“I came home to work for my people.”
As a child, Andy’s grandpa told her she was a “watcher,” so now, she “watches people.” This “watching” defines her leadership philosophy of watching over her people and culture. “I enjoy our culture and who we are as Potawatomi people.”
Andy’s professional career originally took her away from the reservation, “I went to college to be a preschool teacher. I was a preschool teacher for 15 years, and that is the best job ever I think.” However, she returned home after “the grandmas told me I need to take care of our own children not everyone else’s children.”
Andy’s current list of responsibilities seems never ending. As she describes it, she has “a lot of jobs, a lot of hats in this place.” However, her “most favorite job is grandma, mom, auntie, sister, all of that stuff.” In addition, Andy lists the other jobs she holds: “Currently I’m on tribal council, a member at large. I wear the traditional hat for women in the community. I help with the water ceremonies. I am the helper for our spiritual elder who does the ceremonies in our community. When we celebrate our seasons, I do ceremonies with him. Or when we do funerals, I have to be his helper. That is an awesome honor, but it’s also kind of a heavy job sometimes. We talk them through their funeral because the traditional funeral means different things for different people. We try to ask them what they want, not tell them. We walk them through our culture.”
Preserving the culture and passing it along to the next generations is pivotal to Andy’s leadership: “Our culture was lost because we were assimilated. So we are regaining all of that and trying to sit with our elders and find our teachings, find things we can bring back so our children can carry these on too.” This too was initiated by her elders: “I was told by the grandmas, ‘It’s our job to be future leaders. It’s our job as women to bring the culture and the teachings back. We don’t mean to take the men’s place or presume to teach their teachings, but we can bring our sons to beg them to teach them.’” To do this, Andy “’elder hops.’ I will go find out something I need to know. I don’t ever settle for what one person says and I always save my spiritual elder for last. Together we decide. These aren’t my gifts to keep so I share it. A lot of times even our elders don’t know because they had to go to boarding school and these things were beaten out of them.”
One of the ways Andy preserves and passes on Potawatomi culture is through the water ceremony. As she describes it, “We pray for our water. We bless our water. It’s our job to pray for the water because we are the life givers.” Taking care of the water is also a gift to the future, “We have to take care of our future generations, and we have to take care of our past because they have our secrets.” Another way Andy helps prepare future generations is by helping with camp for their teens: “I sit there with a tobacco ball and make everyone say a prayer before you get into the water. This is a gift. This is ours. This is pure. This is clean. We don’t go to the bathroom in that water because she is sacred. You go to the bathroom in that outhouse. But you say a prayer and you tell them thank you for letting me swim. Thank you for the gift of refreshing. Thank you for all of it.”
In addition to preserving the past, Andy preserves the future by helping protect women. With other women from the tribe, Andy helped start “a Domestic Violence program here to bring awareness. I want the women to know their worth.” In that same vein, she encourages women to “Ask as many questions as you can. There’s no dumb question. We need to be proud of who we are as women. We are life givers.”
Information compiled from oral history collected by Michiana Women Leaders, Inc.
Andy was a 2019 Celebrating Michiana Women Leaders honoree.