Rhonda Decontie is an Algonquin & Penobscot Indigenous woman. She is a proud mother of four amazing children and grandmother to Miskwande and Jagger, with one on the way expected in November; her parents are Faye Decontie (Penobscot) and the late Frank Decontie (Algonquin).
She was raised both on Indian Island and in the Kitigan Zibi Reserve in Quebec. Her parents raised her to believe that she had a responsibility to the community to return after she graduated from college to serve her people. When she re-entered the United States in 2000, she came with two small children and the clothes on their backs. She, like many, needed temporary assistance for needy families. With the support of her family and community, she was able to earn her degree in 2007 at the University of Maine at Augusta, located in Bangor.
She has served the Penobscot Nation’s Judicial System since 2011 and was promoted to the Clerk of the Court in 2014. That same year she was selected from more than 300 tribal courts by the National American Indian Court Judges Association to receive its National Outstanding Court Support Excellence Award. Under her leadership, the Tribal Court has been nationally recognized as a leader in handling child protective proceedings and for its culturally aligned Healing to Wellness Court.
In 2019 she received the Wellness Court Advocate for Healing Award given by the Tribal Law and Policy Institute. She considers her work for her people in the Nation’s Judicial System one of the greatest achievements of her life. She is committed to ensuring that the Court provides a just, compassionate, culturally aligned problem-solving approach for those it serves.
Rhonda was highlighted on VICE for her efforts of including Penobscot traditions and Anishinaabe teachings in the Wellness Court. She recognized that there was a strong need for community engagement and cultural awareness. Through her leadership, the Healing to Wellness Court has now set an avenue for participants to have the opportunities to engage in community and cultural events while on their recovery journeys.
Rhonda is a demonstration that with love, support, and hard work, anything is achievable. She is now the owner of Eastern Door Consulting, LLC, which focuses on Tribal Court functions and implementing Healing to Wellness Courts. Her hope in starting her own business is to show future generations that we are resilient, strong and empowered to help others.
When I was first approached with this honor, I was at first speechless, then probably muttered, “Who? Me?” I remember wondering if I was worthy of an honor like this. I incredulously mentioned it to my older daughter, and without missing a beat, she looked me dead in the eye and said, “Why not?” I am not a successful athlete, a Supreme Court Justice, or a CEO of a Fortune 500 company; I have been a successful pharmacist in this area for over 20 years. How could I possibly be the visual and theoretical representation of power in women?
I grew up in the ’70s, and 80’s when mixed messages abound; female empowerment was shown in exploitive ads, like the Virginia Slims cigarettes ad, “You have come a long way baby,” so women had equal opportunity for lung cancer. Or my personal favorite, and Enjoli perfume advertisement, “I can bring home the bacon, fry it in a pan and never let you forget you’re a man, ’cause I’m a woman.
” Women were now empowered to work, to
make money to buy food, cook it (because it is not going to cook itself) and still please the husbands. Although these antiquated sayings did not make the biggest impact on me, I was blessed to have strong female family role models. My grandmother’s favorite saying was, “Where there is a will, there is a way.”
She raised eight children primarily herself by sheer force of her will and made sure each of her children was a strong contributing member of society. My mother worked as an advocate for special needs children; she worked tirelessly in the Massachusetts school system. Her efforts for parents helped make sure all children, even those with special needs, receive the chance of quality education. This was in the ’80s, where they were just starting to come around that perhaps some children may learn differently.
One of my aunts was a founding member of a trailblazing computer company in the ’80s; she was a badass in a largely male-dominated field. She steered the company into a public entity; she hired and fired men twice her age. When I entered Northeastern University to study pharmacy, this was then still a male-dominated field. It was widely known that female pharmacists were less desirable because there was always the potential of needing maternity leave. Imagine! Equal pay for equal work was a great tagline in the mid-’90s but not a reality.
I was lucky enough to go to school with my future husband, and when a large chain of pharmacies tried to offer me lower pay for the same position, I was able to demand and negotiate for equal pay. As a pharmacist, I specialize in geriatrics as a Long-Term Consultant, most recently for Bangor Drug LTC. I am tasked with caring for the elderly throughout the state of Maine.
When the pandemic began, I knew we were caring for the most vulnerable of the population, communal living with mostly dementia patients. Their safety was my mission. No one gave any of us a playbook for the COVID 19 pandemic, and our facilities were some of the first to close to public access. We were at the forefront of instituting very high standards of safety to protect ourselves to ensure we could continue to deliver vital medications.
When some of our staff felt they could not work, my two daughters, future power women, while still attending school, strode in without hesitation. Their contribution meant all the difference. I knew the race for a COVID-19 vaccine was under development, and I watched all the studies like a hawk. I thought vaccine hesitancy was going to be my greatest battle, especially with Long Term Care facility employees, given so much government mistrust. I knew we were facing an uphill battle.
I gathered all snippets of information from any source. As a company, we decided that we were going to be part of the solution no matter what. We made the huge investment to purchase an ultracold freezer prioritizing health and wellness over the misconceptions floating through the media.
