Reflections of an Intercultural Experience

By Anna Kaiser, Development Specialist, American Indian Family Center

I joined AmeriCorps, and applied to work at the American Indian Family Center, because I wanted to have an intercultural experience. I studied history in college—I was excited to work for a community where history is very relevant. In both high school and college, I studied abroad three times and I wanted to have a similar experience of being immersed in another culture because being forced outside my comfort zone was challenging and empowering. When abroad, I was able to understand what it meant to be American through the eyes of non-Americans. But in this context, interacting with the Native community has given me a window into what it means to be American from the inside, but in a very different reality than my own. This experience has really given me more insight into who I am in the context of American history.

When I think about my place as an American in the context of our history with tribal nations—its not pretty. It makes me uncomfortable. As a non-native working in this community, I have to be very aware of our shared history of colonization and its repercussions. I have to work with this in order to do my job well. This community is healing from the ongoing injustices of colonization. When faced with injustice, we often think, what can I do? I certainly don’t have the answer, but I’ve got some ideas.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I traveled to Standing Rock with my coworker and a group from her church. I would like to share with you some concepts that I was taught there.

  1. Indigenous leadership: Be comfortable with leadership that looks different from what you are used to. When you are working in the Native community—respect Native leadership (this may sound obvious but you’d be surprised how much this issue comes up). AIFC has both native and non-native leadership. But what it has in common as an organization is female leadership. This has been extremely empowering for me. I consider myself lucky to spend 5 days a week with strong female role models!
  2. Know your history for what it is: Americans don’t like to accept the icky truth. But doing so is disrespectful to native peoples. One thing a lot of Americans don’t realize is that they are living on land that was once forcefully taken from other peoples. Show respect for these peoples by knowing who they are. I grew up in northwestern Ohio, which was once frequented by the Kickapoo, Potawatomi, and Miami tribes. Minnesota is historically home to Sioux and Ojibwe tribes. Very significant events occurred between these tribes and the US government right here in the Twin Cities. If you aren’t familiar with this, then you should make an effort to learn.
  3. Build a new legacy: In an effort to build a better future for all Americans, we should listen and learn from Native peoples, continually educate ourselves, and show compassion to ourselves and others when it comes to racial and cultural issues.

I have been in AmeriCorps for the past nine months and I am glad to say that the goals I had for this experience have been met. I am very thankful for the time that I have spent at the American Indian Family Center. I feel that I have been gifted with so much wisdom and kindness, and I consider myself lucky to be here. As my service year comes to a close, I expect to continue my relationship with AIFC in the future, either as an employee or as a supporter of the important work that is done here.