At Holland & Knight, we strive to develop an organization where all individuals, especially those from underrepresented communities, can have and see a path to success. In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, we hosted conversations with employees from across the firm to listen to their stories about their Native American heritage, upbringing and experience. These conversations highlighted the rich and diverse cultures, traditions and histories of Native American and Alaska Native people as well as recognized their important contributions. We hope that these stories help educate others about Native American Heritage Month and honor our Native American friends, family and colleagues.
The fourth episode in this series discusses the importance of Native American representation in literature. Kayla Gebeck Carroll, Public Policy & Regulation attorney and member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, shares what sparked her to form Well-Read Native, a virtual Indigenous book club. During a typical meeting, attendees get the chance to see an Indigenous artist perform, ask the guest author questions and break out into small groups to meet other Well-Read Native members and discuss Indigenous literature.
Kayla Gebeck Carroll: So, hello. Thank you so much for being here and listening to me today. I am an associate in PP&R, our Public Policy & Regulation Group in Holland & Knight’s Washington, D.C., office. I am an enrolled member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians. We are located in northern Minnesota. We are a band of Indians. So, while we are a sovereign tribal government, we are related to a lot of other Ojibwe tribes, both in the United States and Canada. Growing up, I was a jingle jazz dancer, which is very common. It’s a dance that started with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, but it’s a healing dance and now people do it at powwows. It’s a lot of fun. Reading has always been something that’s very important to me. My family always used to tease me. I used to read books and fall asleep in the tree, or everywhere I went and had to pick up a new book. So, I’ve kind of always been a nerd. Recently, I had my own daughter, my very first daughter, and I started thinking more about what books should I be picking out and introducing her to, particularly supporting Indigenous authors. We decided to form Well-Read Native. So, Well-Read Native meets virtually once a month. We have 12 different books that we set out ahead of time, and each month we actually sit down and meet with the author, which is amazing because how often do you actually get to meet with the author? But then, how often do you get to sit down and meet with an Indigenous author? For me, this inspiration really started coming through when I had my daughter and what books I read to her. So we’ve also started Well-Read Native Youth Initiative, which is really fun. I basically just get to pick out different books by native authors and read them to Cedar, and to others. One of them that we’re really excited about is “Sharice’s Big Voice,” how a native child became a congresswoman. And we actually were able to have an event. It was a virtual event, but our young readers were able to join and talk to Congresswoman Sharice Davids about how she became a native congresswoman. And it’s just so awesome because these are people that I work with every day in my life in my job, but this gets to take it to a whole new level. We get to actually sit down and have good role models for my daughter to look up to, and actually getting the chance to interact with some of those authors. There are schools out there that, you know, are targeted and more focused towards supporting native students, and they do a good job at trying to find scholarships. Not every native student gets a scholarship. Not every native student goes to school for free. A lot of us worked very, very hard to pay off our school. And, you know, I went to a school, I worked really hard, I had good grades, but people just didn’t think I was smart enough. And if I got a scholarship, it was only because I was native. It had nothing to do with if I was working hard or if I was smart. I think that something, you know, with my daughter that I think she’ll definitely hear and it can just — you know, it’s not horrible, it doesn’t end the world, but it does kind of create this pressure. It almost undermines your own intelligence as a person. And that’s something that I don’t want her to experience. And that’s also why it’s so important for me to expose her to books written by authors or illustrated by authors that are Indigenous. Even if they’re not the same tribe, you have so many things in common and similar experiences, and just having those kind of role models to help her through instances where somebody might try to undermine her intelligence and not think she’s smart enough to go to the school she’s in is very important to ensuring that she feels strong and confident in who she is. In high school, kids used to call me “Savage” as a nickname. And, you know, that’s just like, not fun when you’re like, I’m Ojibwe, I’m not as savage, like, you know, what are you trying to say? Eventually, we would laugh it off and joke and call ourselves that, but more as like, why do other people feel the need to call us that. I think there’s always those instances, but I try not to focus on those because that’s not who I am. And that’s not, you know, that’s not what I love about my community. I think everybody experiences their own challenges in life, whether you’re a woman, whether, you know, depending on your religion, depending on your age. I think they’re all factors that impact everybody. So, I just, in those moments, I hope that people who have kind of experienced those or feel like they might be perpetrating, you know, it’s a great opportunity to check out Well-Read Native and read some of our books.
Episode 1: Native American Affinity Group Chair John Haney Share the Role of Art in his Family’s Culture
Episode 2: Jessica Laughlin Dispels Common Misconceptions of What it Means to be Native American
Episode 3: Not All Fun and Games: James T. Meggesto Shares How Native American Culture Becomes Caricature 
Episode 4: The Importance of Native American Representation in Literature (You are currently viewing Episode 4)
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