Honoring Nations: Ana Marie Argilagos: Family Strengthening in Indian Country

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Ana Marie Argilagos provides a basic overview of the Annie E. Casey Foundation's mission and discusses a report detailing what family strengthening involves in Native communities.

Resource Type

Argilagos, Ana Marie. "Family Strengthening in Indian Country." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 11, 2004. Presentation.

Amy Besaw Medford:

"I'm pleased to announce that we have Ana Marie Argilagos, who is our program officer from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. She headed up this...she's the one who came to the Harvard Project and with this idea of ‘Family Strengthening in Indian Country,' and I'd like to invite her up here to give a few words."

Ana Marie Argilagos:

"Good morning. It's really great to be here. I had the pleasure of being in Santa Fe with many of you about two-and-a-half years ago, and I kept asking Andrew, ‘When are we going to convene the Honoring Nations awardees again?' because it's such a great opportunity. It's so exciting to be here with all the honorees and to hear about the really amazing work that's happening in your communities. And it's just expanding and we get more and more alumni, do you call? Groups. So thank you for inviting me. I also appreciate that you all came. I just came from Washington, D.C., it's a short shuttle ride for me, but I spent all summer traveling. And these are long distances, it takes a long time away from your family, so thank you. I also wanted to thank Andrew and Miriam, Amy, Joe, and the rest of the team. You guys do great, great work and it's a talented group of people. I always go back to Baltimore where the foundation is and brag about the work here. And last summer we had the honor and the pleasure of being able to steal one of your highly talented staff. You'll notice Marie Zemler was one of the authors of the report and now we get her in Baltimore. So it's great and we're not sending her back. So we're looking to see who we steal next. I'm excited that Julie, you're able to join us today and share the report. It's impressive, isn't it? Yeah. There's lots more copies outside. I have about 2,000 copies in my office, lots of boxes. So feel free to take as many as you want. You can also go on the foundation website, which is www.aecf.org, download it, or you can call us and we'll send you whatever you need for free. So share it with lots of folks.

We also, as Julie said, we look forward to hearing your feedback and your ideas and your thoughts. We didn't do this to say, ‘Oh, what a nice report. We learned so much. That's great,' and to put it on the shelf. Really, we did it, at least I felt my motivation for it was, to spur discussion, to spur dialogue, feedback, to get people thinking. And so it's supposed to be a working document and it should be evolving. We're not thinking that it's going to be, ‘Oh, this is what family strengthening is in Indian America.' It's really more of so we can continue. And so this idea of what are the next steps, what would you guys like to see, is really important because it doesn't come from us here in these big buildings. It comes from what you guys...when I came on board to the Annie Casey Foundation three years ago, my boss told me three important things. He said, ‘Do whatever you want, but as long as you pay attention to three principles and that's listen to the people, because the people, residents, families know best.' And then he said, ‘Do no harm. We don't think that we're being harmful. We think that what we're doing is a great project and we have the right intention, but you don't think about it because you're not walking in people's shoes and so, inadvertently, you do things that don't work. So we have to listen and we have to try our best to look comprehensively and do no harm.' And then the third one was one of my favorites. He said, ‘Make new mistakes,' which is great. So he's like, ‘We don't want you redoing the same thing over and over because that's great, but it doesn't really help anyone, but go out there and be creative, be innovative, see how things link, how things intersect and reframe them.' And so that's what we've been doing for the past three years.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, for those of you who don't know, has been working for about 50 years. We originally started in Washington State, and then we moved to Connecticut, and now we're in Baltimore. We were founded by the guy who started UPS and he started back in 1900 on a bicycle, him and his four brothers, as messenger delivery guys and they built it in 50 years to a huge company. So, never FedEx anything to...UPS, we like UPS. They've been very kind. And they really are, you know, the Foundation has really, what we work is...I should say we're not still part of UPS, but I appreciate what they've done because Jim Casey who started the Foundation...and Annie E. Casey, by the way, was his mom and she was a widow; she was very young with five kids. And so he realized that his mom had had such trouble raising them, but she still had support, she had people around her, she had a network of people that helped her get forward and get ahead and get by. But he always was thinking in the back of his mind, ‘Gee, we were really vulnerable. And any little thing could have really set us back and we wouldn't have had the outcomes that we've had and the success that we've had as a family if we wouldn't have had the support system around, if we wouldn't have had the connections.' And so when he retired he put his time and the rest of his life, he really dedicated -- him and his brothers and their sister Marguerite -- to really working with vulnerable kids and families to make things better.

He was always really concerned especially with foster kids. He felt like foster kids had the worst outcomes and were in the worst danger, especially once they transitioned out of foster care. He was really worried about those 18 year olds that had been raised in institutions and then were put out and had nobody. But really what he was thinking was that the kids do well when the families do well -- as you read it, those of you that read the report -- but that the families, you have to be supportive with the families and you have to connect them to economic opportunities. They have to be connected to services and supports that they trust, that are accessible, that are in their language. So it's not just...a lot of times people say, ‘Oh, there's day care there,' or that there are services and supports somewhere in the city or in the neighborhood, on the reservation, but it's not services and supports that people feel comfortable. And so if people don't feel comfortable going there or if they don't feel like they're welcome there, that's not very good. Then the third thing is the social networks. And that's the glue, I think, that keeps things together. A lot of times, us in academia -- I spent a lot of time in the government or in the foundations -- you think of social networks as the faith-based institutions and all these formal institutions, but it's not just that. It's also the informal. It's the people-to-people thing and I think that really is really powerful.

But anyways my challenge to you is to keep us in the loop, to stay in contact with us, to share your stories. We wanted to, when Joe and Andrew, when we first started thinking about how can we work together, I knew there was an intersection there because you guys, Honoring Nations, it's about honoring innovations in government, exemplary programs, tribal sovereignty, economic development, and I said, ‘But what's at the core of that?’ At the core of that it's really about the kids and the families, and if you look at the honorees it's really about, ‘How can we do well by our kids and our families and next generations?' And I knew that there was an intersection and I'm so excited to see it. I'm so excited to have Julie and the Weiner Center part of the work as well and I will be here two years from now for the next set of honorees. Thank you."

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