Kyla Woodard

Oglala Sioux

“I remember as a 9-year-old, I won the speech contest at my elementary school in Sacramento, CA. My speech was of my tribe, the Oglala Lakota of the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires). I spent countless hours preparing and rehearsing for what was more than just a speech, but a statement of “We are STILL here!” Ultimately, my efforts led me to advance to the district finals and an overall second-place finish. I lost to a blonde, blue-eyed, Caucasian girl who did her presentation on T-cells. Funny enough, as an innocent child, I truly believed that I had lost because she had a pointing stick for her poster in which I did not. Yet, I had something much more meaningful in my eyes–compelling music, symbolic artifacts, unique artwork, and breathtaking photographs of my culture that undoubtedly represented beauty and resiliency.

Nonetheless, I felt inferior and defeated. I accepted the loss because that was “just the way things were.” As I reflect on this experience, I understand now that in part, it was because of the lack of privilege I held as one of the few brown students in the competition. What I failed to realize then that I do now, is that even miles away from my original homelands in a predominately white space, as a young Native girl I was reclaiming Indigenous space and creating an accurate representation of my people just by my very presence.

My experiences both with and witnessing the persecution of my people throughout my life (especially when I moved back to my homelands in S.D), is what led me to social work, a passion for social justice, and a desire to heal others today. I come from a nation who is historically known to have been fierce resisters to colonization. I also come from strong Lakota women who have always taught me by example to stand up for the people. I will continue to fight against the injustices my people confront, to help others heal from the ongoing cycles of oppression and intergenerational trauma, and to set the path for my daughter and future generations to do so after me.”