I’ll never forget the day I received the email sharing the good news that I’d been selected to be a 2022 Bush Fellow. The announcement was surreal, like I had won the fellowship lottery. I screamed, then hugged my husband and cried tears of happiness. The tears were an emotional release. The application process itself was an unexpected journey that pushed and challenged me to go deep into myself, which was sometimes difficult because it triggered emotions I had long ago buried and not dealt with. This was my second time applying for the fellowship, the previous application was a few years earlier and I had made it to the 3rd round, but did not advance and reflecting back, it wasn’t the right time. This is the right time.
Upon the start of my Fellowship in August 2022, I turned off my social media and stopped posting altogether. It was time for me to be centered on my family, my fellowship goals and myself. For me, social media is a lovely but cruel distraction away from things that really matter to me. I wanted to maximize the impact of the Fellowship so I took away the things in life that would slow my growth or steal my attention. Social media was primary among things removed from my daily routine.
It has been 9 months now and my journey so far has been more than expected; it’s been absolutely incredible and life-changing. Our family is centered around the language being revitalized so we are intentional about speaking to each other at certain blocks of time in the day with the goal being to speak Lakota to each other 100% of the time. I just returned from Hilo, Hawaii where my family and I visited with the Hawaiians who founded the Hawaiian-medium Immersion school Nawaii. The Nawaii School is the school we use a dual language model for Red Cloud School on the Pine Ridge in South South Dakota. The fellowship paid for me to take my children and husband, since we are all on the language journey together. My children were in Immersion daycare now in the Immersion school as 4th graders and 1st graders. My husband has been on his language learning journey for 15 years and myself for 4 years.
The fellowship has given me space and time that has changed how I think about caring for myself. I found myself taking Friday to care for my family and for myself at home. The extra day I was taking because of the Bush Fellowship profoundly impacted my personal life with just extra time at home. I knew that if my life could positively change with just an extra day to be at home, that my colleagues would have that same experience so after a few months into the Fellowship, I launched a work group to transition to a 4-day work week at Red Cloud which started in January of this year. The staff have never been happier and more grateful for the extra day at home with their family. The Bush Fellowship brought about that change because if I hadn’t experienced it as Bush pushed for self-care, I might not have advocated for the four-day work week in such a strong way within my leadership team.
Reservation life is wonderful, I love living here and wouldn’t raise my children anywhere else. My children have deep family and kinship relationships that keep us connected to each other, our language, our culture and our land in ways that would not happen anywhere else in the world. That said, reservation life comes with challenges due to historical government policies that have positioned our community to be disadvantaged with poor infrastructure, bad roads, limited resources, and no easily accessed recreational activities.
Health and wellness are a privilege in our community so as much as community organizations and schools can provide access to that privilege, we must. Most of our families who work at Red Cloud drive 60-90 miles to get their household groceries and supplies so it’s an all day affair to “run errands”, the extra day gives staff more time at home. While I am more of a spiritual warrior than a religious person, I like to think of the extra day as a ministry, a ministry that centers around family time together.
The Bush Fellowship and my co-Fellows have helped me to think about how to care for myself, my family and my community in ways that bring much needed rest. The extra day at home encourages deeper connections among families and produces happier co-workers that carry that happiness back into their work and our community. It’s been a transformational change in our community for the better and I hope it catches on with other schools and organizations operating on the Pine Ridge.