After twenty years with the same employer I started a new job recently. WOW! After that long it nearly took me two weeks just to pack up all my personal items. My office was liberally decorated with a random collection of plants, student drawings, American Indian themed posters, symposium flyers, lapel pins, feathers, a jillion name tags from conferences and trainings I have attended, family photographs and a few pieces of collectible Native art, baskets and pottery. I guess just because I call myself a minimalist doesn’t make it so.
I have been the Operations Director for the Northern California Indian Development Council (NCIDC) for the past 20 years. That is a heck of a lot of seat time at one desk. Thank goodness I have had a comfortable chair with just the right amount of lumbar support. NCIDC is the largest Native non-profit social service provider in California. They manage programs that assist Native American Tribes, Urban populations and individuals.
My time with NCIDC was very rewarding. As the Operations Director I oversaw the programs and services and helped develop new projects and grants to respond to the needs of the Native community. One of the programs I was most fortunate to work with was the Del Norte Indian Education Center that we ran in Crescent City. It served approximately 100 students and families each year. During the time I was involved with it the graduation rate in the school district turned around from 20% to 80%. This was accomplished by creating productive partnerships with the school district, Tribes, Title VII (now Title V) students and parents.
My new position is the Health Promotions and Education programs Manger for United Indian Health Services. This division is in the Community Health and Wellness department. I am in charge of a suicide prevention project, two tobacco cessation programs, the Teen Advisory Group, the Community, Outreach, Resource, and Education coalition and a harm reduction program. I also research potential new funding sources to bring on new grants, projects and programs.
This career change has been both very rewarding and challenging. The learning curve is steep for a variety of reasons. I have had to go from being a life-long Macintosh user to learning the quirks of a windows environment. I thought being involved with government grants and programs I was familiar with a wide range of acronyms but the medical world speaks a language unto itself. I am directly supervising a greater number of employees and enjoy working with them as well as a talented group of co-workers who are dedicated to the mission and vision of our clinic.
Our clinic is funded by the federal Indian Health Service and I find myself once again working for a government bureaucracy. In a previous occupational incarnation, I was employed as an Education Specialist by an unnamed three letter agency that begins with a B and ends with an A. My Mom wouldn’t tell people where I worked, just that I was still in education. I started working there at the insistence of one of my mentors when I was seeking a job after the grant program I was working for at Humboldt State University ended. I balked at the suggestion but she was determined that I work there so I would learn exactly why I didn’t like or trust the organization from an insider’s perspective. I certainly found out. I soon realized that all I was empowered to do was creatively tell Tribes no they couldn’t do what they wanted or saw as the best use of their grant funds. Thinking outside of the box definitely was not encouraged.
I lasted there for three years before my frustration led me to seek a new job. I was privileged to be selected to become the first Director of Education Programs for the Yurok Tribe (I was employee number 5). I helped them negotiate their compact funds under P.L. 93-638 from the former agency I worked for. Sometimes it is beneficial to have that insider’s perspective my Mentor gently coerced me to gain.
One reason I stayed at NCIDC for that long was that having a father who changed jobs as frequently as the seasons change from one to the other, which included moving our family from here to there, I wanted a more stable upbringing for my son. I attended 7 different schools and made and lost more friends than I care to remember. My son graduated from high school and moved away to college having only ever knowing one home and attending one school district. When I became an empty nester I realized that I was now free to seek new career challenges.
I guess the point of this edition of Andre’s commentary in this publication is that it is never too late to start something new. Stepping outside of your comfort zone certainly has its rewards. I am learning lots of new and exciting professional skills as well as becoming a part of a new team of people who are working cooperatively to improve the lives of our Native Nations and create healthier Native communities.
I challenge people out there in the work world to explore new employment prospects. Find new ways you can help serve our people. Seek new opportunities for you to grow both personally and professionally.
Just my two dentalias’ worth.
André Cramblit is a Karuk Tribal Member from the Klamath and Salmon rivers in northwest California and the Operations Director of the Northern California Indian Development Council. He lives with his wife Wendy and son Kyle in Arcata, California.