“Beautiful Native Nerds”

Photo by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, 2022
Photo by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, 2022

Earlier this month, I joined a few hundred other students (as well as faculty, professionals, and sponsor organizations) in Palm Springs, California, for the annual American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) conference. AISES has worked for 45 years to increase the number of Indigenous professionals in STEM fields. Their annual conference is the largest gathering of Native scientists in the United States. AISES also coordinates over $14 million in scholarships for Indigenous students, in addition to various mentorship, professional development, and career advancement programs which benefit Native scholars across the United States. I’ve received several scholarships from AISES, in addition to participating in their Lighting the Pathway Program, a mentorship-based program for students interested in pursuing careers in higher education. I had hoped to attend the conference last year, but was required by my obstetrician to stay home, as traveling during a pandemic while experiencing a high-risk pregnancy is a no-go. I was so pleased to travel, and baby Maggie and I met up with my mom in Palm Springs for several days of informative sessions, relationship-building, and celebrations of culture and community.

Of course, an academic conference by and for Native people is going to weave threads of our Indigeneity into the way we meet. The conference opened with over 2,500 people in the ballroom, which was standing room only, and began with a drum circle, singers, and dancers, followed by the Council of Elders offering a blessing. The remarks were not without humor, as one of the elders proclaimed, “I see here so many beautiful Native nerds!” And really, among all of the informative sessions and exciting opportunities to connect with folks I’d only interacted with online, this statement encapsulates the best part of the conference for me—all of the Native joy. It felt really good to be with other people; to share space with so many Indigenous scientists from many backgrounds who are all working to benefit their people in some meaningful way. That joy and connection lasted from the opening ceremony to the closing celebration, with a colorful sea of ribbon skirts, beadwork, and regalia in between.

Woven into the celebration and joy were many discussions of a more pragmatic nature. One comment which has stuck with me is when an elder reminded us that we are “needed for the long-haul.” They entreated us to take good care of ourselves and practice self-care. Too often, the pressures and time demands of everyday life leave little time for what may feel like the “luxury” of taking care of ourselves. The past three years of grueling fertility treatments, high-risk pregnancies, and recovery from multiple surgeries, in addition to the pressures of work, family, school, and a pandemic, have left me in physical pain and depleted emotionally. I don’t think we ever go into demanding experiences thinking we will sacrifice sleep, health, or our well-being. We do what has to be done, and then are faced with the consequences. While I am grateful for where I am, and the final result of my efforts and experiences, the reality of the physical and emotional toll has really landed.

Having emerged from the immediate post-partum experience, I am finally able to put some attention on taking care of my self and healing my body. I took a few important steps in that direction this week, starting work with a pelvic physio therapist and attending several yoga classes. In the past, I’ve had a more regular habit of physical activity and yoga, which fell away during my attempts to conceive and carry a pregnancy to term. The truth of it is, my body feels rather wrecked, which makes it hard to fully rest or enjoy my daily activities. I’m glad to be in a place with more resources, including the childcare to even have an hour a day to focus on my own “self-care.” It’s easy for us to push these things off, but continuing to do so will not help us in the long-haul.

I’m grateful for the reminders by our elders—we are all, every one of us, needed. Taking care of ourselves gives us the energy, fortitude, and mental clarity required to take care of others. How can you take better care of yourself today?

Mickki Garrity (Bodewadmi) is an enrolled in the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, a Cobell Scholar, a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar, and is pursuing a BS in Native environmental science at Northwest Indian College.

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