From the Archives: Five Native Stories to Share

or too long, Native representation in the media has lagged behind — often portraying Native and Indigenous people in the past tense…when showcasing their stories at all. It’s time to shine a light on the present-day experiences and accomplishments of Native and Indigenous people — and show Native young adults everything that’s possible for their futures!

That’s why today, we wanted to highlight five of our favorite takeaways from some of the Native and Indigenous leaders who’ve chose to share their life stories and advice with us over the years. As we come to the end of Native American Heritage Month, we hope you’ll enjoy their words and share their stories into the future, too.

Fawn Douglast, artist

Fawn Douglas — Artist

“It wasn’t until later on in life that I really started to hone in on…my culture is beautiful! There’s a lot to fight for here.”

Fawn grew up in downtown Las Vegas in the Paiute colony. As an “urban Native,” she was often bullied for her race and culture at school, which caused her to push back against her Native heritage.

But as someone who was always interested in art, Fawn found that her career as an artist only really started to take off once she reconnected to her culture, and started to put herself out there to speak up about environmental and Indigenous cultural issues.

Today, she’s completely embraced her identity, and is actively working to decolonize and reconnect to her Paiute culture, language, ways, and customs. Not only that, but she’s created a community space where fellow Native artists can collaborate.

Our favorite takeaways from their story:

No matter who you are, it’s so common to feel embarrassed of what makes you different — especially when you’re young! But like Fawn, eventually you’ll come to realize that what makes you different is actually what makes you strong.

Just as Fawn’s art requires her unique perspective, any career you pursue will be shaped by what you can bring to the table. So don’t be ashamed to call upon what makes you unique!

Chief Allan, tribal chairman for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe

Chief James Allan — Tribal Chairman, Coeur d’Alene Tribe

“You can do anything if you believe in it and your heart’s in the right place.”

Chief Allan grew up with mixed feelings about the Coeur d’Alene Reservation, where he lived. He loved the community, but he was also “scared of it” at times — and after he saw multiple friends die from alcohol-related accidents, he started to plan his way out.

The first person from his family to graduate from college, Chief Allan went out of state to pursue his degree in political science because he knew he “always wanted to help his people advance to the next step.”

From there, he spent time in Washington, D.C., working for a nonprofit that advocated for Native Americans on Capitol Hill. But he slowly began to realize that D.C. was too out of touch from the reservations and their immediate needs.

He knew the work needed to be done back home, so he returned to Coeur d’Alene. He was first elected to the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Council in 2003, and has been part of the Tribe’s leadership ever since.

Our favorite takeaways from their story:

Sometimes, it can feel like you need to get away from home so you can forge your own path, or start your “real life.” It’s a common feeling! But oftentimes, it’s the people who grew up just like you, in your shoes, who would benefit the most from the advice and experience you have to offer.

So go where you need to go to accrue the skills and experiences you need. Travel! Meet new people! Learn new things! And then think about where you need to go next to put your talents to work. Your road is going to lead you to a lot of different places — but make sure to pay attention when it feels like it’s leading you back home.

Ron His Horse Is Thunder, Director of Transportation and Planning for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

Ron His Horse Is Thunder — Director of Transportation and Planning, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

“I spend every day trying to walk the Good Red Road and serve my people in whatever way that is needed.”

Ron His Horse Is Thunder’s activist roots run deep: Raised by parents who were civil rights activists for Native Americans in South Dakota, he’s also the great-great grandson of One Bull — the nephew and adopted son of Sitting Bull, infamous Hunkpapa Lakota leader.

So it’s no surprise that he decided to earn his law degree and pursue a life of social justice. Degree in hand, he started to work on the issues that felt most pressing to his community.

As someone who recognized that better access to education could lead to better outcomes for his people, he served as president of Sitting Bull College and the American Indian College Fund.

When the fight to protect water resources, sacred sites, and tribal sovereignty came to his doorstep at Standing Rock Indian Reservation, he became a prominent leader in the #NoDAPL movement.

