Public Speaking: I’m shy and awkward. But here’s why I became a voice among many!

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Standing Rock and Beyond Rally and March

First things first, you may not know it or believe it, but I am an incredibly shy person.  I enjoy my comfort bubble, I love my small groups of very close friends I have, but once I feel like I can trust you, which everyone has a clean slate until they give me a reason not to, I will be as goofy as can be.  My quietness and shyness, has been commonly misunderstood for being “stuck up” or “rude.”  That’s not the case.  I guess you could call it my “buckiness.” Which many from back home, in South Dakota, will understand.  It’s not that I don’t want to converse or be your friend; I am just shy and cautious.  So, don’t take it personally, and something I continue to work on.  I got called out for it in high school.  My dad and I quickly responded back with an article written on Native Americans, and some hypotheses stemmed from cultural differences and practices. In the article, it noted the differences in making eye contact, and how speaking up can be seen as confrontational instead of advocating, from the study that was done. Not to say I deserve special treatment or should be the only one in class to never speak, and not get penalized for it but there are things that just are, for everyone, not just Native Americans. I’m just an awkward person to begin with, and I love it.

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Awkward since 1988

So, I had a hard time with public speaking.  It wasn’t until college, that I applied for the Maine New Leadership Program for women, that only a handful are selected, to spend time on campus during the summer, partaking in seminars, classes, networking events, public speaking, and visiting the Maine State Legislature and some state representatives.  This was way beyond my comfort zone but I applied because I knew I wanted to move to DC. My only comfort I found was in my running, where nothing mattered, it was a race against me.  This program, pushed me outside my comfort zone, and gave me my first taste of public speaking.  I was horrible at the networking event for the first half of it but luckily I found myself comfortable with it, and it was tolerable. Then, imagine that, I am contacted by the organizers and staff for this program, to be a speaker on the panel for June 2016, where in 2010,  I saw a Native American woman, sit on that panel, talking about her advocacy and her seat in the Maine State Legislature. I was shocked.  As an alum of this program, I really didn’t think I was worthy of this, but honored to have accepted. Sadly, I had some work conflicts come up, but luckily found another amazing Native woman, from Maine to be on the panel.

Now I am in DC, and doing things I never expected to see myself do.  Not to say that I won’t speak up for what I think is right, and fight for the people, but I saw myself being in that supportive role, assisting those that were organizing. And I did just that. I supported the fight to stop the Keystone Pipeline, Child Nutrition Re-Authorization, Violence Against Women, Human Rights: Leonard Peltier, and to #ChangeTheName/#NotYourMascot with the Washington Football team here in DC. I attended whatever event I could, handed out fact sheets and spoke to Congressional members/staff, and went to marches/rallies. Through that, I met so many amazing people.

Now, Standing Rock. Since the end of July, I have been very involved in the Standing Rock movement.  Many have asked how I got involved, and became a common question when I

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Besties Being Awkward and Weird

found myself public speaking and on panel forums. The fact that I just wrote that, still shocks me, because I never saw myself doing that.  I am more of a, behind the scenes player, love to help and support people I believe in, and help ensure they are heard, that the message is heard. My role models coming to DC, were Native women and men in high level positions in the government or non-profit organizations.  To help with that homesick feeling, and the need to be around people like me, indigenous brothers and sisters, I found happy hours to attend, holiday parties and receptions to attend, briefings, hearings, and rallies/marches.  Then I found more role models, like Tara Houska who was very involved in DC with organizing and being a strong voice; Gregg Deal, who spoke with sincerity and through his art; Dallas Goldtooth, who organized all across Turtle Island; Amanda Blackhorse, who is in court with the Washington football team to change the

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Sarain Fox

name; Suzan Harjo, who is an amazing activist and involved in #ChangeTheName heavily; Sarain Fox, of VICE; Greg Grey Cloud, founder of Wica Agli, and who sang in the Senate Chambers when Keystone got voted down and was arrested.  There are many more to name during my 3 years here but these people were all in the first year.

