*This post originally appeared on The SISTERhood Edit (July 6, 2020) and can be found here.*
In our new series, the Sisterhood Edit, we shine the spotlight on badass, superwomen who are doing amazing things for their community and the world at large.
We will be speaking to women who are actively changing the narrative of how we are perceived in the world. CEO’S, Mothers, Financiers, Entrepreneurs, Teachers, Aunties, Therapists, Mentors, Influencers, Sisters & Friends, women who truly reflect who we are and are representing us with grace, dignity and style.
In our first interview we talk to Ricki McCarroll, Founder & CEO at NUNA Consulting Group, a Public Affairs & Strategic Communications firm based in California, who provide culturally appropriate solutions for Indigenous communities in the United States and globally. A community we hear little about. Ricki’s organisation is doing its’ part to support the voices of Indigenous peoples and furthering the visibility of communities that have been here for centuries.
Ricki, can you describe the moment (or situation) that motivated you to start NUNA?
As with most entrepreneurs, I was faced with a crossroads in my personal and professional life. I had just left my leadership position at a national Indigenous non-profit, moved across the country and could not find a job in my home state of California. I was 28, educated, experienced, and according to my interviewers – unemployable. There was nothing to lose at that point and I decided to start my own consulting firm and jumped off of the metaphorical cliff to see if the wind caught me, and it did. We signed our first client in our first month of operations and they are still with us to this day!
What is the NUNAverse?
The NUNAverse phrase started as an informal way to capture the work and the essence of what we were striving to create. A place where we take care of our clients as if you were coming to your older sister for advice. NUNA, the Korean word for older sister, was a natural fit for the founding philosophy. The philosophy where clients are more than clients – they are family – the NUNA Family. Ingrained in everything we do, we work together with our family to find the best solutions that are culturally appropriate. The NUNAverse is really the realisation of the work that we do, how we take care of our family, the partnerships we strive to build, and the network of resources and services that we provide within our NUNA universe.
As an entrepreneur and WOC, what challenges have you encountered starting your business and how did you overcome them?
Challenges as an entrepreneur were, and are, fairly the same as any other small business start-up building the airplane while flying it – cash flow, lines of credit, business model changes, and scaling are all part of the challenging process – however, early on I prioritized engaging with mentors, financial advisors, and friends who continue to be my trusted advisors nearly five years later. Most of which, I speak to on a weekly if not daily basis. Building a solid network of people who know all the things you don’t know, and all the things that you don’t know that you are not educated about is critical to any success.I’m always striving to be in a room where there is something to learn and surrounding myself with a diverse group of people who can educate me from grassroots grandmothers and aunties to the CEOs of multimillion-dollar companies. As a WOC, there are definitely challenges I have come up against especially with my older, Caucasian male counterparts. Regular “mansplaining” comes to mind.
But there was a definite shift of perspective a couple of years back on an email chain that was exploding during a dinner with some of my mentors. I became agitated with the response by a white, male counterpart that had plagiarized my original feedback and the client took their recommendation fully and disregarded my guidance. When unpacking the incident, one of my mentors pointed out plainly that I was feeding myself a fallacy. The reason this scenario happened was not because I was a woman. But in fact, as it because I wasn’t white.I was shocked. My internal dialogue started to spiral. What does that mean? My whole life I had been told – “you look white” and I was under the impression, that is how the world continued to see me. Apparently, I was wrong. In that moment, my paradigm shifted into a bittersweet reality. On the one hand – amazing! People actually see me as me. On the other hand – this was my first personal face-to-face experience with systemic racism, and it hurt.
It is only a decimal point many places removed to what other melanin gifted people feel every day. That they are treated lesser than because of the colour of their skin. That their ideas are less valuable and go unvalidated for no reason other than implicit bias. That awareness is something that I carry with me now into every board room and stop the behaviour in its tracks when it arises. As a leader, I feel a responsibility to practice what we preach. In my board room and at my conference table we are not only a female led firm, but also mentor young Native women and women of colour as a core piece of our business model. As like is attracted to like – many of the leaders of our NUNA Family are Native women-led teams, who also uplift women.
Give an example of how your organisation (NUNA) has supported Native and Indigenous communities and POC?
It is part of NUNA’s core mission to uplift the voices of Native and Indigenous peoples and our allied communities of colour into a place of contemporary visibility. At NUNA we nearly serve all Native clients – who we call the NUNA Family – or clients who directly impact Native communities by ensuring that our elected Tribal leadership and our Native organizations are at the table to have those difficult conversations and bringing visibility and education to those who might not know about contemporary Native people or the context to specific issues impacting Indigenous communities. We do quite a bit of coalition building as well and connect the dots between organizations to open channels and have conversations that are not being addressed in a wholistic way.
How has the recent BLM movement activism impacted your organisation?
We are truly in an unprecedented time in history and the community energy created during the COVID-19 pandemic has infused an era of neo-enlightenment. People are no longer going to stand for injustice and there is incredible leadership from our Black community that are not only raising the alarm for the injustice in their own community, but also raising up the voices of Indigenous peoples in recognition of injustices committed by continued colonial practices.
We are seeing companies completely re-examine their products and brands, monuments of people who historically enacted atrocities against Indigenous peoples and POC that are being reclassified as racist statues are being removed, and all of these pieces are being reported in international news. Issues that we have been working toward for decades are now seeing major changes and we have been working with our NUNA Family to continue the energy in changing the narrative, seeking truth, and moving the needle in not only the visibility of Native peoples, but impacting real solutions that will change the future of generations to come.
Ricki, I’m sure you have challenging days, what do you do to switch off?
This is a tough one to answer during the era of a pandemic! Meditation is part of my every day. Guided meditation in particular to help keep my centre. I am also a mum to my two house rabbits, Rabbie and Theodore, who keep me busy, humbled, and are a daily reminder to shut off the computer and spend quality time playing on the floor and being goofy. (Netflix doesn’t hurt either.)
How can we support the NUNAverse?
Supporting the NUNAverse is really about supporting the NUNA Family, who are creating narrative change and the increasing visibility of Native peoples in America and across the world. In particular, IllumiNative is at the forefront of this narrative change movement and launched a campaign #TheTimeIsNow that is having major impact the media landscape and changing the narrative real-time. We highly encourage people to read up on the IllumiNative research, donate, and get involved in the campaign!
And of course, you can support the NUNAverse directly by following us on social media!
And finally, What quote or phrase describes Ricki McCarroll?