don’t drop the torch

I have been putting off writing my report on the recent conference I attended due to the fact that there was SO much new information that this stay at home mom’s brain had to download, but most of all because I am concerned that I wont be able to translate it correctly to my tribe…

I was shocked, excited, scared, any intense emotion out there I felt it, when the conclusion was made I would be the one going to represent my tribe at the National Indian Health Board Conference. I know I should have been ready, this was part of the work I knew I would be getting into, but I figured that the ruffling of feathers I have been doing during my short 8 months on the board would automatically mean that I would be benched for the conference. It came to a vote, and I walked away from that evening realizing I was going because THEY wanted me to go…

Never mind the fact that leaving my 3 babies for 6 days was terrifying, it was also intimating to think about having to dress professionally when I have lived in my faithful yoga pants for the last 6 yrs since leaving the work place, and then to think that I had to actually sound smart, sent me running to turn in my resignation…

My two sweet and giving friends, who seem to love me regardless of all my faults, dug through their closets and handed over professional attire that they had once worn before making the decision to join the club of stay at home moms. Their kindness can’t be overlooked and I just want to say I am so thankful for Kelsey and Deja, and the way they example giving hearts with no strings attached.

The day came for me to board the plane and say goodbye to my babies, Kyre had never experienced my absence, and I was a ball of nerves. I hugged them goodbye and tears clung to my eyes as my little man told me with tears he “missed me already”, then came the moment I tried to say good bye to Kyre, just to have her stiff arm me and cry, sadly she had figured out why everyone was crying. Ezzy, our tough girl, said “by mom!”…atleast one person in the house didn’t find sorrow watching the drill sergeant board the plane.

Alaskan Airlines, keeping up with their stellar customer service and putting clients first, managed to place my connecting flights” gates the farthest distance apart, and to top it off, leave 20 mins late each flight. By my last flight I was worn out and had successfully broken a sweat in 2 new airports, clinging to the hope I would see my bag at my final destination.

I woke the next morning and looked out at the amazing view from my room and said a prayer asking God to be with me. Humility, something that can come and go in a blink of an eye, is something my heart seeks God daily to give, especially when I find pride seeping in. I asked God to give me hearing ears, so I can go and speak for my people, just as God called Moses and through Aaron did. I asked God to make me a light, to protect me and help me to know what to do and say.

I walked out with freshly pressed pants, heels, and a fancy top and kept telling myself, “you can do this”. The next few days are where my dreams of the future will never be the same…

God placed God fearing women in my life, all who took it upon themselves to mentor me. They all held various positions in their tribes, one working as a consultant, one working as an IHS facility director, and one working as a health board member. Their mission in life was to make sure that I met everyone they possibly knew. I found myself at the end of each night, mentally and physically exhausted. My cheeks hurt from all the smiling and talking. My feet killed me from the heels that maybe touched my feet 3x a year for the occasionally wedding or event in small town .

I spent every break, meal time, and potential “me time” networking, many times not by choice, thanks to a pushy husband and my new mentors. As time wore on the the meetings grew in size and there was one thing that set me apart from others. As I surveyed the packed room of dark skin, high cheek boned, and long straight hair people, I couldn’t deny the disparity of ages. I was the youngest by atleast 15 yrs and the few of us 45 yrs and younger could be counted on both hands and feet. That night I was texting my experience with a friend and her hubby told me to read 1 timothy 4: 11-12. I ended that night with tears in my eyes and began to ask God to tell me what I was suppose to do with all this new knowledge.

The next day I had the opportunity to hear the president from the National Congress of American Indians speak. His name is Jefferson Keel, and as he said “I’m not here to tell you what a bureaucrat would say, I’m here to just state the facts”. He stated that the SEQUESTRATION shouldn’t be taking place upon the people who had owned 97% of the land, that “Funding is a moral and legal obligation from the US” The main issues he addressed were:
#1 poverty, the most pressing thing tribal leaders face today and many governing(congressional) leaders can’t relate because they haven’t experienced it themselves, which then leads to:
a. health issues
b. substance abuse
c. neglect of children=obesity, heart disease, suicide,social issues in school and with their peers (taking place due to the environmental and family factors that are effecting their social status).
d. domestic abuse

He also stated that, “some are becoming leaders because they are forced to be because of their current situations they are in” I found my heart racing, the tears fogging my eyesight, but more importantly I felt the nudging in my spirit, that the truth that was being laid out I couldn’t ignore when I returned home. This information that God intended for me to hear at this conference was the very thing to light a fire for my soon to be future. The very last statement he said was “we haven’t fought this battle like we have fought others”.