Bangor Drug felt ready. What I did not expect was an exclusivity by the government to two large chain stores, Walgreen and CVS, to be the only vaccine providers of vaccine for LTC facilities. They are retail institutions; however, we knew this was short-sighted. As an independent pharmacy, we could either take the “wait and see” approach or make noise.
The government was not in the pharmacy business and needed help to realize there is a better way; access should not be limited. Anyone who knows me cannot be surprised I made noise, lots. I called multiple politicians, pharmacy advocacy groups, professional organizations, anyone who would answer my call or email. Susan Collins’s office was extremely receptive and helped point us in the correct direction. I know other pharmacies were probably doing the same, but when I spoke to the politicians, they expressed that it was the first they heard of this situation. We pushed not to join in the exclusivity but to make the vaccine available for any pharmacy.
Independent pharmacies have a long-standing tradition of being willing and able to do whatever it takes. Our mission was simple: to receive the vaccine and get it into arms as quickly as possible to turn this tide. I developed a weekly webinar series via zoom to discuss any new information with our facilities, and I made a video designed to combat vaccine hesitancy. These resources were designed to give the facts and be very relatable. We shared our information and our videos with anyone who wanted to see it. The feedback was enormous.
Bangor Drug LTC was not only at the forefront, but I like to think we helped pave the way for other
pharmacies to receive vaccine allotments sooner than anticipated. We received the vaccine about 5 days after its release, and we had clinics scheduled immediately. We traveled throughout the entire state using every drop we were allotted, and I am proud to say we were extremely efficient. This meant extremely long nights and early mornings, but every second was worth it. Any home or medical personnel that was qualified made sure to receive the vaccine. We specialized in those facilities or healthcare workers in underserved areas.
The pandemic has meant little sleep, lots of driving; my only workout was carrying clinic supplies and too much convenience store food. I even received a few anti-vaxxer death threats. Despite the difficulties, I am happy to say our hard work was effective, while other parts of the country have low vaccine acceptance, 40 % and below. We are proud to say we have nearly 100% for residents and a whopping greater than 80% for LTC facility employees. The uncertainty of this pandemic has been difficult for so many people; I am thrilled that I was able to have some level of positive participation in the solution.
A Power woman must embrace their power in their thoughts, actions, and their deeds. I found my power in believing that I was doing the right thing for my patients, family, fellow co-workers, and society. I succeed by never letting a “No” or “That is not how it works” ever, ever stop me. My advice to future power women: if you believe in something strongly, there is always a way to achieve whatever you desire in life.
Life can be downright hard. I’d be a complete phony to tell you otherwise when I’ve learned first-hand that this world can repeatedly throw things at you that will knock the wind out of your sails and drop you to your knees so hard you will wonder if you can ever recover from the wreckage. During these times when Satan is doing his very best to try and destroy my light, I have resolved not to let him win.
Here are some skills I have gathered along the way to help me overcome these difficult times; Have Faith. I believe in God. I love Him, and trust in Him, and constantly look for the lesson I am supposed to learn from the trial at hand, be it to strengthen my faith, test me, or grow me.
I talk to Him often throughout the day. When you develop a relationship with the Lord, you will hear his guidance, and for me, knowing I am not alone brings me a sense of peace. Surround yourself with positivity to refuel your light; people, music, activities. My car radio is set to K-Love.
The music is positive and encouraging, and there are many times when the Lord will speak to me through the lyrics, or a song will play, and it is just what I needed to hear at that moment. The messages are clean and pure, and uplifting for my mind and spirit. Find a true friend or group to share things with and be that person for them as well; do things together that fill up your soul. They are often the “push” you need to get up and going, and once you are out and about, things don’t generally seem as daunting as they did beforehand. Be that “push” for them when they are down. Being able to share your light and help someone through a difficult time can also be rewarding and therapeutic.
Pay attention to your mental health; listen to your feelings and your body. Depression and anxiety can be debilitating and frightening. The more time you spend in bed or secluding yourself from others, the more difficult, it is to break the cycle. Force yourself to get up and do things you enjoy.
I give myself lots of internal pep talks and can usually talk myself through these anxious times by acknowledging the feeling but not entertaining it. Make self-care a priority. I know there are lots of you out there, always putting your family first and being so exhausted after work and cooking and cleaning and running kids that there is nothing left for you. I’ve been there, but I am learning to take the time and have discovered that it’s true what they say, you can’t serve from an empty cup!
I am working on not feeling guilty when I make myself a priority, and I now have an amazing Aesthetician (thanks, Tensegrity) and enjoy taking the time to do a facial routine twice a day. My skin is looking better and what do you know, it makes me feel better too! Exercise.
I have gotten back into running and am amazed at the difference in my mental health, mental clarity, and the marked decrease in the depth of my “monthly” mood crashes. I haven’t felt this good in a long time, and the added benefit is my clothes are fitting better too! Mentoring guidance.
