Every year, ionOklahoma selects a group of leaders and achievers from throughout the state for its NextGen Under 30 awards. The publication receives nominations across 30 career categories, and this year, recognized 379 Oklahomans from 241 companies, including Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Lexi Freeman.
“The NextGen under 30 mission has been to identify and honor these very talented young Oklahomans as a way of encouraging them to follow their lifetime career goals in Oklahoma,” said Donald Swift, ionOklahoma publisher.
In her role as the CPN Department of Environmental Protection environmental coordinator, Freeman teaches students about science, technology, engineering and math opportunities, oversees water testing across CPN land and waterways within Tribal jurisdiction, writes and manages grants to improve efficiency and reduce the Nation’s carbon footprint, and more.
“It’s such a big honor to be recognized, especially as a Native woman with most of my community outreach based around the Tribe,” Freeman said. “I’m so proud to represent, and be a part of, the Nation and all the incredible things we’re doing.”
She believes good leadership requires many attributes, including the willingness to learn and listen.
“Whether it be from science, experts, your community, or your elders — the environment is so all-encompassing, you have to be open to its stakeholders,” she said.
As a Rhodd descendant, Freeman believes in the importance of honoring and caring for CPN land and its resources for generations to come.
“I’m incredibly proud to be where I am today,” Freeman said. “I’m so grateful to have my position at the Nation and work to benefit my Tribe after everything they’ve done for me. Native Americans, especially women, are so underrepresented in STEM. I hope to continue promoting STEM to our Native youth.”
Growing up on the Shawnee Milling Co. research farm introduced her to agriculture science, and at one point, Freeman wanted to become a veterinarian. While an undergraduate at Oklahoma State University, she changed her course and decided to pursue a master’s degree in environmental science.
After graduating from OSU with her master’s, Freeman joined CPN’s workforce full-time. However it was not her first employment with the Tribe. She began working for the Nation’s FireLake Mini Putt at the age of 16 and continued working there as an undergrad at OSU. She also participated in the Potawatomi Leadership Program in 2012.
Since accepting the environmental coordinator position, Freeman has taught participants of the CPN Conservation Camp and STEM camps hosted by the Nation’s Cultural Heritage Center, Workforce Development & Social Services and Department of Education.
“I love seeing the kids get excited about water, the environment, and I consider it a big win if I can get them to like entomology and insects,” she said.
Freeman’s day-to-day duties vary, depending upon the Tribe’s current needs, and she takes it upon herself to study to intricacies of her field.
“The Department of Environmental Protection is so multifaceted that I’m most proud of slowly learning the ins and outs,” Freeman said. “Environmental laws, regulations and reporting are all so fluid and ever changing. I’ve loved learning and becoming more proficient in my job.”
In addition to her career, she is also an active member of CPN’s American Indian Science and Engineering Society chapter Shkodedeajek and an alumni of CPN’s employee leadership group Noek where she serves as CPN Employee of Distinction Award committee member.
Freeman’s work, whether for CPN or volunteer-based, stems from the desire to open doors for others and encourage fellow Native American youth to build successful careers.
“I want to see CPN Native youth take my job when I can no longer fill it,” she said. “I want Potawatomi kids to go to college and study in a field they’re passionate about and know that no goal or job is too high for them. … Our dreams are never too big or too unattainable, and if I can show one Native that, then I’m proud of my legacy.”
Find out more about NextGen Under 30 at nextgenunder30.com.