Cheryl is one of our 20 Builders who lives in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Name: Cheryl Kary

City/Town: Bismarck, North Dakota

Where else can we connect with you online?

Facebook: Cheryl Ann Kary


Who is your community?

My “community” (I don’t think it’s actually a community yet) is the American Indian population of the Bismarck-Mandan area and the Tribes they represent.

Give us a behind-the-scenes look at your average day.

My average day, as a Native person, is driven by the needs of work, family and community. It is not so compartmentalized; I love to work with a very flexible schedule.

What challenge in your life or work are you most interested in overcoming?

I would like to see the American Indian population in Bismarck-Mandan become actively engaged in the civic life of the community. I would like to see an integration in the community where the Native population is represented and integrated in all civic and social programs.

If you could do any job, what would you do and why?

I would do the job I am doing now. I have worked hard to create a position for myself where I can do the work I believe is most important and can improve my community. I have been involved in politics, high level positions in education and within my Tribe, worked as a trainer/curriculum developer, and served as a teacher. While all of these have appeared to be the “key” to being a change agent, I have found there is no key to improving a community. But the most effective and satisfying work for me has been in my current work in using all the previous experiences and methods to help make change at the grassroots level.

What is the most beneficial aspect of living in the OTA region when it comes to your career?

My career is definitely place-based. I consider the OTA region my homeland and want to see it maintain the integrity of it’s nature while accessing innovative ways to improve the lives of the people who love it as I do.

At what intersection do you live your life?

I live at the intersection of Perseverance and Mindfulness.

Where do you think good ideas come from?

I think good ideas come from deep, thoughtful discussions from people who want the best for others.

What’s one current trend you think will change the world?

The trend toward recognizing the humanity in all human systems — business, government, education, etc. — will change the world.

What’s the best way to put inspiration into action?

Get together a small group of very committed people.

What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken?

The greatest risk I’ve taken is to start up my own non-profit organization.

What’s your biggest failure, and what did you learn from it?

My biggest failure was working for my Tribe in Tribal politics and trying to make systemic change in the system. It was a failure in that I was not able to see it to sustained fruition. But I don’t consider it a failure in the sense that it made people think about different ways of doing Tribal government. From the experience, I learned to be more aware of how change works in groups and among individuals and how to progress in a slow and steady way to create support and momentum.

Who do you hope to leave a legacy for?

I hope to leave a legacy for my children, extended family, and Native people in my community. I would like to be known for never giving up.

The OTA Builders are a group of individuals who thrive on possibility and use all opportunities they are given to grow both in their careers and in their passions. We seek creatives who are tenacious and strong-willed movers and doers and are driven to make a significant impact on the people around them and the community they call home. These people recognize their talents and capabilities and find ways to continuously grow and learn from them. Why is this you?

I think the words “tenacious” and “strong-willed movers and doers” apply to me. I pride myself on being a life-long learner in the School of Life. I’ve taken the personal and professional set-backs in my life as opportunities to learn about myself, about community dynamics, about change, and about how to use limited resources. I would love to learn more about tools to use in building community, coalitions, support, and engagement. I believe the trend toward a truer democracy will necessarily lead to the need for a community with opportunities to engage with and learn from each other, rather than ways to polarize.

What project will you focus on as part of the OTA Builders Program?

I would like to work on the Community Engagement Teams (CETs) concept I’ve introduced in my work. The CETs are deliberate groups of committed individuals who want to work on an area of engagement for the American Indian population in Bismarck-Mandan. I would like to learn new ways to spark engagement and connections among Native and non-Native people in this community.

What change / advancement do you hope to achieve as part of the OTA Builders Program?

As part of the OTA Builders Program, I would like to achieve changes that can be both quantitatively and qualitatively measured. I would like to see more Native American people on local boards, commissions, and in elected governmental positions. I would like to see a change in attitude of the American Indian community where they no longer feel like outsiders but as an integral part of the social fabric of life here, beliefs in that they believe they should be engaged in civic life, and knowledge in that they know how to become engaged as either leaders or community members.