|‘This little Native girl, who had barely begun to see the world, was addressing the U.N.’ — Jalisa Ross
Jalisa Ross was a young girl when her mother began taking her to church at Haikey Chapel UMC in Jenks, a congregation in the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. The link to United Methodism continued for her as a young adult, when she began her college work at UM-related Oklahoma City University as an American Indian Scholar.
"I did not know how blessed my life could be until I stepped on campus as a student at OCU," Ross said.
A bout of homesickness soon passed as she became involved in student groups. Ross now serves in the role as Chief of Staff of the Student Government Association. She drew on her many mission trips and youth-group visits to OCU for OIMC Days as she embraced her leadership abilities and responsibilities.
Her opportunities through OCU have empowered Ross to attend the Young Women’s Conference, sponsored by United Methodist Women, at Duke University. She was thrilled to address the United Nations’ Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues while serving as an intern for Cathleen Stone, chaplain of the Center for the United Nations in New York City.
"My mother taught me never to say no when the church asks you to do something. So I beat the nervous butterflies down and agreed to do that. This little Native girl, who had barely begun to see the world, was addressing the U.N.," said Ross.
"I can’t begin to express the emotion — to hear my words being translated so people all over the world could listen and to represent my Native people, to be their voice."
Ross was recently crowned Miss Indian OCU. In this role, she is planning an event on campus that will bring Native women from across the state to inspire them to reclaim their historical, legal, and physical "audacity," she said. "I think it is important for our beautiful women to know their worth and to be able to have a foundation to lean on when they need it."
This passion arises from the realization of her place in a long line of women in Native communities. Ross remembers the elderly woman who cares for four grandchildren by herself and makes time to begin each morning with prayer. She remembers the women who sang tribal hymns while trekking the Trail of Tears. And she is mindful of her responsibility to women yet to be born.
"I am the product of the women who came before me," Ross said. "When I attend worship at Haikey, I always sit in the exact same spot, the second row on the right, in the very first seat. When I was a child, a woman we called Mother Mary sat in the first row on the right, in the first seat. Continuing to sit behind her legacy and continuing to learn what she saw in our little Creek church has taught me why I should fight for our people."