My name is Cordelia Falls Down and I am from the Apsaalooke Nation and United Keetoowah Band. I grew up on the Crow reservation located in Southeastern Montana. The Crow reservation is approximately 2.2 million acres. We have three mountain ranges, two rivers, and are known as “Teepee Capital of the World” for the 1,000+ teepees at our annual Crow Fair celebration. I am very proud of my homeland.
I was named after my great grandmother Cordelia Spotted Tail. Although I never met her, I’ve heard so many stories about what a great Apsaalooke woman she was. The stories she told my father have been passed on to me. They are the most precious gifts. I was often told that my great grandmother was a leader, hard worker, and social advocate. I wanted to continue her legacy and work to strengthen Native communities. However, for the longest time, I believed that time would come later. I thought active change and civic engagement meant heading to the voting booths when you turn 18, running for office, or becoming a well-known leader. It wasn’t until recently that I began to understand the true meaning of civic engagement and how I’ve been participating all my life.
The values I hold today that were instilled in me by family members and mentors. We are taught to help in any way we can, give without expecting anything in return, and work towards bettering the lives of our people and future generations. I saw these values lived out at the community events where my family would volunteer. The events promoted awareness on crucial issues such as Native education, getting out the vote, and advocating for the protection of land and Crow culture. At a young age, my family taught me to ask, “What can I do to help?” In many instances, we helped even without being asked. Although I did not realize it at the time, I was being taught that civic engagement means working together and helping one another.
When I first became a part of the Center for Native American Youth, I reflected on all the reasons I wanted to be involved. I looked back at my upbringing in my Crow community and the values I was taught. As Native people we utilize cultural norms to engage others—we think about our community and how we can best serve them. When I began my 2020 census campaign, I started with a conversation with my community to encourage census participation. I organized information sessions, raffles that highlighted Indigenous artists, and a virtual Crow-style dance special that honored our annual Crow Fair celebration, all of which promoted the census.
For my Democracy is Indigenous project, I gathered Native youth who are actively involved in their communities for a discussion on what civic engagement meant to them. To me, civic engagement means meaningful participation, dedication, and taking the opportunity to make a difference in one’s community. These efforts go beyond the voting booths. From volunteerism, environmental protection efforts, and political activism, civic engagement aims to improve the quality of life for everyone. No matter your age, you have the ability to help your community.