June 30, 2017

When Tribal Resilience VISTA Members Meet: Reflections on the Resilience Academy

Group photo of Academy participants at Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo

In early June this year, the Cultural and Climate Tribal Resilience AmeriCorps VISTA program brought together the program’s VISTAs and host-sites for the first Tribal Resilience Academy in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Over the course of two days the academy presented participants with opportunities for peer networking, delving into resilience concepts and workshopping through resiliency needs of the communities VISTAs are serving.

Exploring Resilience Concepts and Strategies in Native American Communities

Nancy Beers of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy kicked off the event by sharing experience and lessons from the Midwest Early Recovery Fund’s efforts working in rural and reservation-based communities.

One poignant quote she shared is the crux of Enterprise's Cultural and Climate Tribal Resilience AmeriCorps VISTA program:

“Recovery is not only about the restoration of structures, systems and services – although they are critical. A successful recovery is also about individuals and families being able to rebound from their losses, and sustain their physical, social, economic and spiritual wellbeing.”

Resilience hinges on people and community, not just the build environment.

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Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative partnered with Enterprise to develop and present the curriculum, sharing case studies of work with tribes across the nation on community based design for resiliency. 

VISTA Resilience Projects around the Country: Highlights

For many participants, a favorite aspect of the gathering was the chance to learn more about what their colleagues around the country are doing. All focused on housing and cultural and climate resilience in Indian Country, participants learned best strategies from each other’s work and gave specific feedback for unique communities.

Here are a few of the projects currently underway:

Our other VISTAs and sites are doing great work as well. Look out for more posts in our VISTA blog series to learn about more of their projects.

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Challenges Confronting Native Communities

In hearing directly from our VISTA volunteers, it is apparent that VISTAs working in tribal communities face obstacles—some obvious and others less so.

  1. Time is the first obstacle. Climate change is moving at a pace faster than first thought. This is most evident in Louisiana, which is being battered by Tropical Storm Cindy even as we write this. AmeriCorps VISTAs commit to a year of service. This being our first of a three-year grant, initial progress can seem slow with newly-initiated projects across the country. In these early stages there are bound to be logistical factors that impede progress. The VISTAs are laying the groundwork for those who will succeed them over the next two years.

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  1. Limited resources are another obstacle. VISTAs diligently search for and procure resources for their programs to be sustainable and successful. But, in the current political climate, a great deal of the potential funding has been targeted for elimination.
  2. A lack of understanding by people outside the reservation and Native community presents a third obstacle. What they learned from history books is skewed, one-sided and inaccurate. Progress is impeded by decision-making from the top being skewed by longstanding stereotypes. 

Moving Forward in the Work

Of course there are more obstacles than these three, but Enterprise VISTAs are committed to impacting the communities they serve by putting their skills to use and securing all available resources. 

If you are interested in serving as a VISTA or hosting a VISTA at your organization, please contact Vince Gallagher at vgallagher@enterprisecommunity.org.

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Coauthored by Enterprise staff members Laurie Schoeman, program director; Vince Gallagher, VISTA program associate; Susan Anderson, senior program director; and Alyssa Franklin, Tribal VISTA leader.