Published in 1900, L. Frank Baum penned The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Baum, who dedicated his original story “to my good friend and comrade, my wife,” would perhaps be astounded that his words are still on our minds over a century later. His message: “There’s no place like home.”
“What does all this have to do with a legislative column?” you might be scratching your head asking. The answer: I feel compelled to explain my written absence from our Tribal newspaper over these last months. Once you read the rest of my column, I hope you understand.
Since the passing of my father in December 2016, my world, like Dorothy’s, has had parallels. My world was sent spinning out of control. I wished to be somewhere far, far away (mentally), physically wanting to be “somewhere over the rainbow.” I finally realized that home is what you make it and that “the grass is greener under me.” (To quote Demi Lovato.)
The week my father lay dying from cancer in the Shawnee ICU, I was officially removed from my legislative committees after a very public and heated disagreement. A month later, I ended a six-year engagement to a man I thought I would spend the rest of my life with.
What I couldn’t see for months is that these hardships were actually blessings in disguise. I have no ill-will against anyone, but it has been a very hard test of my resolve. We all make choices out of protection, be it our ideas, maintaining a legacy, guarding our love or simply wanting what’s best for our children. I may disagree with the decision making of others, but appreciate we all have our own agenda for living this life. I am a firm believer that what goes around comes around, and that in the end, we will all be judged and held accountable by our Maker.
What these tests taught me is akin to Dorothy’s resolve. I had to learn how to live independently rather than co-dependently. I found the strength to move twice in a single year while self-supporting my son who lives with me full-time. I made peace with the timing of being pushed out of our legislative committee decision-making process. I have even come to terms with the loss of a parent and not getting the closure I thought I needed.
Instead of remaining disappointed over not having the ideal father-daughter relationship my whole life and being hurt by the love of my life, I found my brain, my heart and the courage to not only fly over the rainbow but to land exactly where I was meant to be and become the woman I dreamed I could be. From a life that seemed swept up in a tornado to being set down in a foreign place, it was an extremely difficult journey for me, and especially for my son. The lessons learned: Everyone has a brain and how you think defines your happiness. In the words of the Wizard of Oz, “A heart is not judged by how much you love, but how much you are loved by others,” and courage is turning disorganized thoughts into wisdom and then action.
I am a new homeowner now, not on a ranch but in a neighborhood, and even took a trip to Italy by myself, the first international trip of my life. I had the best year of my career in 2017, and 2018 looks even better. I have helped Oklahoma tribal leaders achieve their strategic goals and, in turn, it has given me more hands-on experience as one of your tribal leaders.
I have written for and managed tribal construction of a rural dialysis clinic for 60 American Indians living with end stage renal failure; a sewer lagoon for a tribal community of 450 in which aging lines collapsed; a new water system (well, standpipe, fire hydrants and lines) in a tribal community where they were losing thousands of gallons of water in a 40-year old system; and now a new wellness center. I have helped a small Oklahoma tribe build its economy by writing for economic development of a travel plaza and fuel station in another state, the first application of its kind with Oklahoma Housing and Urban Development. I have also written and landed my tribal clients a $1 million construction renovation project of a 45-day drug and alcohol treatment facility; a $450,000 comprehensive tribal victim’s assistance program for children, women and elders facing abuse by tribal teens and adults addicted to drugs and alcohol; and giving tribal youth a safe place to gather in a new $350,000 tribal youth program I envisioned in a project called Y’ALL (Youth Active Leadership and Liberty).
While I specialize in HUD’s Indian Community Development Block Grants (ICDBG), I can now add the Department of Justice’s CTAS (Consolidated Tribal Assistance Solicitation) grants to my repertoire. Unfortunately, as a Citizen Potawatomi Nation tribal legislator, I can’t help our tribe with these efforts, but that is well and good because our Nation doesn’t need me in that capacity. We have some of the best grant writers in America when it comes to writing and securing federal grants and contracts.
For me, each time I negotiate on behalf of tribal leaders with the Indian Health Service, Department of the Interior or Department of Justice, I gain valuable skills for our Nation. I also build relationships with tribal leaders across Oklahoma and have a reputation for being determined when told I can’t do something on behalf of a tribe. I enjoy debating with federal bureaucrats and attorneys, strengthening my knowledge of tribal sovereignty law and growing tribal economies to meet the needs of individual tribal communities. It also affords me learning opportunities of other tribal histories.
2017 was a very hard year for me, but equally enriching. I’m sorry for not sharing these personal stories and professional accomplishments with you along the way; I had to physically and mentally weather the storm to see over the rainbow and, eventually, the sun on the other side.
By divine intervention one cold, blustery morning as I sat down with coffee and turned on the TV, the credits were beginning for the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz. Like Dorothy, I, too, was faced with a dilemma in 2017 — to run to Denver and start anew or stay in Guthrie and become stronger. I chose the latter. If you can relate to my hardships in your own life, please know that it has not been an easy road — quite the opposite. The one thing I can say with absolute certainty is that you will be stronger for having weathered the storm. If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.
It’s up to each of us to define our boundaries, invest in our own happiness, seek new education and experiences, teach others how to treat us, find ways to make a house a home and live in harmony and loyalty with those we devote our love to. Let others chase the illusion that the “grass is greener over the fence.” In time, they will understand that, no matter the shade of green elsewhere or with what someone else has, the weeds still have to be picked and the grass mowed if you want to reap a fruitful harvest.
Please know that even in the absence of my columns, I am always and forever thinking Potawatomi.
Representative, District 11