Several community members from Standing Rock have been working to create a sustainable model of the school we had during the Prayer Camps in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016. During one of our conversations with the Standing Rock Tribal Education Department, we were reminded of our Tribal Constitution where it's stated that we as a sovereign Tribal Nation reserve the right to educate our children as we deem fit. Prior to that conversation we as a school team were struggling to figure out how to meet the standards of Lakota culture and language as well as meeting the state standards. Everything seemed to open up for us after that, and we began a deep dive into what it means to educate our children in a SOVEREIGN way as a Tribal Community.
On a personal level, I had been frustrated with the education system for a long time. I began my career in education in 2001 when I first started teaching. Initially I decided to teach so I could have the same schedule as my daughter as well as be able to take her to work with me. I remained in the classroom until she graduated in 2017. Over the years, I taught in Georgia, New Mexico, South Dakota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Colorado and Abu Dhabi. Having taught in many different school systems and in many different communities with thousands of students I've learned that the school system, the US education system, is not only failing Native students, it is failing students everywhere. As a teacher I was able to cultivate best practices by leaning into my foundation, the Lakota and Athabascan culture, learning about trauma and its impact on the brain, and creating a space that met the needs for kinesthetic visual and auditory learners. As a result my contribution in this sovereign education space on Standing Rock has been grounded in years of practice and implementing Lakota culture through creating expectations of respect and understanding of kinship beyond blood relationships.
Okay, that's the background that brings us to the Bush Fellowship. I looked for education programs on sovereign education, however I soon came to the realization that it's impossible to decolonize the same institutions that were used to colonize us, Indigenous Peoples; hence deciding to do a self-study in radical sovereignty. What I did not anticipate in this study/ fellowship is being faced with the questions of what it means to be sovereign in mind, sovereign in body, space and time. I did not anticipate the impostor syndrome that set in when the fellowship began. It felt similar to a time when I climbed to the top of this rock in the Black Hills. I wanted to jump into this beautiful blue lake but instead of jumping, I froze while sitting on the edge of the rock. The first few weeks felt like that where the moment of anticipation was here and I didn't know what to do. The irony lies in the fact that I was actually following my plan, yet still struggled to believe that I really had the time, mental space, and freedom to focus on what radical sovereignty in education means or what the possibilities can look like.
Because six of the 10 team members are both mothers and birth workers of some sort, we decided to incorporate a master apprentice model to include birth work and coming of age teachings. I've been in birth work since 2008. One of my personal goals is to bring birth sovereignty back to Standing Rock since 100% of all births are off reservation with a very high cesarean rate. When I initially wrote my fellowship, I didn't think I would have the time to complete a training for birth work, so instead, I included opportunities for travel to meet and learn from indigenous birth workers. About 3 weeks into the fellowship an opportunity presented itself for a birth education program through Matrona. I jumped at the opportunity for two reasons: one it's only one year and secondly I would be working in a cohort with 10 other Indigenous birth workers representing six Tribal Nations across the Northern Plains Region.
When we created the short and long-term goals for the Mni Wiconi Nakicinzi Wounspe, Defenders Of The Water School, we initially thought the master apprentice model for the birth keepers education would be several years down the road, but now with two of us from Standing Rock undergoing this education program, we will be able to create an indigenous birth keepers master apprentice training for our community much sooner.
With zoom largely replacing meetings in person, I have had the flexibility to visit my daughter in New Mexico while continuing to help and co-create the school, as well as participate in the birth keepers education program online. Several of the people and alliances I want to meet during my fellowship reside here in New Mexico including many Indigenous birth workers. I am also meeting and reconnecting with Natives in education to foster alliances and opportunities for our students on Standing Rock.
A word of advice to future fellows, write and follow your plan even when impostor syndrome sets in. The plan you created when you were calm and in a creative space will serve as your guide when everything feels overwhelming.