During Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Potawatomi Leadership Program, the 10 college students chosen to experience the Tribe in a six-week, crash course internship learn a substantial amount about Potawatomi culture and businesses. Many connect with a previously undiscovered part of their heritage and personality, such as Spokane Falls Community College freshman Liam Wrixon.
“A lot of times, I almost felt bad for checking the Native American box on forms and stuff, even though I was already a member of the Tribe. … And it’s not always about blood percentage. It’s about how willing you are to be involved in the culture, in the Tribe,” he said.
Only a few weeks into their time living together in the Sharp House, the 2019 PLP class reflected during an interview with the Hownikan on the new activities, cultural teachings and the leadership skills born from being Potawatomi.
Crafts and dancing
Some of their most meaningful and artistic experiences included helping make their regalia and attempting powwow dancing for the first time.
Shawls hold prominence as a part of women’s regalia. Every year, each of the women in the PLP class receive one from their House Mother Margaret Zientek. They had a chance to give their input on colors, patterns and fabrics, and began fringing.
“Mine is black, red and white, and I chose red because I’m the second born, which has meaning to me,” said University of Northern Iowa sophomore Jaclyn Michener, “And then we have feathers. I have a white and red feather crossing at the ends, which is beautiful, and Margaret did an amazing job.”
The group also created pucker toe moccasins during a Family Reunion Festival class in June and learned traditional powwow dances. That was the favorite part of the summer for Fort Lewis College sophomore Katie Simpson.
“I felt very powerful. It felt moving, almost. It inspired me to want to come back next year and do competitive dancing,” she said. “I think it’s just so beautiful; I can’t get enough of it.”
It all came together during Grand Entry, and much of the PLP class enjoyed seeing everyone participating and their handmade pieces.
“It was just a really immersive experience, and I felt connected with the people around me and getting to see their regalia and outward expression,” said Haskell Indian Nations University sophomore Maria Hrenchir.
Around the Tribe
During meetings with each department, this year’s class studied how the Tribe functions on a day-to-day level through an understanding of CPN’s overarching relationships with other governments. The diversity of the Nation’s services and enterprises surprised them.
“Just seeing how much the Tribe is constantly developing and creating new things and just really thinking ahead and being proactive is really cool,” said Lilly Lewis, a sophomore at the University of Texas at Dallas.
Michener particularly enjoyed visiting the realty department.
“They took us to the clay shooting range, and we all got to participate in that,” she said. “And it was a fun day overall, going and seeing where things are that the Potawatomi owns that you don’t necessarily see besides the main powwow area.”
As a whole, the group learned the basics of self-governance and the Tribe’s standing as a business entity and government, complete with three branches—legislative, executive and judicial—reflective of the U.S. federal system.
They also dove into the Potawatomi language with Justin Neely, the language department director. Several expressed a desire to pass it along to their friends and family after returning from the program.
Traveling around the Tribe and seeing how hard all of the employees work made them realize everyone contributes their portion to keep it running smoothly, including the Public Information Department.
“You see a flyer, but you don’t think about all the work that goes in behind it and suddenly realizing that there’s a voice behind the social media that we see; each Twitter page, each post has to be made by someone,” Lewis said.
With 10 people living in one house, communication is critical. They quickly learned various ways to speak and present themselves as they moved together between social situations, work and ceremonies.
“I feel like going through this program, it helps prepare me to be able to work with people who I just met so that I can be a better partner, team member, and also be to develop myself and my identity so that I can be there for those people,” said Mickey Loveless, sophomore at the University of Central Oklahoma.
Utilizing those skills and adapting them to any workplace remains a lifelong lesson from the program. Florida State University sophomore Kay-Sha Perkins now knows how to bring her ideas forward and make her voice heard.
“I’ve learned to at least step up and not be like a follower. … You learn that it’s not always something that you can just tag along. You’ve got to make your own decisions,” she said.
Others grew by allowing their peers to speak and not always taking charge. Ally Smith, a California Lutheran University sophomore, found traditional talking circles a unique experience.
“You’re all supposed to stay silent and just let one person talk, where when you’re in a big group, usually people are talking over each other or things like that,” she said. “So, I just really like how we can all just sit for a minute and listen to each other, like fully listen.”
Drury University freshman Johnathon Tune discovered that, to him, leadership means teaching others and answering their questions. His plans following his six weeks with CPN include spreading his new knowledge at home.
“My college doesn’t have an American Indian Student Association. So, that’s something I actually want to look forward into starting or getting involved in at my school,” he said.
As for Rachael Sanders, a sophomore at the University of North Texas, the PLP influenced her and prepared her for school, career and life to an incalculable degree.
“I probably won’t even understand until I get back is the true answer because there are so many things that we’ve learned and developed, and understanding ourselves makes us better for the future,” she said.
Visit plp.potawatomi.org to find out more about the program and apply.