The Shift: A Conversation with Eileen Briggs

Last Updated by Heather Benson on

Eileen Briggs is the former Director of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Ventures and a Bush Foundation Fellow.  She has recently taken on a new role with the foundation as part of the Native Nation Building Initiative. She joined on In the Moment where we talked about equipping young people from tribal communities with the right skills and opportunities to encourage them to thrive in Native communities and beyond.

Interview Highlights: 

On how the Bush Fellowship has changed her life:

It's been really an exciting time. Actually, the fellowship has really provided me with a lot of opportunities. I've been able to be a part of some work in Canada with a group of people there. We're working to work on some indigenous social innovation institute that we're working to really make an indigenous led and creative place for social innovation. We're just giving birth to that, so that's been part of my fellowship work and have had a chance to really meet and talk with a lot of different leaders. I went to the Ted Women Conference and a couple of other things I've been able to do with that. It's just, it's been just great to just sort of look at the world differently with the fellowship and see opportunities to look at change and to grow myself. I've been really thankful.

On similarities and distinctions on how people leave and come home again in tribal communities:

I grew up on the reservation, and I lived away, and then I moved home, and I've been back home 14 years. Now I've just recently started working with the Bush Foundation in the region and have an apartment in Minneapolis and go back and forth from the rez. I think one of things that we have in common throughout the state is just everyone really just trying to find the right fit for them and their community, and to use their skillsets, and an opportunity to feel like they're still connected to the larger world, but then grounded in their home. I think that's a challenge throughout South Dakota no matter what community you come from as you sort of grow into your own professional development and just looking for the right opportunities.

On finding ways to connect with traditional culture outside a hometown setting:

I think within my experience with our way of life and our traditional ceremonies and things along that line, I mean it's a totally different sort of way to look at things when you end up in an urban or away from the reservation, you have to find other ways to find those connections and really test your sense of your own individual ability to find the ceremonies, or to find the places and relationships that you need that support that. For instance, I was here in the Cities just last night and there is a group of elder women that gather at a native elderly housing here and I was invited by my auntie, who knows somebody and her niece lives over here.

It's one of those things and they said, "They have this women's drumming circle and you should go." I don't really drum, but I know songs and so I was able to go to that last night and participate and it was really felt good...I didn't know anybody, but my one friend's niece and it was just really great to be a part of that. I think that's part of the challenge for anybody when they leave is to find a community again and to find a connection. With my tradition and my ways, those are the things that I'm really grateful for. You know people who know people and you just start asking and you'll find the right place.

About the Native Nation Building Initiative from the Bush Foundation.

Yeah, we've really been investing quite a bit for the last ten years in our nation building strategy. Really, the intention here is to help build the strength of the tribal nations to exercise their own governance that reflects their values and the customs and cultures of their people. With that, we've done a lot of different individual trainings with an education within tribal communities at the request and conversation with tribal leadership. We've actually built a native nation rebuilder leadership program also that has been very influential in helping young people find new skills and a network to help them in their work, in their home communities. That's run by our partner, the Native Governance Center, and that organization really leads that rebuilder program and we have 141 rebuilders and 54 of them in South Dakota.

They can go to the Native Governance Center's website and their website address is NativeGov.org. Of course, they can always revisit the Bush Foundation's website and learn as well. We partner on that particular program, but you can also learn about the other native nation initiatives that we've done as part of the work at the Bush Foundation.

Listen to the entire audio of the conversation here.