Report date
May 2017
Learning Log

I am surprised by how completing my Bachelor's Degree has loomed over me for so many years. I just completed my degree and graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth with a Bachelor's of Fine Arts last week. I thought about it as an insurmountable feat and now it seems so simple. I know I could not have done it without the support of Bush, but I also realize that I may have been blocking myself or downplaying my ability. I see that for other things too. Completing and installing my senior art show, speaking at graduation as the student speaker to represent over 800 students to a packed arena, or leading in my organization: all experiences that seemed insurmountable. While all of these things are challenges I've completed or am doing, I have grown more confidence in myself and my personal vision. I know things don't have to be done to perfection, just with my best effort and I am still learning things along the way. It's hard to believe it's already been one year in the Bush Fellowship. I have accomplished what I set out to do so far with my Bush Fellowship. I have spent time reflecting on my UMD journey that started in 2002 when I transferred in with an Associate of Arts Degree from Mesabi Community College. I was younger then and just starting my family and my career path. I was excited about the School of Fine Arts and the experiences I would have as a UMD Bulldog. Expecting a second child, my daughter, I loved going to class every day thinking about how she was somehow also learning with about the arts, music, and theater. I felt inspired for her future as well as my own. With incredible professors who showed me academic support, I was able to continue to take classes, even with her birth during spring semester of 2003. At the time, I didn’t know that my daughter would be born with a disability. After her birth, we learned that she had Down’s Syndrome. Because I hadn’t prepared for what that meant during the pregnancy, it was an unexpected new parenting challenge. I was afraid. Frankly, it was felt like a dream of mine had died as all the hopes I had built in my mind for my daughter seemed destroyed. However, I quickly became an expert on Down’s Syndrome as parents do and my daughter has given me so many more gifts than I ever could have imagined. With a supportive partner, I continued my studies at UMD and balanced my responsibilities as a parent to an infant and three-year-old, as well as working for the 6th Judicial District Courts as a child advocate. I somehow continued to make the Dean’s list and stay focused. Then in 2004, our family experienced a fire in our home and we were temporarily displaced. It was as if the universe was telling me to slow down and pay attention to the things most important. After all, I was living in Virginia, a town 60 miles away from campus and commuting to school three days a week. Again, UMD faculty remained supportive and I came to think of them as my extended family. Because of the fire, I had to make the very difficult decision to take a break from UMD. I was heart-broken to leave school, because I knew it would be really hard for me to return once I left. I was afraid again, so I set a goal for myself to finish my degree. But by age 30, I still had not returned and parenting and work, both things that I loved, consumed my time. I did take on a new adventure closer to home, something that would challenge me and allow me to grow in new ways. I ran for City Council. Yet again, I was afraid, but committed to my community. This was a huge risk to put myself out into the world in such a pubic way. As a newcomer to the political sphere, I worked really hard on my campaign. Being a member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, I was the first native to run for office in my city, despite the large population of tribal members. I would have to overcome a lot in name recognition, being the youngest person running, and someone who had new ideas and a different perspective. Particularly around issues of sustainability, as an indigenous woman, in an iron mining community, with an old guard. I worked hard, I knocked on a lot of doors, attended public forums and debates, public speaking terrified me, but I did it, and people got to know me. I won my election and started my service as a City Councilor in 2008. I was the youngest person and the only woman on the Council at that time. This thing that made me feel so afraid, opened so many doors to new experiences, connections and learning in the community: from finances, funding and budgets, to water quality, energy, healthcare, parks and recreation to lobbying, among so other many other strange and random things. My foundational education at UMD made it easy for me step into this position. And yes, there was a learning curve. 