And when the infrastructure on his reservation started crumbling due to low funding, he stepped into a role as director of transportation and planning for his tribe.

Through it all, he has drawn from his roots in activism and protest, following his community’s call to action, no matter where it takes him.

Our favorite takeaways from their story:

You don’t have to be a politician or an activist in the traditional sense in order to do what’s right for your community. You can use your unique knowledge and experiences (like Chief Allan did, too!) to identify where needs must be met. That could mean fighting for better education, access to clean air and water, or even just ensuring that your roads are safe.

If you want to help your community, just start by asking yourself: What problems do I see or encounter in my everyday life? And what kinds of careers could get me closer to solving those problems?

White water river guide Nikki Cooley

Nikki Cooley—Co-Executive Director, Fifth World Discoveries

“If you’ve ever been on white water in a rapid, there’s only one way through: down. I’ve broken my oar, I’ve flipped my boat several times — but I’ve made it out OK. That’s my analogy for life. Just go, do it.”

Nikki grew up on a Navajo reservation with no running water or electricity. Her parents and grandparents didn’t know much about the modern workforce, so planning her future after high school was a challenge. But Nikki found counselors who empowered her, and encouraged her to go to college.

Despite being the first person in her family to attend college at all, she excelled there — graduating with her bachelor’s, then her master’s, and then going on to do two years of postgraduate work!

As she was working her way through several degree programs, a friend invited her on a rafting trip. Nikki had never even been on a boat before — but something immediately clicked, and she decided to pursue her commercial river guide license.

Despite the Navajo Nation’s current and historic connections to the lands and resources found within Grand Canyon National Park, Nikki was actually the first Navajo woman to work as a licensed commercial Colorado River guide — a monumental moment for Navajo stewardship in the Grand Canyon.

Nikki has since created a training program at Northern Arizona University, to help more Native students get into river guiding, and deepen their connection with the land.

Our favorite takeaways from their story:

Listen to the people who empower you, and who help you get out of your comfort zone in productive ways — because it’s only once you do some exploring that you can zero in on the things that feel like home to you!

But most importantly…listen to your gut. Nikki’s path was filled with twists and turns — literally — but when she found something that called to her, she pursued it. It didn’t matter if she was the first to do it; it didn’t matter if she’d never been in a boat before! It felt right, and she gave it her all.

Lynette Stant — Third-Grade Teacher, Salt River Elementary School

“Teaching is about relationships — building relationships with kids and families. As an Indigenous teacher, our students and our community need that.”

Raised on the Navajo Reservation in Tuba City, Arizona, Lynette’s story may sound familiar to many across America — her parents chose not to speak the Navajo language to their children because they believed they wouldn’t succeed in school if they didn’t exclusively speak English.

Shaped by this early experience, she’s since become a positive force for Native culture — as a 16-year veteran elementary school teacher who’s focused on celebrating the community and culture of Indigenous students.

Recently, she was honored as the 2020 Arizona Teacher of the Year — the first Indigenous woman to win the award, ever! During the assembly her school threw in her honor, a young Navajo girl jumped into her arms and exclaimed, “You’re just like me!” Lynette credits moments like that as her motivation for continuing to teach today.

Our favorite takeaways from their story:

We wanted to end on Lynette’s story because she’s the embodiment of why representation is so important! She showed us that you can become the leader that you once needed to see.

No matter who you are, what you do, or what community you belong to, you can step into a mentorship role, and radically reset the expectations of the generation behind you.

Roadtrip Nation is an educational nonprofit that wants to help everyone define their own roads in life.

We recently wrapped our Native American Roadtrip, a documentary project following three Native young adults who are working to create bright futures for themselves and their communities. So stay tuned — we’re excited to show you the finished film sometime next year!

To explore more stories we’ve collected over the years, check out “From the Archives: Six Trailblazing Women You Should Know!”

Roadtrip Nation is dedicated to empowering people everywhere to build livelihoods around their interests. See more at: http://roadtripnation.com