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Potawatomi heritage fuels Kate Anderson’s calling

Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Public Relations Director Kate Anderson relies on her ancestral, Citizen Potawatomi Nation traditions to educate the public on the Agua Caliente people past and present.

“We come from people who have always been storytellers, and we pass our stories down from generation to generation,” Anderson said during a phone interview with the Hownikan. “To pursue that as a career path, it’s already in there in your heart. You just have to find it.”

Early inspiration

Although Anderson lives in California, she stays connected to her Potawatomi roots by attending Family Reunion Festival and regional meetings in California as well as reading the Hownikan. Her CPN ties as a child helped motivate her career in communications.

Kate Anderson’s lifework revolves around helping the public build a greater understanding about Indian Country. (Photo provided)

“We’d get the Hownikan, and as a kid, I would read it and was like, ‘I want to work for this paper someday,’” Anderson said.

She began attending regional meetings the first year they began and has fond memories of her experiences.

“I can remember talking to Chairman and Vice-Chairman, and even as I was growing up, I was having conversations with them and learning from them,” she explained.

Anderson is the youngest of five, and her father’s military career moved the family around, mostly on the West Coast during her youth. Her heritage as an Anderson descendant helped provide a sense of grounding, and she became the first in her immediate family to attend and graduate from college.

“I have always loved journalism, writing and taking photos; so in college, I earned a degree in communications and a minor in political science,” she said. “After college, I became a journalist for about 12 years. Then after I started my family, I decided to change career paths a little bit.”

Anderson switched focuses from journalism to public relations, marketing and communications, and accepted her job several years ago as the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indian’s public relations director in Palm Springs, California.

“What my position does is focus on truly educating the community and the greater community about the tribe and the tribe’s history — the tribe’s heritage and culture and its existence in the modern day,” she said.

During the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association Conference in September 2019 held at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tulsa in Oklahoma, researchers revealed 1 in 3 international tourists want to experience authentic Native American culture.

“We know that there are so many people traveling the world for those very specific experiences,” Anderson said. “So, part of my job is focusing on that and opening up the opportunities for that kind of tourism.”

The Agua Caliente Tribe seeks every opportunity to build connections with Palm Spring visitors while uplifting Indian Country as a whole. Because of the tribe’s dedication to this mission, they began building an Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza set to open later this year.

“It is a beautiful, 14-acre site, and we’re building a 48,000-square-foot museum as well as a 45,000-square-foot spa,” Anderson said.

The museum serves as a foundation to celebrate the history, traditions, culture and modern-day Agua Caliente people.

“It will also have the opportunity to share other Native American stories as well, or even Indigenous stories from around the world,” she said.

Part of the tribe’s history is on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C.

“It’s a story of the original reservation boundary and some of the trials and tribulations that occurred on that property over time,” Anderson said. “That exhibit was actually created here in Palm Springs but has been on display in Washington D.C.”

The partnership with the Smithsonian offered the new Agua Caliente museum the opportunity to incorporate temporary exhibits. Trips to D.C. on behalf of the tribe provided Anderson the chance to experience the Potawatomi Trail of Death gallery at the NMAI.

“I’m just so proud that it’s our Tribe being represented there,” Anderson said. “It’s clearly a very traumatic time in our history as a Tribe, but to be able to share that story and present that story in the Nation’s capital I think is so important.”

Education

As an extension of Anderson and the Agua Caliente’s desire to bridge connections between Natives and non-Natives, the tribe and the Palm Springs Public School District worked together to create third, eighth and 11th grade curriculum.

“It’s the only partnership that we know of where the school district and a federally recognized tribe have come together to co-create a school curriculum that meets state educational standards and has now been implemented in the schools,” she said.

Last year, a pilot program tested the third grade curriculum, and this year, teachers will expose more than 1,800 third graders to the Agua Caliente people.

“It’s 10 different lessons in the classroom, and it’s mandated by the school administration,” she said. “So every single third grade class teacher is required to teach that curriculum.”

After piloting the eighth and 11th grade curriculum, Anderson said the project will lead to incorporating lessons within nearly every grade level.

“It plays into our museum as well because the museum will be a successful educational venue — particularly for the local schools,” she said.

Anderson’s staff and tribal leaders also attend teacher trainings to ensure students receive well-rounded lessons and that the teachers are comfortable instructing their students.

“And that has been really important because two of my tribal council members here at Agua Caliente literally go to the training and have a very important role in the training itself,” Anderson said. “We are face-to-face with many of the teachers who are going to be taking this curriculum and putting it into their classrooms.”

She is thankful for her career and the opportunity it affords her to inform the public on the vast and varied history of Native America as well as her ties to the greater Native community as a Citizen Potawatomi.

“Staying connected to your culture and passing it along to our children is a meaningful part of life, especially when you’re Native American, there’s just so much in your heart that allows you to celebrate that part of your ancestry,” she said.

To learn more about Agua Caliente’s upcoming projects, visit visionaguacaliente.com.