Karen Craddock, Brown University’s First Tribal Community Member in Residence (TCMR)

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Karen Craddock (Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah)

The Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative (NAISI) at Brown University is pleased to announce the hiring of Karen Craddock as the University’s first Tribal Community Member in Residence (TCMR) beginning this fall. A member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah, Dr. Craddock joins NAISI in this inaugural position focused on providing cultural, academic and psycho-social support and mentoring for Native American and Indigenous students on campus, and enriching the campus community through knowledge sharing.


The TCMR position will also help to support the broader NAISI community on campus (NAIS students, staff and faculty) by helping to expand engagement with students and serve in an advisory role for faculty on critical topics such as how to deepen representation of Native and Indigenous peoples and cultures and include Indigenous epistemologies within our developing Native American and Indigenous Studies curriculum.



Getting To Know Our Tribal Community Member in Residence: Rae Kuruhara Talks With Karen Craddock

[First published in NAISI's December 2020 E-Bulletin] 

Karen Craddock is an Applied Psychologist, certified EQ Practitioner and facilitator. Her explorations of race/gender, mothering/mentoring, marginalization/resilience, personal narrative and the relational neuroscience of inclusion are featured in her action research and direct practice.  She was a senior researcher at Education Development Center, Tufts University, and for several federally based initiatives, such as PI for a Native American Engagement in STEM scan analysis. As a senior administrator, her roles include Partner Engagement Manager at Harvard University and Senior Trainer with National TA Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention. Karen is co-founder of The Wellness Collaborative, Inc. an interdisciplinary collective reimagining healthcare and wellness to address disparities, especially integrating culturally anchored modalities of healing and mental health.

Dr. Craddock is a Visiting Scholar at the Wellesley College Centers for Women developing her study and memoir on Black-Indigenous Women’s voices, and the recipient of creative writing fellowships at the Cuttyhunk Island Writers Residency and the Martha’s Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing.  Among her publications and editorial works include Black Motherhoods: Contours, Contexts and Considerations,  Transforming Community: Stories of Connection through the Lens of Relational-Cultural Theory and Why Racialized Exclusion Hurts and How We Can Remain Resilient.

She is a tribal member and chair of the Safe Harbor for the People of the First Light, Aquinnah Wampanoag, and board member/chair of the equity & inclusion committee for the Social-Emotional Learning Alliance for Massachusetts, as well National Advisor for Social-Emotional Learning for the United States.  (Ed.M. Harvard University; Ph.D. Tufts University)

Rae Kuruhara: Tell me a little bit about where you come from?

Karen Craddock: I’m definitely one that honors the idea of place on multiple levels. I think there's a combination of the actual physical space where you were born and come from, as well as a spatial point and cultural proximity from which we orient. These ‘places’ illuminate who you are, how you are and what informs your journey here. Much of what informs me has to do with my understanding as a “soul-being”, a scholar-practitioner and researcher purposefully-driven and guided by evidence-based data, relational-based praxis, ethno-cultural belief systems, and ancestral wisdom.
So I'm informed by all those that have come before me. I identify myself as a woman who is  of African-American and Native American descent, in the North American region, with ties across Turtle Island broadly as we know it, but with ties globally as well --I've come to understand more recently even to New Zealand and the Indigenous peoples there—I have lineage to our relatives in First Nations tribes of Canada, and to my Caribbean ancestry. At this moment in my life I have more centrally explored these intersections of cultural, gendered, ethnic, historical identities, and their associated lived experiences…especially identifying intertwined aspects of commonality and complementary ways of being that affirm and uplift our individual and collective wellness. 

More concretely, I was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and I've grown up and lived in New England most of my life. Beyond Greater Boston to work and live, I lived in Southeastern part of MA where I grew up the latter part of my life. Cape Cod and the Martha’s Vineyard were always central home spaces – family outings, visits and cultural celebrations that have led to my becoming even more formerly involved and active within my Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe as I grow older, all of which continue to shape my personal and professional lives. Specifically I have worked on supporting the safety and wellness of Wampanoag women, early on developing tools and analyzing data to better understand our needs, grant writing support and now chair the advisory committee for our Safe Harbor Center for People of the First Light.