Yes, counseling, and I love it! I have learned so much about myself, my goals, and my boundaries. I never thought I would d this, but I have learned that there is no shame in not having all the answers and wanting to do everything possible to live your best life! In fact, I would venture to say it takes guts to be able to open up, to remember, to release, and to heal. Last but not least, smile, be real, be humble, realize that being perfect is not attainable, and treat people how you want to be treated. While I am still a work in progress, there is wisdom in age and experience, and I hope that in some way, my journey can help you find a way to let your light shine on!
2020 – THE YEAR OF PERFECT VISION – IT’S ALL IN HOW YOU REACT TO THINGS.
What a ride 2020 has been. The year that gave us the perfect plastic 2020 New Year’s Eve glasses has also given us toilet paper Christmas ornaments. Like so many things we face throughout our years on this fine rock, we must sometimes accept that we cannot control it all, let the wind shape your hair, the rain smudge your mascara and a virus force reflection.
To quote Charles Swindoll: “…life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share some suggestions to buckle in and actually stay balanced and bright.
I’m a firm believer that things happen … and don’t happen for a reason. While I’m not a very religious woman, but I do have faith in a few simple ways of thinking.
1. Change is inevitable embrace it and be the agent of change. I’m fortunate to see so many powerful women living as change agents through social media, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t also say change can be painful before it becomes intoxicating.
Sharing experiences can empower the masses to be open, honest, and gentle while others open up to you. Being an agent of change challenges your leadership qualities (self and external)and often motivates you to live by your messages. Take on the change as an opportunity rather than a burden and uplift others to rise up.
2. Make mistakes – and move on, girl! There are far more opportunities lost by fear than failure. Don’t be afraid to fail, but be ready to learn from it and MOVE ON. Every second you dwell on the past, you steal from the future.
We are all being handed unique new scenarios; for some of us, it’s cooking Thanksgiving meals for the first time; for others, it’s managing a hands-on business in a touch-less world. No matter what your situation, try that new thing, now and forever – innovate; there are small serendipities awaiting your endeavors.
3. Be selfish. A healthy mind and spirit start with taking care of your body. I’m very much a gym junkie. I love my facials; foot soaks … color street nails. Make time for yourself!! I hear the term mom-guilt a lot, and I’ve been there FOR SURE. Traveling for about 23 weeks of the year, I’ve missed a lot, but another perspective says I’ve gained a lot … my children have seen a hardworking, re- expected Mama, who deserves downtime for herself.
Don’t think for a minute you can be everything to everyone by ignoring yourself. Hands up for those who have done this (mine is up). You WILL run out of steam, and then what? So, in short, make the time monthly, weekly, or daily. Need motivation for keeping up with a fitness routine? Join an online challenge for a cause and hold yourself accountable by posting all over the web … heck, text me; I’ll check in on your progress a few days a week and help you keep it up! Pandemic or not, there are lots
of apps to help you spoil your mind and body at home: meditate, run, do your nails, plan a virtual happy hour and pour the bubbly. CLINK
4. Reach Out – Have Empathy – Influence others to do good 1st balance yourself …. next uplift others. If I hear we are all in this together one more time, I’m going to vomit… but we are. I can’t even list all of the amazing people who have reached out from near or far to support us after Mike’s amputation in January.
The support from our family, friends, and kind souls we’ve hardly met around the world have never stopped. Don’t make the pandemic an excuse to disconnect. Technology has prepared us for this, yes, but there is nothing like a handwritten note.
About a year ago, I received a random handwritten note from a friend in Park City who simply wanted to let me know how much she valued our friendship. I’ll never forget how that touched my soul and have paid it forward every since. No matter what the form factor, reach out, check-in, send love, build up, share and LISTEN.
5. Be thankful, and patient Gratitude can change your brain! Sometimes taking a pause to think is tough, but it’s nice-
sary. Take a step back, look through old photos, remember where you came from, how you got here. Be thankful for those who have come in and out of your life along the way, those challenges you accepted, risks you’ve taken, knees you’ve skinned, and all that you have gained or lost. Good things come to those who wait… and work hard. Whiteboard daily gratitudes, continuously log your blessings, convictions, and motivations. We have a
gratitude jar that we work to add to daily or weekly in our house, making it a habit to pause and be thankful.
“What tools do you use to keep your mind, your body, and your surroundings healthy and positive during difficult times such as this Pandemic?”
My morning routine, in particular, has really helped me stay in check and stay on track during the pandemic. After waking, the first thing I do is drunk 16 ounces of warm lemon water; it’s extremely hydrating. I try to move my body from anywhere between 5-20 minutes, depending on what I have for time.
I keep it pretty organic, it could be a few cat cows into a down dog, or I might do some light foam rolling. I’ve also gotten into gua sha (face massage/scraping) because of my esthetician, Danielle. It helps to promote circulation, plump the skin, increase blood flow, and diminishes fine lines and wrinkles.
I use the empress stone by Wildling. I’ll try and meditate or sit quietly for 5-10 minutes in the morning and evening. And I take an Epsom salt and essential oil bath almost every night. Lastly, I’ve been freeing our house of clutter as well as anything we don’t use or wear anymore. Now that I’m working from home, it’s important to me to keep things tidy; this allows for more space in our home and in my mind.