The month of November is often regarded as Veteran and Military Families Month, but you might not know that it is also Native American Heritage Month. One organization is working to help these communities where they intersect by supporting underserved tribal populations, with a focus on veterans, including Native American Veterans and their families. We recently sat down with Hesperus Board Member Christopher Key to discuss how they are creating pathways to education and employment through training, workforce development, and technology. Here’s a snippet of this engaging conversation to pique your interest before listening to the full episode!

Mikey Meagher:

One of the things that you had mentioned that struck me at the Hesperus Forum in D.C. earlier this year, was saying that Native Americans are the cornerstone of diversity. And I immediately wrote that down, because I just thought it was so profound. And just the way you said it, it had passion and trust behind that. So, can you explain your idea of Native American culture being the cornerstone of diversity?

Christopher Key:

Yeah, I’ll give you an example. I mentioned in the opening forum monologue that if you look at a powwow, if you take any kind of powwow, and you see the many dancers on the powwow floor, the colors that are on everybody’s regalia is a representation of everybody there. Because we have inter-tribal relationships. I have cousins who are part Sioux, some Canadians, some Navajos, and then I also have my aunt who is married to an African American.

So, I have African American in my family tree, as well as Latin. It’s an abundance of cultures and overall, it’s a community. And what a community really is, is family. And like the medicine wheel, where it’s represented by the color white, yellow, red, and black. And it just kind of represents the colorful exchanges of community and family.

We have two-spirited people. Just go through any community and that’s what you see. There’s a tide and it radiates out. And it’s easier to identify, because going back to the point that most reservations are insular, we’re pretty much alone and to ourselves, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t venture out.

So, yeah, collectively it’s a broad perspective of diversity, and inclusion. Because if you have diversity, you have to have inclusion. And that’s where we invite people in and they become family. 

Mikey Meagher:

Yes, and I definitely witnessed that firsthand in D.C., so that was so much fun to see, and then dinner was fun too. I got to meet a lot of great people. To piggyback off of that, one of the things I didn’t realize either, and I’m sure this isn’t the only tribe, but the one that was used as an example, the Navajo Tribe, recognizes multiple gender identities. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Christopher Key:

Yeah, and that goes back to the creation story. There are a number of tribal communities that recognize and appreciate and really don’t distinguish any differently from individuals who are either two-spirited or – nothing is based upon gender, it’s all based upon spirit. So, we don’t look at it in that vein at all.

And that, again, is something that is a little more definitive outside a reservation. And that’s why, I think, when I made that comparison in that monologue, that a lot of people, they don’t know what they don’t know, but that’s part of sharing and learning and creating a space within the group that we’re with.

Mikey Meagher:

Yeah, and that was just one… Like you were saying in the monologue, one day, one example for all the employers listening to this, what a huge opportunity it would be to have employers go out to different tribes and reservations and really learn about the culture and start building that trust.

And really educating themselves on what it is and what it means, really, to have a Native American employee in their company, and how to help serve them so that they’re successful. Because it’s more than just interviewing for a job and getting the position. It’s, what is it beyond that? What is it beyond the person that you’re sitting across from? Have you had, I guess I could say like a success story of companies that have come into different tribes or reservations that have built that trust? And their success rates with that?

To uncover the answer and see how Hesperus is investing in the next generation of Native American and Alaska Native leadership, be sure to listen to episode four in its entirety. And stay tuned for another episode of the DE Talk Podcast in the coming weeks, focused on another important diversity and inclusion topic.

Kacie Koons
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