So, my Native American and Indigenous ancestry on both sides of my parentage fall along the Eastern Seaboard both North and South. I am an enrolled member of the Aquinnah Wampanoag and can identify and trace direct Wampanoag relatives dating back to 1533. My Wampanoag grandmother was actually born and lived in Providence, and I have recently learned that her mother was also of Native ancestry likely Narragansett, Wampanoag. Native roots on my mothers' side from South Carolina, Virginia, and New Brunswick CN include tribal lineage in Catawba, Lumbee, and Mi'kmaq. It is in the interwoven realities of African and Native peoples, especially along and within Northern and Southern and Eastern Woodland communities and tribal nations, is central focus of exploration in my narrative project on Black-Indigenous Women's Voices.

RK: What made you interested in psychology and behavioral health?

KC: As a psychology pre-med major in undergraduate, I realized more and more that my interest was primarily located in human development and with how we think, feel, and behave within a particular setting – be it within family, community or society and even more so the impact of the relationships within any of those settings. I did graduate study at Harvard University in Human Development and Psychology and later my doctorate at Tufts University in Applied Developmental Psychology. So my professional path was certainly informed by a personal drive and my experience growing up in this very connected and intercultural space. Pursuing psychology, particularly in applied sciences and developmental frameworks, has meant looking at both the breadth and depth of psycho-emotional functioning within a social context and using a relational-cultural lens. Some of the areas I’ve explored and developed like the neuroscience of exclusion and inclusion, mothering and mentorship, and social-emotional learning, I have enjoyed applying across many different projects and points of scholarship.

There's been a real focus during the more recent part of my career to understand systemic aspects of inequity and wellness disparities which have led to my roles as an organizational executive, lead administrator, direct practitioner and program developer. And, embedded throughout these roles and this work,  it often means looking at constructs and relational dynamics that cause hurt, perhaps even unflinchingly, as a necessary step toward honoring the humanity of those that have been historically and chronically marginalized on multiple levels. I think that we can often disallow some of these painful feelings to emerge – consciously or unconsciously - within our own cultural groupings. And what we know is that this denial of the space to fully feel what has harmed or hurt can block opportunities for deeper healing and meaningful growth. It’s kind of like a gateway to tap into the deep and rich repository of agency and creativity that can lead to sustainable healthy outcomes.
Whether it's in our own immediate lived reality and truths, or the reverberations of the generational hurts and harms, I think these things live in our psyches and in our bodies. So opening that up, we are able to see the historical trauma that have present day implications. There is an essential role in being able to ‘name the thing to heal the thing’. And with an emphasis on healing we get to uncover complex generational trauma while recognizing and restoring generational strengths. There is this resiliency that is really about unpacking, truth-telling and an honoring of both the stressors and the strengths.
I think particularly with BIPOC communities there's just...our resilience which is centrally linked to our wellness. It’s a proven and exhibited necessity that has not only allowed us to cope but also to create with widespread impact for all. So the influence, or the emphasis for me is understanding wellness broadly, you know, how do we broadly understand and capture wellness in a way that is personal, interpersonal, and communal. So we have to pay attention at each of those levels and really highlight a trauma-informed, strength-based, and healing-centered approach. In my profession, I hear people saying, “Well, it's either going to be about pain and trauma, or it's going to be power and strength.” And actually, you know, they go together. And as an applied psychologist its exciting to work with others on living out our wellness while helping to foster it.
These related constructs and ideas within psychology, wellness and Indigeneity come together for me in a framework that explores what we think in our heads, do with our hands and express from our hearts. It is probably the most palpable space, I think, for wellness, and where I am turning to more often…the healing arts.

RK: And this leads to my other question, which is the ways that you practice wellness, be it personally in your crafts or ways that you suggest for other people to do so, especially for people who are just kind of coming into this, like, kind of self-care. I think, especially in this pandemic, people have been talking about, like, “Oh, we need to take time for our self-care.” And for a lot of people, they may never have considered that before and don't know how to start.
KC: Hmm.. it's an inside-out job. And when we have these online self-care posts, it's like “here's some tips and things,” which are great. But I've also experienced, seeing folks have a certain level of frustration or even what they may perceive as failure when they say for instance “I tried to bake that bread and I was awful at it and I know that's supposed to be something, but it just didn't work for me.” And of course this can be anything from yoga, knitting, jogging, etc. So I would say that you should first began from the inside out and if nothing else give yourself some space for quiet as a place to begin. I always say that kind of personal excavation requires some of the stimuli of life to be turned off and it's hard to do– certainly during this pandemic moment where everyone is plugged in with Zoom on and phones and devices …so the very first step in self-care is first just “being”…slowing down, turning the volume down literally, getting tuned into your own heart and mind. 

