help build the experience we need to better ourselves. One of the most daunting things I have been asked was how to write and talk these experiences when applying for a Bush Fellowship.
When I first found out about the Bush Fellowship, I was 25 years old, after reading about some of the people who received them and what the received them for was inspiring to me. I had to be honest with myself at the time that I did not have enough experience in the area of advocacy of Native American issues and decided to wait on applying until I had a better direction in my own life with advocacy experience.
As I became more involved with politics, I became more aware of the issues affecting our communities and identifying the areas our communities need to engage in for our voices to be heard. This included having elected representation at the Tribal, Local, County, State, and Federal levels because all of these areas of governance impacted our communities both positively and negatively. Understanding the need to have our own tribal members member’s serve in these roles because they understand the issues first hand is the best outcome in a representative democracy for better services for our communities.
Working on various campaigns that ranged from Congress, U.S. Senate, U.S. Presidential, and a ballot initiative before I was 29 provided me with a wealth of experience that I didn’t have at 25.
During this time I also applied for various Fellowship programs with Young People For/Front Line Leaders Academy and learned from other young elected officials from all over the country including the former San Antonio City Councilmember Julian Castro, State Senator Krysten Sinema, Minneapolis School Board member Peggy Flanagan who all went on to become the U.S. Housing Secretary, a Congresswoman, and a newly elected member of the Minnesota State Legislature.
With the wealth of experience I was provided, I decided to run for the state legislature in South Dakota. There were 3 others running in the primary and 3 people running in the general election, I’ve previously ran for a few local tribal positions but lost every time since I was 25. I told myself this would be the last time I would run but I wanted to do it the best way I could and get our message out about investing in our young people to work towards the positive change we needed for our community.
I made it through both elections and was elected because of our great election team with the help of our Oglala Lakota voters in 2008. We had a small victory dinner for our core campaign team who worked with me through the primary and general election, when I was asked to give a small speech to all 6 of them, I realized at 29, I was the oldest person at the table.
This realization has been a main focal point of both the leadership program (www.nativeyouthleadership.org) we founded to build the skills of young Native’s to stay in our communities and public policy that will help build up all of our Native communities in South Dakota because many of the populations on the reservations are trending younger.
Sharing this experience with you all hasn’t come easy because one of the sad realities of politics is losing your most ardent supporters and volunteers. Sadly, 4 of my campaign volunteers passed away all before the age of 30 and I recently lost my mother a week before Election Day in 2014. I know they all would be supportive of me and would want me to continue on for a better future for their young families and relatives.
At 35, I finally decided I would be ready to apply for a Bush Fellowship based on the experiences I shared but also coming to a point in my life I would have find another direction in life because of legislative term limits. Going through the process was difficult because of trying to capture our personal experiences in a few hundred words and phone interviews.
Since becoming a Bush Fellow, I have been able to focus on expanding my leadership network with the White House, our Native American Caucus of State Legislators, American Indians for Opportunity, and various leadership opportunities provided by the Bush Foundation. Being able to reflect back on our own stories in order to understand where we are going in life has been one of the things I enjoyed the most about this Fellowship because it is only when we understand what we’ve been through can we understand we are going.