I’m very proud of my culture, and I try to get back whenever I can, which is difficult. It’s about a 13-hour drive. But it's quality time with my husband in the car (laughs). No, really!
SSW: How did you get interested in social work, and what led to you returning to college after a gap of several years?
FF: I didn’t know any social workers growing up; as I got older, we had moved away from the reservation because my mother wanted us to have greater opportunities. I began working in a medical office, a trauma office, working with a medical social worker, coordinated care. I learned with medical care, people need advocacy -- it should be straight across the board, but it's not. Certain people get care while others don't. So that's when I decided I should go back. An opportunity arose for me to work for Hoopa Tribal TANF Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
I got to work with a couple of really good social workers, my boss had an MSW, another woman in the program had her LCSW. LCSWs are such amazing people; I hope one day to have one, because I think LCSWs have such understanding. I worked there for a while and did wraparound, which is strength-based, client-centered, and you bring in natural support systems. That's when I fell in love with it. Once you see some clients take charge and turnout their lives around, after years of struggling.
You see people survive but not thrive, and I believe they deserve to thrive. So between helping coach soccer and work I began taking a couple of night classes at first. From when I started college at Santa Rosa JC and now, was about 12 years. I transferred in from El Camino College, which is small compared to here. But I didn't get one-one one, and that's one thing I love about CSULB is that your professors and advisors check up on you, and they care. I had heard good things, and I wanted to come here. It was my first choice. Many years passed in between, but I appreciate it much more.
SSW: Tell us about the NASW Birdwoman award.
FF: I was one of 10 students in California that got it, and I was the only one in the greater LA area. It's an honor because it came from the NASW and amazing that they recognize Native students and recognize that need. There's a reason I want to work with Native communities. I love the ADHC agency I was in last year (which was very diverse) so much that I still volunteer there, but the agency I am in now is a Native agency. If I could work with a Native or diverse agency, I would be happy.
It's nice to see Natives helping Natives. The clients feel that understanding, that they won't be labeled. For instance, my agency now has a White Bison group, which is sobriety from the Native perspective.
(Above: a xontah, or traditional Hoopa house)
I have touchstones of my home that help me stay strong, and if Native kids growing up in an urban environment had that, it would help them. It all goes back to mentoring. More scholarships, this is something that I have brought up on campus with the Native American Club. They are the ones who hold the pow-wow every year here. Hoopa just had a lot of students graduate with the Gates Scholarship; it's mainly directed towards communities that are in need, and are underrepresented.
SSW: How did you find out about the award?
FF: Last year at lobby days, I was not able to attend, but some of the students here at Long Beach saw this (Birdwoman Scholar Application) and sent me this picture of the monitor they saw, and said "you should apply!" and I didn't know if I could even find the website, but after some networking I did. And I didn't know if I could even get a scholarship, but I thought, what kind of a Social Worker am I if I can't advocate for myself? I wasn't raised -- Hoopa doesn't like big-head people. I get a small stipend through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but that’s it. It is so amazing to get support like this in your studies.
I was fortunate in that, by the time I found out about it, they had extended the deadline to August, and Dr. Jennings and Dr. Meyer-Adams wrote me letters that were very inspiring.
When I finally heard I got it, I was like, wow, really? And I try not to think of it as this big deal, but I think it meant so much because it came from the NASW, so I think, being recognized by your future peers, that if they think you're worthy to invest in, then you have to step back and really take that in.
I feel very honored. And scholarships are important in more ways than financial support – it may be the first time someone believes in you. Validation is something everyone needs.