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In Appreciation of My Journey

Yesterday as we drove away from our home in the coastal northwest, homelands of the Xwlemi, we felt a poignant sadness that we would not see the faces of our friends everyday. We will see them later.

As we visited, I thought about the journey that I am on. When I was a young woman, back from the University of South Dakota with two little kids and one about to make himself known, my brother/cousin, Butch Felix, told me there was a job teaching at Sinte Gleska College and I should go see about it. I remember it clearly, we were standing in our yards talking over the fence. I am thankful that he told me because it sent me down the road that I am still travelling today – the road to good health and happiness for students and their families through Indian education.

Over the more than 30 years that I have worked with tribal colleges and tribal students, I have experienced the most joyous rewards of student success and family pride. But I am amazed that I would even get to do this. When I worked at Sinte, I thought I would never leave the Rosebud. I loved living there and am so happy that I raised my children there enfolded in their families and friends, I learned so much about myself being able to touch the land there and to look at the skies seen by my ancestors. My spiritual self emerged there.

Being at St. Francis was the best time because all the children and youth who attended the school grounded me with their focus in their lives. Their hopefulness and that of their families, their desire to survive and do better for themselves, and their relationships all inspire me. I was reminded everyday that we are related and that our 7th generation lives among us.

I believe I was called to Northwest Indian College by the ancestors and elders of the people there, to help those with the tribal college vision to set the college on the right path. Like Willies Jones, Sr., says, teaching the crew to paddle is the role of the skipper, then the skipper passes that role on to the next crew leader. The identity of NWIC as a tribal college emerged from the people there. I am appreciative that my work there helped me articulate my own understanding of what it means to be a tribal college.

There are journeys around me, Albert Whit Hat, Sr’s new book, Life’s Journey-Zuya, is in my reading bag. The Coastal People are engaged in their annual canoe journey sharing inspiring pictures and stories through social media. Our people are sun dancing and others are having summer ceremonials, on their spiritual journeys. The roads we take, the paths we chose, are all connected.

I was reading a chapter in a book, Brain Trust, by Garth Sendum, about how to get your husband to do more housework by making housework part of his male identity. I will still have to figure that one out. But it reminded me that in today’s Lakota society we have translated the tradition of naming into a contemporary experience through giving “Indian” names. That is a good thing because we are keeping the link between naming and identity alive. Now our Indian names are our guides, they are part of our identity, our names honor us for qualities that we exhibit and reflect the intention of those who sponsor us or host our naming ceremonies. My grandmother named me Wacinyanpi Win, they depend on her, when I am asked to do something, I try to listen to that call and to answer it the best I can. That takes hard work and often means sacrifices for my loved ones. I do not get to live next door to my children as my mother did, I must get out and speak and advocate, hold fast to the journey we are on, even when I would like to stay home and quilt and write. I must move to unknown places and learn new ways. As I sit here in the lobby of the hotel on our journey to our next place where I will do the work I am called to do, I have my values of courage, generosity and industriousness to fall back on. I am reminding myself in a public way that this next step in my work, to go to the American Indian College Fund, to live in a city and to travel and speak often with others, is so that the people may live.

Wopila, Tunkashila and Unci Maka, I am thankful that I am who I am, and that I have the strength of my identity as a Lakota woman. And thank you Butch Felix and all my other mentors, relatives and friends, for guiding me on this journey. Especially thank you to my children and grandchildren for sharing. And to Red who engages in these adventures with me. My appreciation to his chidren and grandchildren for sharing him.

8 comments to In Appreciation of My Journey

  • beth brownfield

    Dearest Cheryl,
    This made me cry. I am sad that you are leaving but so happy for the path you have been on and the new direction that has taken. I have loved you since we first met and have been privileged to be your friend.

    I know we will see each other again at different times and in different places.

    Blessings to you and your family on this new life adventure.


  • Bobby Pirner

    I remember standing with you, Fred, and Doris at a aihec conference when Lionel gave a speech announcing aicf. We have come a long ways, eh? I am so proud of what you accomplish. When you do these things, many of us travel with you.

  • Diane M. Zephier

    That is a beautiful piece of writing! You must publish it somewhere. I dont know you that well but admire your courage and commitment to follow the path of education and leadership.
    Best of luck to you on your new adventure.


  • Laurel Vermillion

    My Dear Friend,
    What beautiful and moving words of wisdom. You have been and continue to be my role model and a role model for all Native women. Thank you for your guidance. I’m excited to see the “GREAT” work unfold as you begin your new journey with the American Indian College Fund… brave and know that you have good friends that will always be there for you.

  • Joel Green

    Thanks for the inspiring words, I can picture you guys on your journey through the heartland. May you and Red be well, and I know that you will continue your good work in a new place.

  • Dani Walking Eagle


    i was wondering where you were going. they are getting a premier person to head up the AICF and more students will have the opportunity for growth. I appreciate your mention of SFIS we are better for having had the experience of working and knowing you. take care and good luck in your new post.


  • Marjane Ambler

    We appreciate your sacrifices, Wacinyanpi Win. Your grandmother named you well. Every place that you leave is stronger because of you. good luck with your new path at the American Indian College Fund.

  • Cheryl,

    NWIC was lucky to have you for as long as we did; we will miss you. You made great friends throughout the tribal college world, including the Lummi people, and you have been an inspiration to many including the NWIC students & staff and the surrounding businesses within the Lummi Community. It was an honor to serve under your supervision for the past 10 years, and I certainly wish you the very best in your new venture in life. The American Indian College Fund is lucky to have been able to get you, and I know you will be great. I am sure working for the AICF that you will come back for visits every now and then, so this is not good bye, but see you next time. Love you Cheryl.

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