Ozaawaa Anakwaadookwe (Yellow Cloud Woman)

Alicia Kozlowski, 32, Misaabekong (Duluth)

What do you do? (job, community involvement)

Community relations officer for the city of Duluth. This role in the mayor’s office is a definite dream role, of heart work. And by dream, I mean that’s actually how I imagine it’s supposed to be — that belonging, the ability to feel like you’re not stepping outside some boundary. It’s not like, "Do I belong here?" No, this is where I’m supposed to be. And it sheds a different light on how things could be.

That same relentless determination for healthy, connected and thriving community, is what leads me to serve as a Core Council leader of the KwePack (Kwe means “woman” in Anishinaabe), a collective of Indigenous endurance athletes. That's why I takes pride in working for the city of Duluth and running with the KwePack — people like me, with stories like mine — both platforms gift me the ability to advocate with and for, to empower, and create space for others to tell their own stories and run, speak, listen and lead in a heartway. In the way that I was taught, our ancestral homelands are the "center of all good things."

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Everyone deserves to exist and absorb all that goodness — to be visible, be heard, to belong, and thrive here in Duluth. That also means we have a responsibility to take care of this place and each other.

How do you spend your free time?

As a super-proud multiracial Latina (Mexican)-Anishinaabe-Ojibwe, I'm obsessed with all things community and culture. You can find me out there sporting fanny packs, playing soccer, broomball, ultrarunning and repping blazers (#blazernation).

Honestly, you can most likely catch me with the KwePack because it's so much more than a running group. KwePack is comprised of incredibly resilient and strong women. There are lawyers, educators, social workers, entrepreneurs, mothers and aunties, and public servants. We're out here shifting narratives and showing the world that Indigenous women do run. As Indigenous People, we often feel we don't belong in space, take up too much space, but kwepack reminds us that we are not invisible, we are the space.

Even amidst a global pandemic, we’re still out here running, socially distant but heartway connected, being victorious, being strong. That’s too who we are, and that’s what we want people to see. We are all leaders, with gifts to share in our own ways. We are becoming the new ancestors.

Tell us about an influential person in your life.

To share with you who I am, that requires me to tell you who I come from: my sisters, aunties and grandmothers. Being raised and mentored by super-fierce women who just figured out a way to adapt and thrive despite some pretty serious, challenging barriers is what helped me to get to where I’m at today.

I was primarily raised by her grandmother, Clara Kozlowski, who was part of a group of esteemed Native matriarchs (including Nora Hakala, Geraldine Kozlowski and Ruth Meyers) known as the “Big 4” in Indian Country, American Indian education and government spaces for their advocacy efforts. These women would show up at meetings concerning community issues to ensure Native voices were represented and heard. They taught so many how to carve out a space to exist, to belong, to use your own voice. To empower others and to create a wake in the gap for those coming behind to all rise together. My fiercely Ojibwe grandmother showed me that you can be gentle and soft — powerful and strong — all at the same time.

Where is your favorite place in Duluth/Superior?

That's a tough one since I'm a total fangirl of all things Misaabekong (Ojibwe meaning "the place of the giants"), aka Duluth. I'm a forever Lincoln Park or the friendly West End kind of person. So, it has to be Lincoln Park, the park and the Superior Hiking Trail section that cuts through the neighborhood. Growing up in this neighborhood, I didn't even know any runners — that trails even existed — and certainly didn't dream up that I'd run ultra-races on them with other Indigenous runners.

What have you learned in your time spent at home during the pandemic?

Pre-pandemic, a brilliant bawse shared: “’It’s really, really, really important for leaders to share how scary and difficult leadership can be. Leadership is a progression. It’s a reflection of you. It changes you."

The thing about running is the same with leadership: You’re forced to feel everything. Seriously, that's true — the "brutiful" and beautiful. The "brutiful" is the living. A mentor of mine often says: "We're out here walking on uneven ground ... and we're here for a finite amount of time, so we just need to keep. on going. together." We need to go home to ourselves: to remember who we are and why we're here. Know that we're not alone. Leading from your heart means from your strength and power. The teaching to be so authentically you that others will respond with their full, authentic, and powerful selves. As Indigenous and two spirit people, we have endured some of the darkest chapters in history and emerged knowing who we are, where we come from, and what we stand for.

I believe we can envision and regenerate a world where healing, justice and even ground for everyone are within reach, for us, and all those coming behind us. We’ve inherited a vision so audacious, that celebrates beauty, defiance and resilience. I'm calling this phase the reclamation chapter; we're learning how to dream up big dreams, perhaps that we didn't even know we had, as we walk each other home.