Heather Whitemanrunshim | Indigenous in Perpetuity

“Focus on being proactive and use the future as the guidance point when you [encounter] challenges. What you work for is bigger than us [individually].” -Heather Whitemanrunshim

Heather Whitemanrunshim

Heather Whitemanrunshim, photo courtesy of the Native American Rights Fund

Heather Whitemanrunshim is Apsalooke (Crow Nation). She is an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) where she works primarily on issues pertaining to water law.

Our wide-ranging conversation touched on two issues that I am still thinking about several days later. First, we discussed the need to be vulnerable to learn language and/or culture. I think it is a common experience that people our age grew up afraid to admit we didn’t know as much language as others, or we were worried about making mistakes. The alternative is to avoid it and avoid that experience. We need to foster environments that encourage learning and make it easier to be uncomfortable and make mistakes. As a new parent, I am thinking about how to teach my child about who we are, and that requires me learning even more along the way, too.

She also shared the idea that we almost only focus on the concept of time immemorial with respect to the past. But she challenged us to apply the concept to the future. We will always be here into the future. I think that is just as important as thinking about the past. It helps contextualize the highs and lows of individual moments, because in the arc of one’s life, let alone many generations, those moments are small.

Digging deeper into those two points alone are worth listening, and she covered so much more!

We covered a wide range of other topics in our conversation including:

  • Not being afraid to be vulnerable when learning languages, and fostering an environment where it is encouraged to learn, not where people are discouraged because they don’t know.
  • How to work through difficult situations by providing multiple choices or consequences. For example, Heather was lonely when she left for boarding school, but when she thought about moving back home, she realized it wasn’t the right choice for her. Thinking about moving home provided the contrasting option she needed to push through to achieve her goal.
  • Being open to opportunities. Heather attended the Institute for American Indian Arts (IAIA) and eventually the University of New Mexico.  She did not consider law until a professor encouraged her to consider it. She listened to the guidance and it had a significant impact on her life. She worked for a law firm, as a public defender, for her tribe and eventually landed at Native American Rights Fund.
  • And much more. Give it a listen.

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