Youth Perspective: Colten Birkland

Colten Birkland is the Vice Chair of the Turtle Mountain Youth Council. He participated in the pilot year of our Youth Rebuilders program during summer 2018.

Having Native youth in media is more important than you may know. There are many Native youth across Native nations who feel like their voices will never be heard, or their ideas don’t matter. Through social media, I have found a way to share my voice, and I could not be more grateful.

Colten Birkland (l)

As a Native youth leader in my community, media has given me an outlet to share my experiences and accomplishments with my Tribe. It has allowed me to shed light on the amazing things that do happen on my reservation. There are countless times where youth have asked questions that I have been able to answer through media, giving them a voice to be heard. I am forever grateful for the opportunity and voice I have been given through media.

This article was originally published in our Spring 2019 print newsletter. Sign up to receive the print newsletter in your mailbox twice a year! 

2018 Community Report

Celebrating Warrior Women

Warrior Women, a film directed by Christina King (Seminole) and Elizabeth Castle (Pekowi Band of Shawnee), provides an intimate look into the struggle for Native rights during the American Indian Movement and beyond. Weaving together narratives provided by the powerful mother-daughter duo Madonna Thunderhawk and Marcella Gilbert, Warrior Women documents the key role that Native women have played—and continue to play—in Indigenous-led activist movements.

On March 1, 2019, Warrior Women premiered in Minneapolis as part of INDIgenesis: GEN2, a four-week Native film series, which was held by The Walker Art Center in partnership with director/producer Missy Whiteman (Northern Arapaho and Kickapoo). Missy curated the series with the goal of supporting Native directors and reshaping Native representations in film. She explains, “We specifically want to support Native directors. And tell stories that really show what our successes are in Indian Country. Because film can also tell this story, this narrative, of, you know, you’re desolate, you’re drunk, you’re all of these negative things. And there’s a savior that at some point comes in. Instead of us saving ourselves. That’s really the narrative we need to start telling.”

As part of her curation, Missy worked to make INDIgenesis accessible to the Minneapolis American Indian community. To illustrate, she arranged free childcare and shuttle busses from the American Indian corridor during the Warrior Women screening. Native Governance Center first developed a partnership with Missy Whiteman back in fall 2018: we collaborated with her to produce a series of shorts for broadcast on TPT – Twin Cities PBS. This partnership led us to host a reception prior to the Warrior Women screening to honor Marcella Gilbert, Madonna Thunderhawk, and other Native women activists featured in the film. The reception held special significance to us because Marcella is a Cohort 5 Native Nation Rebuilder.

Missy said the following about the Warrior Women reception and screening: “That night to me was so powerful—it was so successful. I look back, and that’s really where I thought people felt included. It felt like, this is for Native women. And for women. And families. Everyone walked away feeling like they learned something, and now they belonged to something.”

The women of Warrior Women have made incredible contributions to the nation building movement, and we are honored to help celebrate them.

 

This article was originally published in our Spring 2019 print newsletter. Sign up to receive the print newsletter in your mailbox twice a year! 

Empowerment through Social Media

Cohort 8 Rebuilder Jacob Davis (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians) harnesses the power of social media to get things done. As the Tribal Programming Director for Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota (PCAND), he uses digital advocacy tools to build a network of supporters with a shared vision for improving the lives of Indigenous people. Jacob explains, “Social media is essential in the digital world and provides us with an access point to create conversations within a large population of people.”

Photo of Jacob DavisIn 2016, PCAND offered Jacob the chance to create a new position within the organization. He developed a position focused on providing Indigenous families with community-driven resources. As Tribal Programming Director, he works with three of the four Native nations in North Dakota to empower Indigenous children, families, and communities to thrive.

Jacob sees interconnections between his specific focus area and broader issues, including food sovereignty, economic development, and trauma. As such, he appreciates that his work allows him to incorporate several of his passions into his day-to-day responsibilities and online advocacy campaigns.

