Native Women Cultivate Leadership Skills
Monday, October 07 2013
Written by Alfred Walking Bull,
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Being of service to tribal communities both in the Twin Cities area and in the reservation environment is a priority for the three Native women who will be graduating from Native Americans in Philanthopy’s Circle of Leadership Academy in November. The organization selected a nation cohort of tribal citizens from around the country during its April 2012 Native Philanthropy Institute in Los Angeles. Among those selected were four women from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area who work in the Native community in various positions and organizations. Leslie Apple (Oglala Lakota), Alicia Smith (Yupik), Deanna Standing Cloud (Red Lake Ojibwe) and Anna Ross (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe) were selected for the 18-month program based on their individual goals and projects to improve their community through their own leadership development in philanthropic and non-profit sectors.

According to NAP program associate Diana Manuel, the program’s mission is to strengthen and sharpen the necessary skills to be an effective leader in Native communities through group training seminars, webinars, distance learning and mentorship opportunities.

For Apple, that means a chance to cultivate her professional abilities. “I joined to develop my own leadership skills and networking so I can be effective in my career, job, community and within my own life. I wanted this to be a challenge to get out of my comfort zone.”

Apple is currently the Development and Grants Coordinator for the Tiwahe Foundation, a Minneapolis-based philanthropy that engages Native American individuals and families to improve their circumstances through giving to explore their culture, spirituality and traditions.

“Prior to joining CoLA, I had not really known about philanthropy or even what that meant. I hear that a lot – philanthropy – what does that mean? I think being on this learning journey, learning about their work on a national level, raising awareness and funding to Native organizations has been a great help at understanding empowerment. It's not just a leadership program, but it's an effective one,” Apple said.

Part of NAP’s efficacy is measured not just in what it can teach, but how it can connect its academy members to others around the country to mentor when needed.

“I've always been sort of familiar with NAP and familiar with their work. I got this email and thought, 'this is a really cool idea,'” said Ross. “I was curious about how this was going to be different and I applied. It's tribal members from all over the country, you submit your resume and your interests. And they brought us all together. It was so cool to get together and to collaborate and see what everybody else is doing and the challenges that they face are the challenges you face and you realize you're not in it alone. There's people that have been in their profession for years and there are newer professionals who are just starting out; some people who are in entry level positions and some that are executives. There's such a variety but there's also that camaraderie there as well.”

For Ross – who is the executive director of Bii Gii Wiin, a home ownership and personal finance advocacy organization – the rewards of her goals are in being able to share with others around the region and the country.

“Here's me, the executives director of a little non-profit in the Twin Cities and then there's a circuit court judge in the state of Illinois in the same group. It’s such a spectrum of people and I love it, I love every minute of it. We really are like a family. It’s another opportunity for me to network and the more you invest in relationships in other Natives from the community, the more invested you feel in the community. Because these people now are like my family and this is their home, it makes that connection much more real for me in the community.”

For Standing Cloud’s part, she has used her membership in CoLA to springboard into developing a deeper commitment to her educational community. As a Red Lake Ojibwe, she was raised and went to school in Minneapolis, spending time on Red Lake, the Flathead reservation in Montana and Rapid City, S.D.

Her dedication to education came because of personal experience with her daughter. “I kind of slipped into education with her. I’d walk her to class every day when she was in the first grade, I got to know staff and teachers before getting involved with the Title VII committee. Then, the [Minneapolis Public Schools] Indian Education director offered me a job as the Family Engagement Coordinator, where I’ve been since January of 2009.”

“When I applied for CoLA, one of the reasons was because of the positions I’d had was to have tribal communities work more closely with each other instead of going directly to the state or the federal government. My vision was to help the communities lean on each other, getting the tribes to get together to reevaluate and reassess how they operate and interact with the community, having in place some kind of assessment and work more with other sovereign tribes.”

Before she takes on the task of connecting tribal communities to one another, Standing Cloud plans to make herself a resource. “One of the small steps for my action plan is to just to get my bachelor’s degree, I’m 9 credits away. And I’m just working on that, everything I’ve done can be counted as action research. I am working toward the larger vision I had in my application and part of that was to get my education. I’m a single mom so I have a Kindergartener and a freshman in school right now.” She is currently enrolled at Metropolitan State University.

For Ross, giving back to her respective community is also a priority. Raised on the Turtle Mountain reservation in North Dakota, she saw first hand how complacency can breed apathy. “Part of the program is that each leader has a vision or goal of a project they want to accomplish and implement. My project is a professional mentorship program, encouraging employers to have policies that push their staff to be involved within the community. If you’re going to a meeting or on a community board, I’ll give you those hours off and education time to further your education. I would use my staff as an example, I’m training them to take my job. I don’t want my receptionist to remain a receptionist her whole life, I want her to get her degree and I want her to move up and I want her to get a better job. I think that’s really important and that’s the kind of work environment that needs to be created on a regular basis. When you’re in a job for so long, you lose vision for the community and what you’re there for in the first place.”

For all four, their 18-month journey in expanding their personal and professional horizons comes to a close on Nov. 7 when NAP will host their graduation ceremony in St. Paul.

“I’m really thankful to have been considered for this opportunity – that I was accepted to be part of this cohort. It’s connected me with other regions that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to be connected. I made great relatives and it feels really good. My relationships and relative-making is spreading across Turtle Island and something I can use in the future,” Standing Cloud said.

For more information about Native Americans in Philanthropy, joining its next Circle of Leadership Academy or to attend the Graduation Celebration, visit or call Diana Manuel at 612-724-8798, ext. 5.

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