The Voices of Indigenous Visionaries: Highlights of the 2019-2020 Grant Year

Oct 1, 2020 | Blog, Community Planning, Indigenous Visionaries, Student Success, Women’s Leadership

The Indigenous Visionaries program has worked with three Tribal Colleges and Universities for three years (2017 – 2020), supporting the development of Native women leaders in the three programming areas of Early Childhood Education, Environmental Stewardship, and Native Arts and Culture.  

In September 2020, the Visionaries will launch their fourth year of work. In this fivepart blog series, you will hear from three women who serve as mentors to the Indigenous Visionaries student fellows, and from the fellows themselves about the projects and their reflections on the journey that is being an Indigenous Visionary. 

In this first blog you will hear from the mentors at Sisseton Wahpeton College, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, and Salish Kootenai College. 



Sisseton Wahpeton College (Native Arts and Culture)

The Indigenous Visionaries Fellowship program at Sisseton Wahpeton College (SWC) is focused directly on building and supporting women leaders in the arts. SWC utilizes this program to support their arts programming which is focused on the resurgence of their traditional arts.  Kinship, community health, sustainability, history, and language are all tied to SWC’s arts programming. This fellowship has allowed SWC to add an additional layer to how they administer our workshops and the quality of services they offer their community. The fellows provide administrative and teaching assistance for the programming, and their engagement has served to broaden participation of the community. New participants are coming in because of our fellow’s involvement. This changes the dynamic of our workshops in a positive way.    

Indigenous Visionaries 2019-2020 grant updates griffin

Erin Griffin (Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate) – Dakota Language Director and Indigenous Visionaries Mentor

 “The existence of this program has given Native women an opportunity to come together to support each other and to learn from each other. As a mentor and someone who has progressed in a professional career over the last ten years, gender inequalities become more and more apparent and even frustrating/disturbing as the years pass. The opportunity to provide women with guidance, support, and tools to be successful is critical. Simultaneously, if we can in some way give them strength in their journey by setting them up with these opportunities, then perhaps we will be taking steps forward as Native women. 

Importantly, our fellows are being shown that leadership comes in many forms, and that who they are, their voices, and the talents they have are important. Though we face hurdles as Native women, that does not mean that we cannot pursue our dreams. Their part in this programming puts them in direct contact with significant change happening in our community. They have gotten to see what the process is to initiating positive change and what that looks like. The change they have witnessed has been the workshops that bring community together. They have seen the ups and downs of how this happens and how to navigate complex issues to ensure the growth of positive experiences and community building. “ 

Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College (Environmental Sustainability)

Emily Lockling, FDLTCC’s fellow, worked on planning and implementing the Earth Week 2020 programming. Through this, she learned organizational, communication, and planning skills. As part of creating and implementing her vision of Earth Week, Emily reached out and networked with regional and national STEM researchers who were invited to present during Earth Week. This provided Emily a chance to explore STEM topics she was not familiar with previous to her time as an Indigenous Visionary fellow. These experiences will benefit her pursuits in the STEM career field. 

The Indigenous Visionaries program has allowed FDLTCC to approach Native women in their institution and offer them a chance to design significant event at the college. The women they recruit are passionate about the environment and now have a chance to develop Earth Week events that reflect their experiences and concerns as Indigenous women. 

FDLTCC has supported four Indigenous Visionary fellows. Two of the fellows went on to pursue their bachelor’s degrees, with one continuing to pursuing her master’s degree. The other two Visionaries are completing their Associate of Science degrees and planning on transferring to 4-year institutions 

Indigenous Visionaries 2019-2020 grant updates

Courtney Kowalczak (Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa) – Director of the Environmental Institute (FDLTCC Extension)

“I see the strength of this program as the creation of a community of Native women that although they may have different interests, share a concern for their communities. This program creates a cohort of women that validate each other’s struggles and provide one another tools for success. This network has been an important resource for our students to use as they go forward in their educational careers. 

This program has given me the ability to reach out and give students an opportunity that my position did not offer before the Indigenous Visionaries program. I find working with the network of College Fund Program Officers (Bridget Skenadore and Kai Teague) and the faculty mentors from the other tribal colleges has been a positive experience. It hasprovided me tools to be a better mentor to all the students that I work with at FDLTCC. Getting to know the women in the Indigenous Visionaries program and feeling that in some way I have helped them achieve their life goals is rewarding. It has energized my approach to work and life. 

Salish Kootenai College (Early Childhood Education)

The Salish Kootenai College’s Division of Education is involved in the Montana Early Childhood Language Summit. Mentor, Kathie Maiers, has been involved with this project for two years. Through this Summit, Tribal teams are invited to learn how to implement tribal language & culture within their early learning classrooms and form collaborative networks to help support their work.  

This year, the Indigenous Visionaries fellows were involved in the planning of the 3rd Annual Montana Early Childhood Tribal Language Summit (cancelled due to COVID-19). Fellows participated in planning meetings, conference calls, presenter selections, content input, and other event planning details. Both Kayla and LouAnne had been able to attend in the years past and hopefully, will be able to participate in the next Tribal Language Summit. 

Another project that the fellow(s) were involved in is the People’s Time, which is a project under the For the Wisdom of the Children: Strengthening the Teacher of Color Pipeline program through the American Indian College Fund. Fellows had an opportunity to assist in this project through the Family Night Cultural events and activities at the Salish Kootenai College Early Learning Center. This event helped fellows develop skills in incorporating family involvement and organizing activities for the whole family, from young children to adults.  

Kathie Maiers (Salish) - Division of Education Administrative Assistant and Adjunct Faculty Member

Kathie Maiers (Salish) – Division of Education Administrative Assistant and Adjunct Faculty Member

Mentoring Joni Augare (2017-2018), Kayla Dix (2017 – 2020), and LouAnne Hoskinson (2019 – 2020) through this project, has been the highlight of my career. I have watched them all become confident Native women that have very clear, long term goals. I have a favorite quote from Dr. Jason Conway, Statewide Project Director for Comprehensive Planning; he says, “Visionaries dream with their eyes open, while others keep their eyes shut to awaken the status quo.” My experience working with these incredible women has reinforced my belief that building relationships is key to success, and exactly how important it is that individuals know that someone is in their corner and believes in them and their dreams and goals. It has shown me that these women are true visionaries – they dream with their eyes wide open; they know the challenges ahead in the field of Early Childhood Education and they are willing, able, and ready to rise up and meet that challenge head on! I am inspired by them and believe they will indeed make a difference in the field of Early Childhood Education, as well as in the lives of all who are lucky enough to cross paths with them. 


Upcoming Blogs: 

You can learn more about this program in Shelterforce Magazine and in the ArtPlace America Blog.  

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Jasmine Neosh (Menominee), University of Michigan law student, College of Menominee Nation alumna, and American Indian College Fund student ambassador says, “I vote so that the people who make the change that our communities need have the best possible partners in that fight. While real change often comes through the work of organizers and boots on the ground, the people that we elect can either be our allies or our opposition. Either way, having some say in that choice seems like our responsibility as future ancestors.”