All of a sudden the information I had heard the day prior from the IHS director was different, the constant pushing of the Affordable Health Care Act, by people who stand to gain from the Native People, and the countless cries and demands falling on deaf ears for help from various tribal leaders all made sense.

Each workshop I attended, required me to lean on God, to point me in the right direction so I could learn and go back and share with my tribal leaders the impacts, decisions, and steps that need to be taken for the future of our people, the future of our children.

I lost count of how many people I met, and was in awe of the success of the tip my aunt had shared with me before leaving for the conference. She told me to make it a point to wear my culture, that it was really important to take pride in our heritage and share it with others. So my husband and I loaded up the kids and went shopping at a local store here in town. I have frequented this place quite a few times and the shop owner’s wife is usually cringing when I walk in the door because she knows I won’t walk away paying full price for anything. When I shared with her that I was leaving for a conference, she was immediately excited and told me that I was going to be going in style. I found myself with a BEAUTIFUL chilkat sharf, a leather hair piece, a wooden bangle, and some native art thank you cards, and a discounted price I never would have asked for. The scarf was my greatest treasure and allowed me to talk to so many people!

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My last day in Michigan was a breath of fresh air. I was overjoyed to see that the conference ended and noon and was already dreaming of the pool I saw from my bedroom window and only graced once in the last 4 days. I was in desperate need of some alone time as I knew I would be jumping into mommyhood in less then 24 hrs. But that all changed when my mentors decided to rent a car and explore. We were staying at a beautiful large resort, that we hadn’t left in 5 days. I did however have the chance to run some of the land not on the resort thanks to deciding to follow some fast runners in a race the conference was holding. I was planning on walking it with my mentors, but they all knew that I was dying to run, so they sent me on my way…one lesson I learned was to make sure to not run faster then the person who’s responsibility it is to show where to turn…after running an extra 2 miles I found my way back, tired and dehydrated from the muggy Michigan weather. BUT, I did however still end up finishing in the top middle of the race! The race was put on with help from Billy Mills, the first american native to win an olympic gold medal, and the only us citizen to place in the 10000 m dash. I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting and yes, soon found out that we were family…I know, you white people are shaking your heads, but yes we shared our family tree and soon found out that I should be calling him “uncle”

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Back to my last day…got side tracked with my other story :). We started out with a mission of finding some food and hoped to doing a little sight seeing. We stopped at a pizzeria and I thanked God for the gluten free pizza, since I had spent the majority of my trip picking at food and being very limited in my diet. We shopped at the tourist shops and I soon found out how much fun all the crazy tourist have here in our small alaskan town. But the part that had me ending my day with tears of joy and a sore belly from laughing, showed me God had orchestrated my entire trip. All the way down to getting lost with 3 navajo women on the outskirts of town in search of a lighthouse. We shared our experiences, stories, motivators that got us involved in the healthcare field for our people. We talked about our trials, how the substandard healthcare of ourselves, children and family was the underlying cause for us to desire to be a voice.

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As I sadly said my goodbyes to the women who loved me like their own daughter, I told each one of them my sincere gratitude for reaching out to me and taking the time to introduce me to so many influential people. When my new choctaw hugged me goodbye she told me not loose sight of the future. That I am sharp, that I am capable of being the change that needs to happen, that I need to realize God gave me an amazing husband who supports all my endeavors, that God knew Ezzy would make me a mighty voice for those in need of adequate health care, but most of all that I am the hope of the future, that I am the one the torch is getting passed to.

So as I am digesting everything, I am finding my future a little clearer, and I am realizing that going back to school is on the agenda. If I am going to be a voice then I need to be an informed one. Richard and I have been working on the details and I will be applying to get my Master’s of Public Administration. As a friend recently told me, “if its God’s will then HE will foot the bill”. To all my friends who find joy in praying for others, will you add me to your list? I am aware that going back to school with 3 little ones will be a challenge, but I also have a lot of peace, realizing that each step that I have been taking in faith has lead to me my current role in tribal politics and healthcare. With God on my side to guide me and keep me humble, I pray I won’t disregard the responsibility that will come as I choose to reach out for the torch and pray that I won’t drop it.

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