Throughout my time at Cultural Survival, I have learned a lot about the realities of day-to-day work at a non-profit organization. One thing that has been reassuring to realize is that there are so many kinds of jobs one can have and still support social justice work, depending on your interests, strengths, and preferences. If you would rather work with numbers and money, you can. If you prefer to do event planning, you can do that too.
Since Cultural Survival is a fairly small organization, with less than ten full-time staff working in the Cambridge office where I worked, I got to observe how each person was in charge of a different section of the organization on a daily basis. But there are also times where everyone came together as well. The bazaars, which occur in the summer and winter, are events where numerous indigenous artists from around the world fly into New England to sell their work. They are big, all day events, so it’s essentially all hands on deck. Even people who don’t do much work to prepare for the bazaars during the rest of the year still go and help out and do whatever needs to be done those few days. The bazaars are a real team effort.
During my internship, it has been an honor to be able to dedicate my time to researching and learning about all different groups of indigenous peoples and individuals doing advocacy work to benefit their particular part of the world. I then got to report back on what I learned and write articles about these news stories. I also got to lend a hand at the bazaar in Newburyport (on a 100 degree day no less), helping to set up and helping the vendors with whatever they needed, and making sure everyone got the water and breaks they needed.
As a result of this internship, I have realized that I prefer doing work where I get to interact with people more, with more of a local focus. I enjoyed the work I did all summer, but the most meaningful moments for me were definitely attending and testifying at the hearing for the bill that would ban Native American mascots in Massachusetts public schools, and working at the bazaar and helping out the vendors. In the future, I definitely see myself pursuing more opportunities that allow me to work hands-on with people in my local area.
The advice I would give to other people interested in this field of indigenous human rights advocacy, and human rights advocacy in general, is to be open to any and all opportunities for connection with other people who share similar passions. There is a lot to learn from people who have been doing this kind of work for years, and they are usually also the people who would love to share a connection with you. I think another good rule of thumb is to focus on centering and lifting up the voices of people who are more marginalized than you. And only then, when the circumstances are appropriate, go ahead and don’t be afraid to speak up and use your own voice to support marginalized peoples.