Strength- wówaš’ake

March for Standing Rock – Downtown Saint Paul, Minnesota 2016- Speaking to the supporters gathered.

In my life there have been struggles. I feel like my life has been a roller coaster. But what I know now, is that I do not let the opinions of others really influence how I think about myself. And that was something that took a long time. In the early part of my career, and life, people’s opinions really did influence me, and it made me feel really bad about myself. My confidence struggled. If you ever think you cannot be bullied as an adult, that is wrong. You can, and I have been. I tried everything to fit in to the world around me, and it was never the right way. And then seminary happened and opportunities opened up. I remember leading a protest march with over 1000 people in the streets of downtown Saint Paul for Indigenous Justice. Standing on stage telling my story, talking about my Lakota ancestors, my family, and their teachings. People listened. I began writing. People listened. I began speaking at various events. People responded. And then people I didn’t know, began to tell me, I am wrong, I do not fit in, I do not know what I am talking about, I am privileged because I am Indigenous (oh yeah let that one sink in for a moment).

Once again, I began to believe these opinions, and it really hurt me. And then, something changed. I just kept going. Despite the hurt and the pain, I just kept going. Moving forward. I could not allow myself to let that dictate who I am. And I decided, I was going to keep talking, keep writing, keep helping to heal the world around me, and keep advocating for my Indigenous people. Because I am a great speaker, a great writer, a great person and I am good at what I do and I am going to keep going forward. And I have been doing this from that moment on, it is all I have done. I just kept going. I just started working harder, and harder. I saw that I was working harder, sometimes harder than others. Being a mother, a student, a theologian, an advocate, a healer, I was finding the time. And what is happening now, it is beginning to pay off.

More than that, this hard work I have put in helped me to believe in myself. I started believing that I was not a fake, that I deserve the success I have created, that there is a reason I keep doing what I am doing, and people keep reaching out to me and listening. I began to think, ok maybe I am good at what I do. This took time, it took time for me to believe in myself, because if I was at all honest with myself, deep down inside I did not believe in myself. But once I started believing, and it was different people in my life at different times that would say, “you are good at what you do”, I’d go to an event, or teach a class or lead a discussion and say, “ya know I’m not too good at this yet”. I remember a Professor once telling me, “what are you talking about? You are good at what you do. You get people to think in a new way.” And my response was, “Well I’m not at the same place as other Theologians, I am just not that good yet.” And the Professor told me that it did not matter. You speak like Kelly and people love it. They love your perspective, they admire your hard work, we need people like you. And I had replied, “they do?” And my Professor told me yes. And it is those moments, just like that one, where people plant a seed for you to look at yourself in a better way. And it is those moments I have chosen to hold onto for strength. There are many. I have begun to expect the unexpected when it comes to who will enter my life next.

In Lakota we have a word, Wacintaka, or fortitude, which means facing danger or challenges with courage, strength and confidence. By believing in oneself this allows a person to face challenges.

One of the first lessons my grandmother taught me was that I may see others as more skilled than I am but I needed to see them not as a competitor but as a role model. That it was not about being superior to another person, but to strive to be a role model for others. She reminded me that was the most important in all that I do. Believing in myself at times requires patience, perseverance and strength of mind in the face of challenges that will try to pull me down.

So what have I learned? Believing in yourself involves the courage to continue even when you feel the pressure against you. Take the time to relish on the moments that lift you up and fills your soul with energy.

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