What does that feel like? You know, even if in the quiet you feel a certain level of agitation or anxiety, just making note of it and observing it. And I think that simple act of awareness and observation could be in such a critical first step in self-care, to make room, make time, make space, turn up the quiet, and be with yourself. See what comes up and then observe it. 
I think what moves me in ideas for self-care, is asking questions like when was the last time I remember having an authentic sense of comfort or contentment, a hearty laugh or genuine giggle, and it could be something that is light or even silly, whatever it is, just try not to over-name it or evaluate it and then move in that direction without a prescribed activity just yet. I think leaning into the process and having it really be organic and authentic is a primary and first step of self-care, and then from that, I think the guide or the map would be using your senses.
So, you might even start from there… with the eyes, what do I like looking at that actually gives me pleasure? Or your ears, ask yourself, what am I listening to or enjoy listening to? Is it the quiet, or sometimes I need to listen to the ocean, soothing sounds…What do I need to touch? What do I need to taste? So I think feeding your senses is an authentic way that starts with you taking a personal pulse as an important launch to practicing wellness. And so for me right now that includes creating, touching pages, reading the words on a page...I think screens are somewhat monopolizing our life especially now.
I do creative writing and poetry, so it's really important to have my journal and to write. This book project that I'm working on right now will also include my work as a visual artist– freeing myself to sketch and draw and paint. It's not about the product, but to get it all out. It's often about the ‘way’ and not about the ‘what’. And I also just began a series of mosaics. I’m working with various colored glass and different other types of materials. I am creating with some of my relatives using wampum. 

RK: Oh! I have some wampum earrings that Makana got me that I treasure. (Shows Karen earrings)
KC: That’s so lovely! I'll show you mine that Elizabeth Perry made. (Shows Rae even bigger wampum earrings) 

RK: Yeah, during Covid I started making my own earrings. And so now I can be these simple little ones. (Shows Karen simple grey, blue, and red colored beaded earrings)

KC: They’re beautiful! Why did you choose those colors?

RK: ...they’re the colors of my, um...Nintendo Switch controllers.

KC: There you go– just add your own spin to things. And using the hands and heart. For me, I think about myself as a psychologist and applied psychologist doing this work in a wellness space. It’s about those three things with the emphasis currently on the hearts, the hands.
RK: What attracted you to this position at Brown as Tribal Community Member in Residence?

KC: It's a wonderful place for me to bring together all of my professional and personal experience in the field as a health and wellness practitioner, action researcher and higher ed. professional. I am looking forward to building bridges to our local tribes and to my networks of other Native Indigenous leaders and organizations. And so it really feels like a place of synergy where I can support students in their overall health and wellness, and potentially facilitate connections toward their goals. Additionally, I can work with my colleagues in NAISI on program and curricula development, as well as with administrators and faculty across campus on visioning, systems and strategies with a particular look at the intersections of indigeneity, equity and wellness. So I get to wear all my hats and co-create some new ones in service of our community and in service of our people.
RK: I'm so excited for you to get to know our family of students better.

KC: I'm so excited about that as well! That's my real passion: to figure out ways to continue to support students. The only thing I'll add onto that, which is very specific to my particular interests and goals, is to incorporate this work that I've done exploring Black and Indigenous women's voices. This place of intersectionality of Black and Native Indigeneity is very, very central to my lens and approach. I’m hoping to show how vitally important it is to build bridges within. That's one piece. And as an interdisciplinary leader, I'm really vested in involving media, literature, poetry, crafts, arts and artisans; making sure we're honoring that in this particular work, and helping to create programming connected to student wellness that is linked with the arts and creativity.

RK: Wonderful! Well consider me an ally in that. Finding these spaces for creativity and wellness is something that I'm super interested in as well. Oooop! Not only do I not want to take up too much more of your time, but I have class in a few minutes. It’s truly been an honor and pleasure to talk story with you today and I’m excited for what we’ll all create together with you in the coming future.
KC: Got it. I'm honored that you shared this space with me. You know where to find me and I'm glad to be in the fold.