Reflections since Arrival

Coming from a family of strong Indigenous activists has taught me to always think of community. As a member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe with a close connection to my Yaqui heritage, I have developed a strong sense of pride for my people and a desire to merge my passion for medicine and health with my Indigenous advocacy work. For my Fulbright Scholarship, I am working on a 1-year Master of Public Health while conducting a project on Aboriginal youth mental health in boarding schools. The Master of Public Health will allow me to take skills back to the U.S., where there is a need for Native American physicians with a public health perspective.

My Fulbright was largely inspired by my Sioux grandparents and great-grandparents and their journeys being forced to attend boarding schools, not being allowed to speak their language, and being stripped of key parts of their cultural identities. For generations my ancestors were forced to be spatially limited, whether it be on reservations or boarding schools. This is why the Fulbright Scholarship is so powerful. Here I am, a Native American who has the opportunity to travel freely between lands, being empowered to traverse the world, to learn from Aboriginal Peoples and to take knowledge back home to help my own community. Given my ancestral history, that is powerful.

Aside from my project, it has been meaningful to connect with Australians and foster relationships. So far it has been fascinating to learn about the Aboriginal contexts here. From the National Apology, acknowledgements of country, and issues surrounding Native Title, I have become interested in what I can take back to Native communities in the United States. One line of thought I have been considering is how Native American communities would feel about a National Apology, and what this might look like. It is my opinion that a National Apology from the United States would only be healthy if followed by concrete actions of reparations.

In pursuit of my goals to make key connections I have also been busy organizing talks and conversations. One I am really looking forward to is an opportunity to speak about my research at the University of Tasmania. I have also spoken to undergraduate classes at Western Sydney University about my research journey and have been invited to partner with the Barker Institute, a local boarding school speaking series here in Sydney. Through a connection I have with a local Aboriginal primary school principle, a potential talk with primary students on First Nations topics in the U.S. is also in the works. I was also invited by the National Park Service to speak about environmental violence against Indigenous Peoples. Most surprisingly, I received an invitation to speak to boarding school students about my perspective on the Vietnam War…

In addition to formal talks I have been able to have formal conversations with key leaders here in Australia. In May, 2017 I was elected as a North American Focal Point for the UN Global Indigenous Youth Caucus and was able to meet with fellow Aboriginal members of the caucus in Canberra to discuss our continued work. At the invitation of a former Co-Chair of the UN Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, Duane Fraser, and the UN Global Indigenous Youth Pacific Focal Point, Ivan Ingram, I enjoyed a sit down talk with Senator Malarndirri McCarthy and an exchange with Senator Pat Dodson about my project. Furthermore, I was able to speak about Aboriginal education with Simon Birmingham, Australia’s Minister for Education and Training. Recently, I was invited to meet with Dr. Rod Kennett and Kate Driver, the Senior Manager and Deputy Director respectively at Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre. At the meeting we discussed my project and the possibility of linking up with Questacon to organize science programming for Native American youth from my Tribes. Furthermore, I got to have extensive conversation with Craig Ritchie, CEO of AIATSIS, the leading Aboriginal Research Institute in Australia. Lastly, I was able to make some key connections with individuals from the U.S. Embassy, including Michael Bowerbank, who is working on an international exchange program between Aboriginal and Native American youth leaders, and James A. Carouso, Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy, who I was able to speak with at length and discuss options for future work. I also went to the United Nations in Manhattan for two weeks where I was able to connect with Jackie Huggins, one of the most prominent Aboriginal rights activists in Australia.

One of my most memorable experiences has been connecting with two of my mentors, Rod Little, and Mikaela Jade, whom I worked with at the United Nations in years prior on Indigenous issues. Rod is a revered Aboriginal leader from the Amangu and Wajuk Peoples of Western Australia. Currently he is the Co-Chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and Co-Chair of the Close the Gap steering committee. On “Australia Day”, rightfully called Invasion Day by many, I met up with Rod and marched alongside him and thousands of others through the streets of Redfern to mark the 80th Anniversary of the first Day of Mourning protest and to call for a treaty between Aboriginal Peoples and Government.

At the Redfern march, I was deeply moved by the stories of Aboriginal people who are raising matters of sovereignty, treaty, and respect for issues that impact their communities. Many felt that no one was listening. While listening to these stories I could not help but think about Native communities and my time at Standing Rock, South Dakota, taking testimonies for UN Human Rights mechanisms. At the march, there was a shared sentiment that links between Aboriginal and Native American struggles and strategies could bolster our respective causes.

While in Canberra for the Fulbright Gala and Orientation, I also had the chance to meet with an inspiring Aboriginal scientist and innovator, a Cabrogal woman, Mikaela Jade. Her app, Indigital Storytelling, uses augmented reality and 4D technology to tell traditional stories of Aboriginal Peoples and bring traditional stories to life, and was created in consultation with Traditional Owners. Sometimes I forget that I studied Chemistry in college but speaking with Mikaela put me right back into the science fever. The days of doing genetic research in a lab call out to me. The simplicity can feel nice. Yet, I am reminded that being an Indigenous scientist often comes with more responsibilities than just searching for knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Mikaela embodies what a true Aboriginal scientist should be by using her work and platform to benefit Aboriginal communities for generations to come.

Among these treasured experiences I have also been able to explore. In between talking to amazing folks and working on my Fulbright project, I have visited various beaches, got stung by jellyfish, spent time with Kangaroos and Koalas, went to the Mardi Gras Parade, and made friendships with inspiring folks here in Sydney. Oh, and I also learned how to ride a motorcycle. Sorry Mom!

Sioux in Sydney

An closer look into my Fulbright experience in Australia