He also believes strongly in the need for the presence of Native voices in the social media realm; initiatives succeed when Indigenous voices tell Indigenous stories. “To give a story justice, it has to be shared from a personal perspective,” Jacob states. “In order to bring truth to the message, it has to come from the voice of the people that it impacts.”

Jacob is a skilled digital communicator, but his work does not come without challenges. He admits that he oftentimes encounters “crabs in the bucket”-type lateral violence in online spaces. This happens when individuals direct attacks toward fellow community members working toward the same goal, rather than at the actual source of their oppression. Jacob notes, “Creating messages that cannot being taken out of context has been the hardest part of utilizing social media. Being aware of the potential for lateral violence has to be a critical part of the process.”

Despite these challenges, Jacob has hope for the future of the digital world. He encourages young people to use social media to highlight their accomplishments and struggles. This can help them gain experience with best practices for navigating the exciting, yet challenging, social media realm. In addition, he urges young people to seek out support and guidance for when the going gets tough: “Please know that surrounding yourself with people that believe in you is the most important building block of success.”

This article was originally published in our Spring 2019 print newsletter. Sign up to receive the print newsletter in your mailbox twice a year! 

Telling Our Own Stories: Rebuilder Vi Waln

Cohort 7 Rebuilder Vi Waln (Sicangu Lakota) is Editor-In-Chief for the Lakota Times, an award-winning, Native-owned newspaper that operates out of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. We interviewed Vi to learn more about her role with the Lakota Times and her advocacy for more Native voices in the media.

Native Governance Center: Tell us a little bit about your background, family, and community.

Vi Waln: I am a Sicangu Lakota Tribal citizen, otherwise known as the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. I grew up on the Rosebud Reservation here in South Dakota. Today, I live in the He Dog community where I was raised. My community is named after Chief He Dog. I have a bachelor’s degree in Lakota Studies from Sinte Gleska University and a Master’s in Mass Communication from South Dakota State University.

NGC: What makes the Lakota Times stand out from other media outlets?

Photo of Vi WalnVW: The Lakota Times has been in circulation for fifteen years. I think we stand out because the majority of our writers are Lakota. Our main focus with the paper is our young people. And we try to showcase them as much as we can every week. Connie Smith, the paper’s owner, and I have had conversations about how we want this newspaper to be positive. And we’ve taken criticism for it. But we will run the positive stories before the negative stories. Because you could pick up any paper in the country and read all about the negative things happening. You can look on the internet and see all the negative news. Go on social media, look on TV—the majority of it is bad. So we want to focus on positive things.

NGC: Why do you believe it’s important to have Native representation in the media?

VW: Well, I believe we have to tell our own stories as Native people. Most of our Tribes come from an oral tradition ancestry. But we have to be willing to evolve with the times. I see many non-Indian journalists out there attempting to write about the Lakota. And when I call them out on it—sometimes, they’re offended when I tell them that a Native person should be writing those stories. But, I continue to advocate for Native writers to write our stories. We’re the only ones who can offer a true perspective on our communities.

NGC: Do you see a link between your current work and nation building?

VW: My work is definitely linked to nation building. Columns I write every week address issues that our people are facing on our reservations. So, I always come to the computer thinking, if I can affect change through my writing, then all my hard work has paid off. If one person changes their behavior for the good after reading a column I wrote, then I believe that’s nation building.

This article was originally published in our Spring 2019 print newsletter. Sign up to receive the print newsletter in your mailbox twice a year! 

New Team Member at Native Governance Center

We’re excited to announce that the team at Native Governance Center is growing! Please help us welcome Jessa Boyer to the team as our new Executive Office & Events Coordinator.

Watch our new video

Our Top Five: March 2019

Rebuilder Cante Heart’s Historic Campaign for Rapid City Council

Cohort 9 Rebuilder Cante Heart (Rosebud Sioux Tribe) hopes to get elected to the Rapid City Council in June. She joins four other Native women running for municipal office in Rapid City—an unprecedented number. We sat down with Cante to learn more about her candidacy, what inspires her, and her motivation for seeking public office.