2008 was literally when the economy tanked and I got the “great” experience of learning how to streamline, cut, bring in new systems, innovate, do more with less, and recreate and transform our city resources to be more sustainable for now and for future generations. I continue to do this important work for the city having been re-elected twice since then. I also continued to work in child protection and juvenile justice for about 10 years with the Court system before switching my career to community building. I worked for two prominent progressive national non-profit organizations on leadership development with communities of color, women and tribes. I trained people across the region, state and country to run for public office, lead campaigns, and develop and move progressive public policy. I grew strong personal and professional networks, met people I only dreamed to meet, made up of leaders across sectors, across the country. I’ve spent time with sovereign tribal nations in nation building, in the White House with President Obama and his administration a few occasions, been appointed by Governor Dayton to the 6th District Judicial Selection Committee and the statewide Young Women’s Initiative, and serve on the Northland Foundation, the Women’s Foundation of MN and the ClearWay Board of Trustees. It’s unbelievable what can happen when you do something that initially scares you. Amidst all of this, finishing my education was still in the back of my mind. I desperately wanted to finish my degree as an art student. I felt like something was missing and I felt I didn’t have the time to commit to completing those last 24 credits. I felt so close, but so far from achieving this important personal goal. But I found a way. The Bush Leadership Fellowship allowed me to take time to focus on myself and build my own leadership. As the 40-year-old non-traditional student, this has been an amazingly good experience for me. I returned to find my extended facility family teaching with innovations in technology and new learning models. I have gained so much from my fellow students, a new generation with their own unique perspective, who are closer to age with my children than to me. A fact that boggles my mind. My son is graduating from high school next year and will be starting his own college journey soon. My daughter, now 14, continues to overcome her disability and inspire people with her brilliance and creativity. I saw that same spark in the community of students at UMD. The young people today bring so much with them. Innovation, creativity, lifelong learning, thoughtful critique, and leadership are more relevant now than ever in our world. I think of my time in the UMD community. I think of the fun things like going to a Black Eyed Peas concert in the gymnasium or seeing the Gorilla Girls in the Weber Music Hall. I remember learning the devastating news of my hero Paul Wellstone’s plane crash while sitting in my art history class. I think about engaging in thoughtful conversations with my professors about personal losses in our pwn families, the importance of travel and international experience, the difficult state of the world and how we can overcome just about anything through humor, insight and resiliency. There are so many challenges, from political to social to environmental to technological, and I must help bring solutions to the world. I now encourage myself to be afraid, to take risks, to fail fast, and just as quickly correct mistakes. I encourage myself to challenge the norms and to bring my best self to the work I do. One of my favorite quotes by Audre Lorde has helped me: “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” In one year of the fellowship, there has already been so much that has happened to set me up for the next level. I'm excited about international travel and have met people who can help me in my planning. I am very serious about attending grad school, something I never thought I'd get to do. I have been researching schools and will continue to do research on application process, funding, housing and best options. My son will be doing the same in the next year as a senior in high school, so it will be good for me to help him get launched too. I feel more open to possibilities and more grounded in the work I do. I know that 2018 will be a very big transitional year for me. There will be so many things coming to an end in terms of service commitment. The Northland Foundation Board, the Judicial Selection committee, the City Council (if I decide not to run again) and my son's graduation are all major transitions. I can still continue with the Women's Foundation and ClearWay of MN, if I stay in Minnesota. This provides an open space or opportunity to consider going somewhere new for grad school. While I don't know right now what the best choice will be for me in Fall 2018, I like that I'm open to something that might be very different than what I'm doing. Another thing that has surprised me is my relationship with technology. I built myself a website with weebly and it was easier than I thought it would be. I need to continue to challenge myself in the tech areas and just have some common knowledge. There's so much changing so often, I need to be better about keeping up. I feel even more confident in my traveling abilities, though I have travelled a lot within the country over the years. I'm excited and nervous about international travel. I have several things arranged or planned domestically for the next six months including mcon, yeo, board source, and tedwomen. Now that school is done, I need to make my international travel plans, scheduling and learning for my fellowship. I am also leading in my organization and community need to take that work up a level or engage in new ways. I will be training with RAIL in partnership with other organizations on the MN Tribal Constitution, HR, reproductive justice and domestic violence services. On the City Council side, there are amazing community development opportunities and I'm most excited about arts role in economic development and community building.