The years that led up to my winning a Bush Leadership Fellowship make up an era of my life that was made up of many hard lessons. I began that journey by enacting a moral compass and ethic that made me define the value of my work through the people I reached and the sharing of my knowledge and creativity. I can remember how different my body felt; it was equipped with a strong amount of personal resiliency, hope, and empathy. I recall a feeling of readiness and energy. These were things that helped me kick start an eco system of Native performing arts that enabled me to win a Bush fellowship. But as the years grew, those feelings were affected by too many moments of disappointment, personal heartaches, and loss. I won the Bush Fellowship at a moment I began to recognize the change these events caused in my body and pushed me to need to create a new direction for myself if I was to stay in healthy in all the work that I do.
I’d like to say that the exact same energy and resiliency I began with returned as a result of my Bush Fellowship, but the fellowship didn't offer a magic wand. I sit here still taking up the same points of physical space in the world and sometimes my body still feels tired and my mind question what and where my power actually lies. What it did offer me was an opportunity to pause and reflect. It allowed me to take these pauses and do these reflections in new environments and situations that allowed me to come to broader conclusions about how I want to move forward into the next era of my life.
One of the greatest challenges I faced two years ago as a Native artist was the systemic racism and white supremacy that dominates the field I work in. Had it not been for so many gatekeepers who have dictated what stories could be seen on the nation’s stages and contributed to a scarcity mindset of the artists trying to break in, I don’t believe there would have been that same urgency to do the work I set out to do. Authentic Native stories coming from Native communities were virtually impossible to develop and get onto American stages. And the art form was not available to Native people to use in the myriad ways that non-Native communities have access to. What I saw was the double opportunity to make our voices heard and to use the art as a tool for healing. What I saw was a problem that no one was addressing and I wanted to change it. I remember that during the very first meeting we had as Bush Fellows one of the first conversations I had was about how much systemic racism was affecting my peers and me. Only a few weeks earlier I saw how colorism in the Native theatre field was causing some Native artists to lose access to jobs and was creating additional mental health crisis’s in those who wanted to address it. I saw how issues important in Native communities were not the stories that got onto American stages, and even how some of the work being done actually undermined the most important issues Native folks were fighting for.
All through the time I was running my organization and advocating and creating with community, I lost the ability to devote much of my creativity to my own projects. Plays would live in my head for years because I hadn’t the time or energy to get them on paper. The stress of an unfinished project lays heavy on the heart of an artist. With support, the fellowship helped me find a way back to my center as an artist. And it helped me find a new way of being an advocate in the non-profit organization I run. And maybe the most influential thing it allowed me to do was to experience other ways of thinking.
While on the fellowship, my most profound moments were when I travelled abroad. I visited, Canada, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Mexico. Had it not been for the pandemic, I would have gone to Australia and New Zealand.
In the countries I visited I got to see myself as an artist and an indigenous person in new perspectives. I also began to cultivate a clearer understanding of the kind of work that excites me and is peculiar to what my mission is as an artist.
My most profound work is the contrasting and deconstruction of indigenous world views and the western world view that was forced on me, and so many colonized peoples. Then within that framework of colonization is systemic and outright racism. It affects how a person sees themselves, are they able to live up to the standards of whiteness. Over the fellowship, one of my closest relationships ended and with it came a gift of understanding how internalized racism works not only within the larger frameworks that my non-profit addresses, but within the very heart of individuals.
Because my field, the arts and entertainment industry, identifies so deeply with the body: how it navigates the world, how it looks, how it sells ideas and images I found myself deconstructing this corner of systemic racism. I examined standards of white beauty that is thrust upon BIPOC bodies and in turn their ideas of personal worth.
Being able to travel to places where the majority of the population looked like me I was able to take a moment to examine and heal some of the ways that racism worked to undermine my own sense of self and leadership.