July 2016: I received a message, to help organize an event for the arrival of the Standing Rock youth, who were running to Washington, DC from Cannonball, North Dakota to raise awareness and protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. They were using their voices to raise awareness, they were taking a stand, and said enough is enough, no more! That was inspiring to see when they arrived.  I had been keeping up with the pipeline for a while, but at that point, it was in the consultation process (or lack thereof) and permitting process.  This pipeline not only would pose a serious threat to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s primary water source, as it was proven to be a threat for the city of Bismarck, but it would contaminate the Missouri River, which my Tribe, resides right on it and for all those along the water.  An important thing to me is to always advocate and support our youth.  It’s something I help volunteer with in DC, and I truly believe, they are our future, our future leaders, and their voices have been on the rise with this generation. So, I said yes,

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Standing Rock Youth, August 5th, 2016

and being the runner that I am, I figured, I’d organize a run, “Run for Water” event for them, and a protest at US Army Corps of Engineers National Headquarters with my sister. That was my first organized event that I was part of, and it was a headache to be honest. And once it was over, I said to myself, “I am never doing that again, mad props to Tara and others who did this all the time.” This was the first week of August. Sadly, I lost my grandfather about a week after, so I was back home in South Dakota for a few weeks, but watched closely as the court hearings were occurring in DC with Standing Rock and Dakota Access. I was witnessing the camp growing, and seeing some of those youth at camp, and being some of the first to get arrested.  Then September 3rd happened.

1963 was the last time dogs were used on humans, during the Civil Rights movement.  Well, it was 2016 and I saw it happen.  I saw some of those same youth, get maced and saw dogs with blood in their mouth, bite people, and being amped up by their unlicensed handlers. This made me sick to my stomach.  I knew that I couldn’t have all the time I’d want to be up on the front-lines with my relatives, but I figured I could help in a different

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Lance, Sebi, Me, Tomas: Standing Rock Panel Discussion

way, by advocating in the nation’s capital.  So when I came back to DC, I made sure I was at every rally possible, every panel possible.  I even took time off to drive 28 hours straight to Standing Rock with my nephew and friend, to support and bring supplies.  Up until that point, I was only supporting those I looked up to.  When I came back from Standing Rock, I came back with a sense of purpose, I felt different, and I felt a fire. As time progressed, more inhumane occurrences were happening on our protectors and found myself angry with the government, who was just idling by, watching this go down from a distance.  There were congressional members that went to Standing Rock, and have been huge catalysts in helping to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. The day after the great news of “no easement,” I was lucky enough to schedule and introduce Congressman

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Introducing Congressman Grijalva

Grijalva at a Veterans Stand with Standing Rock day of action at the US Capitol Building. Never in a million years did I see myself speaking, let alone introducing a congressional member.  Did I see myself reaching out to Grijalva’s office and confirming him as a speaker? Yes, sure.

When I came back from Standing Rock, after a short stay, but long enough to know what I was fighting for, what we all were fighting for, to understand the fight for water for everyone, and to see the beauty at camp, not just the support on the front-lines,  I was ready to do something.  Since the beginning of October, I have been helping organize rallies and marches, and was participating in some sort of event for #NoDAPL at least 2 times a week.  Then November happened, and I was organizing or participating by speaking, or leading, 3-5 times a week. Organizing and participating in these events, is a full time job in and of itself. I had a full time job already.  I was still training.  My sleep was very little and for about three months, I had been wondering if I would ever get sick, I did right when I came back from Standing Rock, but didn’t after that. Many nights I got home around 10 or 11pm when I had left early that morning, sometimes I literally forgot to eat dinner, but I am definitely not forgetting, as I want to save everyone from experiencing a hangry Jordan. Did I ever imagine myself holding a bullhorn and speaking to whoever was