Native Governance Center:  Give us a little information on your background, family, and community.

Cante Heart (pronounced chun-tay): I was raised by a strong Lakota woman. She taught me to always try to help my people in any kind of way possible. Even though I didn’t grow up on the reservation, I was always thinking of ways I could do this. Early on, I was instilled with Lakota values. And we kind of moved around a little bit, but Rapid City and South Dakota have always been home to me.

 

NGC: Tell us about your candidacy for Rapid City Council (District 5). What inspired you to run?

CH: I’ve always wanted to run, and I’ve always wanted to be a leader for my community. So, what started it is, I wanted to inspire my community to get involved as far as voting, as far as stepping up into leadership positions. And I felt that if the younger generation could see a familiar face, or, you know, could identify with me, then it’d inspire them to get involved, too. And so, basically, I’m doing it for the up-and-coming leaders who need to be recognized and need to be taken seriously, too.

 

NGC: Why do you feel it’s important to have Native representation in local governments?

CH: It’s important to make running for office and running for leadership positions the new norm for our people. And also, to make voting the new norm. Because we’re the original inhabitants of this land, so we should also have a say in what goes on to shape the future of our community—whether it’s municipal, or statewide, or on a national level. Our population makes up at least a fourth of the city, and every year we bring in so much revenue due to the events that go on, like the Black Hills Powwow and Lakota Nation Invitational. You know, there are all of these surrounding reservations that do their shopping in Rapid City. It’s been home to us forever. Our representation on city council needs to reflect our population. So if our population is ¼ Native, then our city council needs to be, too.

 

NGC: What advice do you have for other Native women running for public office?

CH: I think they should do what’s in their heart. And to not let anyone’s opinions bring you down. Because if your mind is in it and your heart is in it, then you can never lose. Our ancestors are behind you 100%, and to never take no for an answer. If you have the heart to do it, and the inspiration and the support, you can do anything.

 

NGC: Do you see any intersections between the Rebuilders program curriculum and your candidacy?

CH: I definitely get most of my inspiration from my Rebuilder family! They inspire me because of everything they’re doing in the community. They set the tone for being a leader. I think the Native Nation Rebuilders leadership program was a huge inspiration, and it’s kind of the foundation that made me want to run.

2019 Native Nations Tour

Early next month, our executive director and members of our program team will hit the road on a Native nations tour, a journey that will take them to all 23 Tribal nations in our region. They’ll travel thousands of miles in order to gather data on how we can best support the 23 Native nations located in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Back in 2016, Native Governance Center Executive Director Wayne Ducheneaux II completed a similar tour: we used the information collected during Wayne’s trip to guide the creation of our initial programming. Because we strive to support Native nations in strengthening their sovereignty, we believe strongly in gathering direct feedback from our Tribal partners. Program Manager Apryl Deel-McKenzie noted, “It’s important to us as an organization to listen to the nations that we serve and assess their needs from an inclusive, community-based approach.”

Creating Relevant Programming

During the upcoming tour, our staff will visit with Tribal leaders to learn more about what’s working for them, the most significant challenges they face, and how Native Governance Center can best support their work. We’ll use the data collected during these visits to inform the development of a survey, which we’ll also use to determine Tribal leaders’ needs. Our ultimate goal is to identify key strategies to infuse into our programming so that it remains relevant and useful to Native leaders across our service region.

Program Director Jayme Davis said the following about the tour: “This tour will help us further build out our Tribal Governance Support programming. We’ll directly implement the knowledge we gather so that we can continue to support Tribes in a way that best fits their unique needs.”

If you’re a Tribal leader or a Native Nation Rebuilder, we’d love to meet with you! To set up a meeting and/or to receive more details about our visit to your nation, please contact Apryl Deel-McKenzie, Native Governance Center Program Manager: apryl@nativegov.org.