So… today is my one year anniversary, working for Tribal Tech LLC/Administration for Native Americans as a Program Specialist II. This has been a whirlwind of a year and I couldn’t be more thankful for this opportunity. I have worked jobs before longer than a year, but this is my first job, in Washington, DC, where I have stayed for a year. I plan on staying here longer. This past year has brought me so much happiness, gave me independence, a stronger voice, more family, more friends, and a drive to work harder and push for improvement on issues concerning Indian Country.
It was the words I quietly said to myself when I was in 8th grade, “I want to work in DC and advocate for my people” that brought me out of my comfort bubble in Maine to making the move to DC. As nerve wrecking as it was, I couldn’t be happier with the decision. The need for more Native voices for Indian Country is high, and my dreams landed me here to help elevate our needs, our concerns, our dreams, and our voices. So please, you can not only make a difference working locally for your community, but I highly encourage you to come to DC and give it a shot. The experience you can take back with you can greatly help your people. From speaking with Tribal members, they mention a lot about not knowing what happens on the national level in terms of policy, of funding opportunities, and of other Native organizations.
The purpose of this blog is to help bridge that gap, but also, it is to hopefully help inspire our youth, to make a difference, to hopefully one day, come here to DC. It can be exhausting, it can be stressful, it can be fast paced, but as long as you know what you want, have a support system, and make time for yourself (which I need to get better at), you can be successful here. The relationships I’ve made with powerful leaders in White House, Federal agencies, non-profits, and friendships in general, are something I am beyond grateful for. Before coming here, I made the assumption of thinking that there weren’t many Natives here. BUT I was wrong. There is a wonderful, spirited, and motivated Native community here in DC whom I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know. I am fairly certain I haven’t met every one of them, but I have met a lot, and they all are inspiring. It makes me feel like Indian Country is in good hands. While the topic of Indian Affairs seems to be placed on the back burner legislative wise, we have people here who are using their voice and presence to ensure that we are not forgotten.
Being here in DC, sometimes leaves me with feeling like I am not doing enough. Although, my typical day is: working 8-9 hours, I run, I watch hearings I may have missed, or blog, attend receptions, attend briefings, attend hearings, and attend seminars that all entail, Native Americans/Native Hawaiian, Alaska Native/Indigenous issues. There are many things that need improvement when it comes to protecting our families and friends. It sometimes feels like I am on a treadmill, running, but never getting anywhere. Advocating for change is a slow process. For me, I want to see action taken immediately, so this has taught me patience. But, that changes when you are part of/witness something monumental happening for Indian Country, such as: the Every Student Succeeds Act, Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction program opportunity being open for funding in the Department of Justice, and being part of a process where a federal agency funds a 100+ grants to Tribal communities a year. In my year here, I have been part of the first ever, White House Tribal Youth Gathering, the Native Languages Summit, served as my Tribes liaison at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, have sponsored youth in DC, attended hearings on the need to improve and hold the Indian Health Service accountable; suicide prevention; native children’s mental health; Violence Against Women Act 2013 legislative briefing, language revitalization briefing update, created Native In DC blog, and have founded my team/represented, Team 1ndigenous at the 120th Boston Marathon.
Working for the Administration for Native Americans, I am blown away with what they accomplish. The people, who I work for and with, are rockstars. They all keep me motivated. We all have had our hard times, stressful times, and happy times. And to me, we have all become a little family. Being here, I am able to see our efforts in providing funding to Tribal communities. I see our grantees taking advantage of this opportunity to make a difference for their community and for their people. It’s sometimes emotional to see how hard they work. Not every project can get funded, which I wish that could be, but that is the point, funding is there, and it’s making a difference, one project at a time.
I feel truly blessed to be here, to be part of this process, to be an influence, to be a voice, and to be a representative for my Tribe, the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. My motivations are personal experience, what I’ve seen back home, the stories I hear from my family, college, my running, my family and my name I was given at my coming of age ceremony (Isnati Awicalowanpi). I feel a draw to my people, and a draw to DC to help make a difference. So please, don’t hesitate to reach out to me with ideas or concerns. I want to help. And I want to make sure you are heard. Indian Country, you have amazing warriors here in DC, let us help!
Have a wonderful day! Keep being awesome! Mitakuye Oyasin!