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First time speaking at AFL-CIO HQ’s

there to listen? Nope. Some indigenous relatives reached out to me, and asked me to speak, which, this was my first time ever speaking publicly, on the streets, in the beginning of October, and then, it didn’t stop.  Then the coalition was formed. I was incredibly nervous, shaky, felt like I wanted to throw up, but over time, it got better, and it was easier to speak from the heart.  Speaking from heart, that’s when it truly hits home for many to understand. A couple times I cried. I cried because the most amazing thing about all of this is seeing the amount of people coming together, to support Native Americans. To see beyond that, a fight for water. That is what we all share, and should value.  But it wasn’t just me.  My best friends Ariel and Victoria were voices with me.  Ariel, a hilarious, awkward, smart girl who supported me, had her first time speaking at a #NoDAPL/Standing Rock event, with the help of my pushiness, and she rocked it.  Victoria, has been speaking since she was in college with Idle No More.  My other sister, Ani, spoke with such fire, humility, and passion on #NoDAPL because she had her kids to think of and all children.  My sister, Heather, and my nephews, have been a voice in the DC area for years on many issues, and inspired me big time. My best friends were by my side, family was there to support and there, physically, if I needed them, and I worked with other organizers (who definitely had more experience)! So wopila tanka to everyone I was able to help and who let me help and be part of the process!

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Coalition and Organizers

At a rally in September, right before we left for Standing Rock, Bernie Sanders said it perfectly, that one day; we’d be fighting for water, when there are no more wars or other resources to be fighting for. The protectors have come together to fight: on the front-lines or across the world to raise awareness.  Seeing what our youth were doing and risking, willing to die, was a message I’d ensure to bring up, and it’s emotional to talk about.  It was emotional to provide updates about Standing Rock, especially the traumatic events we all witnessed from the Facebook live feeds. People like Amy Goodman, Lawrence O’Donnell, Van Jones, Chairman Dave Archambault, Dallas Goldtooth, Simon Moya-Smith, Winona LaDuke, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, The Young Turks, Environmental Indigenous Network, and Unicorn Riot, have all been a consistent voice in telling the truths of what was happening in Standing Rock.  Our press, were upholding the constitution, and were there as checks and balances on what was happening.  The media during the civil rights movement did just that, and made sure to broadcast that right to your couch from your television.  But now, our media were having their rights violated.

We all have our part.  We all are meant for something in this world.  Not saying that you have to do what I did but if there is something you’re passionate about, go for it. One of the rewards during all of this, was speaking to the Georgetown Day High School in DC, a couple hundred youth, 9-12th graders, with my sister, on the Standing Rock movement.  The main point of the presentation was that this was started by the youth.  After the presentation, we had youth coming down to introduce themselves, give hugs, and asked many questions.  Then, at the rally and march right after Thanksgiving, there was a group of youth standing in front of me, saying how they were hoping to see “Native in DC.”  I chuckled and tapped them on their shoulders, and said, “I’m Native in DC.”  They laughed, smiled, and said they were so excited to be there, to help, and that this was their first rally and march ever. I honestly, was so proud of them, excited for them, and ensured me that the purpose of Native in DC, was being accomplished.

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Now, with the no easement  on the final permit, and everything in court, or pending the new Administration, the strategy has changed.  The fight for my relatives continues, and now I have that courage to keep being a voice and organizing.  I still have a panic attack before I speak, and I still would rather have other people speak instead of me, and if I can get them to, I will! I still speak out on other social and personal issues, because it is healing for me, but to also let other people know that may be struggling with issues like I did or am, that they aren’t the only one. I want to be a voice for those who no longer have one.

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December 4, 2016: Celebrations at Oceti Sakowin, NO EASEMENT!

I want to continue to honor our ancestors. We are on a rise, an awakening has happened, where solidarity and unity has played a pivotal part and I truly hope, that this beautiful movement we’ve witnessed, continues. Now, the time is to keep being a voice, organize, remain vigilant, and continue in prayer and peace. It’s very easy to be discouraged and negative, especially now and in the next 17 days, but I see this as our opportunity to shine and come together.  Let’s embrace the challenge and strive forward!

That’s my story. However, I am definitely not the only one.  There are so many more humans doing great work and being a strong voice.  Be bold. Be beautiful. Be resilient. Much love to you all, always and in all ways. Mitakuye Oyasin.

Happy New Year!

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