Emerson Wilson joins her mother Kristen Wilson and sister LynLi Wilson in powwow dance classes.

Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Cultural Education Specialist Kristen Wilson first connected with the Nation as a teen mom working toward her undergraduate degree at St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

“I was able to pursue my goals as a first generation college graduate, and I want to be able to show other Native American students that just because you are given an obstacle in life doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful,” Wilson said.

She obtained a Bachelor of Sociology in 2003 and a Master of Science in Human Resources Administration in 2007. Today she educates Native American students ages 12 to 24 in public schools within CPN’s jurisdiction in indigenous culture and assists in the development of their cultural identity. She does this through arts and crafts as well as one-on-one and group discussions.

“I want to be someone positive to talk to — someone that is different from their everyday,” she said. Wilson hopes to serve as an outlet for indigenous youth and provides a judgment-free zone.

Prior to this position, Wilson worked in an administrative role with her tribe, the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma.

“I was unable to stop and enjoy the value of what culture is,” she said. In her new position, she feels she can flourish while helping others grow along with her.

She said she finds her students need to be familiarized with an array of cultural activities.

“I think the most enjoyable part is there’s never a standstill moment,” she said. “There’s always an activity going on, or there‘s always an opportunity to learn.”

For the middle school students, she began a book club. They started reading Tim Tingle’s three-part series No Name. Tingle is a member of the Choctaw Nation and uses Oklahoma imagery like Lake Thunderbird and the Oklahoma City Thunder throughout the books, which Wilson believes helps the students find connections.

“We are able to read some of the chapters and discuss how that made them feel, which leads into a talking circle,” she said.

Wilson grew up within the Tribal jurisdiction and graduated from Dale High School. Her strong connections within the various communities across CPN’s jurisdiction assist her efforts in reaching students that may need her help the most.

However, her biggest takeaway is “being Native American or an American Indian — it isn’t the color of your skin. It’s what’s in your heart and what you identify as,” she said. “Nobody can take that from anyone. For an individual to want to learn or to try to learn their culture, I don’t think that anybody should be able to stop them from doing that.

“I have personally learned so much in the past few months culturally, and I am grateful for this opportunity,” she said.