Colleen Hicks’ Native American lineage comes from her Cherokee paternal grandfather. He moved to Idaho from the Midwest to build a life for his family away from the prevalent violent prejudice against native people. In Southern Idaho, he apprenticed with a barber and set up a small business. Once the KKK discovered his native identity they forced him to leave. Colleen’s grandfather took his family to a rough mining town in Northern Idaho where they could keep a low profile. Many native people were forced to hide their native identity so they could safely raise their families. Despite this concern, Colleen’s grandfather would visit the hospital, where miners recovered from injuries in the mines, and cut the men’s hair for free. Colleen’s father worked at the barbershop as a young boy and the town grew to accept the family. Colleen’s mother was English/Irish, and her grandmother was a Daughter of the American Revolution.
Colleen’s father loved hunting and fishing in the wild forests of Northern Idaho, but hunted only for food for his family, not for sport. Every summer, Colleen’s family – parents, two boys and two girls – foraged in the Rocky Mountains for huckleberries, a prized treat. Members of the family carried guns because bears also like huckleberries! Colleen spent her summers on lakes and rivers with her family.
Colleen continues to have a strong love for nature, which is why she lives in Bolinas, where she has easy access to the Point Reyes National Seashore. As a former long distance runner, she loved running the trails by herself. Colleen’s ancestor, Corn Nut Bird, was a scout in Tennessee.
Colleen studied music at the University of Idaho. Later, when she moved to California, Colleen taught music at the Bolinas-Stinson School for twelve years. She has directed and accompanied the local choir for fifteen years and continues to sing with Wings of Song Women’s Chorus, keeping music an integral part of her life.
She received her Masters in Management at Sonoma State University and a teaching credential for Junior Colleges. During this time Colleen was appointed to the California Visual and Performing Arts Curriculum Framework Committee for Kindergarten through eighth grades. This served as an informative experience in curriculum development.
The Organization for Rehabilitation through Training (ORT) invited Colleen to Ghana, West Africa to teach business classes to village women. She traveled to villages, interviewed women and helped them strategize how to improve their businesses. She observed the similar strong tribal affiliations by native people and the deep richness of their tribal customs. For example, native peoples’ cultures are reflective of their local environment: the plants, animals, and stones used for their tools and stories come from the natural resources that surround them.
Colleen believes in service to her community and finds it personally rewarding. She has served on many non profit boards and was a Trustee for the Bolinas-Stinson School District. She raised three wonderful children, Cass, Tyler and Caitlin, in Bolinas, and feels grateful that the children had close contact with nature in their formative years.
Colleen served on the Commonweal Board of Directors, a health and environmental center for healing, for twenty-six years. She worked with the Children’s Program which developed interdisciplinary programs to establish support systems, from medical to psychological, including respite mentors, to help the families stabilize and move forward with their ongoing challenges.
From 2005 – 2017, Colleen was the Executive Director of the Marin Museum of the American Indian in Novato. She found every day an interesting adventure as local and international visitors came to learn about native people. Natives also visit to share their art and knowledge. They teach thousands of school children about Marin County’s local natives, the Coast Miwoks, and the exhibitions provide an opportunity to honor all native people. The Museum is not just a historical repository of native objects, it is an educational and cultural center and a place of advocacy for native people. Colleen has confronted surprising and distressing stereotyping, prejudice and myths about Native Americans during her time at the museum, and knows those need to be addressed through education and exposure. Colleen is determined to educate the public that 567 federally recognized tribes and hundreds of unrecognized tribes exist in the United States, and all have rich cultural traditions. Native people live not only on reservations, but also in our towns and cities.
Colleen’s first grandchild, Simone, was born in 2014. This event and the important continuance of family and cultural ties profoundly affected Colleen. She believes in our responsibility for our children and grandchildren’s wellbeing, and that we are caretakers of Mother Earth and all her living creatures, seven generations back and seven generations forward. Because Colleen’s grandfather had to carry a baseball bat every time he went into town to defend himself against gangs of boys who would beat him up because of his native identity, Colleen feels it her responsibility to stand up for native people, their place in history and their enduring presence.
The Museum represents an acknowledgment of the past enhanced with thousands of years of ancient wisdom for the future. Colleen strives to bring attention to the important work that has been done at the museum for the last forty-seven years, and continues to incorporate more members and sponsors to sustain the Museum in the Bay Area.
Colleen feels honored to receive the Marin County Women’s Hall of Fame award and she acknowledges all the women who have inspired her to continue to work hard and live a productive life of service to family and community. Wado.