This fellowship has been such a blessing. I am so grateful for the resources and the drastic mindset shift that this fellowship has awarded me. People often have said this fellowship is "life changing" and it was hard to comprehend the magnitude of that statement until now, especially these last few months. I owe so much to my leadership coach; I cannot imagine getting to this place without her guidance. She called the beginning process an excavation and it truly was a deep dig of all my pain and trauma. I have been raised to do the exact opposite - to put my pain deep into the earth, throw good soil over the top and try my best to grow healthy food over it. This is doable, don’t get me wrong. I have accomplished many great tasks with this as my process. But I am realizing the energy and resources needed to sustain this type of gardening is immense and, as a mother of three, nearly impossible. I am drained faster than I even realize, leaving my soil depleted of nutrients and me, the gardener, just jamming in nutrients inorganically and unsustainably before running off and trying to help my children, family, and community tend to their own gardens… I was exhausted with not a lot to show for my hard labor. I worked so hard and my hard work was noticed, sure, but I also knew that I wasn’t producing at a rate comparable to the work I was putting in. I would advise anyone to do this “excavation” work with the right support system. How freeing it has been to be unconfined by my subconscious triggers - quietly and stealthily (and unnecessarily) showing up to protect me from more pain. “Stay quiet so you aren’t exposed as not knowing enough.” “Don’t show up or you’ll just get pushed away for not being enough.” “It’s safer if you just stay in your lane.” “Wait until you are called on, then you will know you are ready/worthy.” I can identify these narratives that were written by a younger, even child me and I can now rewrite them. As I train my brain to do this rewrite, I have become quicker at turning the switch. It is quite amazing how swiftly these narratives show up and how vast a context they can attach themselves to. Working, speaking my language, engaging culturally, caring for children, conversing with relatives, leading… And to imagine all the times that I curled up in a ball, figuratively and sometimes literally, from fear, shame, anxiety, exhaustion, and/or guilt. All the times I let that narrative get the best of me and wear me down and wear me out. And now my relationships have deepened and softened, and I too, have softened and expanded. I show up and do not lean on saying “no” as a way to get out of confronting my fears and insecurities. I say “no” because I value my time and energy. I do not say “no” because I think I am not good enough. I can separate those responses. I have identified my sources of pain (and protection), and I am no longer tied unconsciously to them; they no longer have power over me. My power is within me, it is me.
I’ve used a metaphor before that still feels relevant today. This idea of power being something you step into, like this powerful Miigis-shaped (and you-shaped) aura that when stepped into, you are able to access all the power that is gifted to you by the manidoog. I imagine it’s like that moment Thor realizes his power is not in his hammer but in him all along or when Wanda realizes she is in fact a witch, making her the most powerful avenger of all (yes, fellows too binge watch Disney+). I met this Indigenous woman at a leadership training, and she was amazing. I sort of stared at her in awe because she seemed in complete control over her body, mind, spirit, and especially her voice. She almost radiated. She was powerful! I think of her while I use this metaphor because I imagined that she had stepped into her “her-shaped aura” and was vibrating and operating for her family and community at a much more efficient level. I thought, when I can step into this power, I will have reached my goal. At this point in my fellowship and in my life, I am realizing that I have been able to step in and access my power and it feels amazing. It is an ongoing process to get to this place with greater ease and at a moment’s notice, but it feels possible and attainable.
In doing this work, I have deepened the most important relationships that I have by increasing my ability to be present, to be myself, to let go of expectations, to listen and to learn, to set boundaries, to feel heard, to feel valued, to feel enough. Most importantly, I have deepened my relationship with myself. I have met myself (hey how you doin’?) and I have gotten to know myself: my pain, my suffering, my triggers, my purpose, my path. And I have spent time caring and mending, enjoying and playing, and giving myself a break.
At the beginning and end of this fellowship, my leadership has meant engaging culturally, learning my language, improving my ability to speak and understand, being in places where language is being spoken, increasing my own abilities to live by these teachings, reflecting on this process as it pertains to my life, my family and my work, reflecting in general, and taking care of my own health and wellbeing. The sustainability of this leadership lies in continuing the work of identifying and rewriting negative narratives that no longer serve me. My life will not be a race to some unknown finish line. It will be slow, gentle, intentional, and sustainable progress along my path. I am on a journey with no finite ending. I will walk my path with my head held higher, my back straighter, my feet lighter, my forehead less tense, and my hands less sweaty. I will take time to breathe, to enjoy, to laugh, to observe, to be still. I will take time to connect with nature, with people, with my friends and relatives, with my spiritual helpers, and above all, with myself.
They also said, “once you are a fellow, you are always a fellow.” I took this to mean, I’d get an invite to a fancy fellow party sometime in the future. No, I now believe it is my responsibility to myself and my community to maintain this mindset shift. That the benefit of this fellowship had little to do with the money spent, but instead, in the intangible support they gave to us to do this deep inner work so that we can be the best leaders we can be for our communities. For all that, I am grateful.