How The Peace Corps Challenged This Texas Author’s Identity

Austin-based author Ursula Pike hopes to open up the travel memoir genre to more Indigenous peoples.

By Laura RiceApril 12, 2021 10:04 am, , ,

Ursula Pike grew up on the West Coast of the United States. She’s Karuk Indian, and was very connected to a larger urban community of native peoples. In a new book, Pike writes about her time in Bolivia with the Peace Corps and about how it changed the way she saw her own identity. “An Indian Among Los Indígenas: A Native Travel Memoir” is available now.

“My mother worked for years for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which provided her a chance to work with and and serve native people. But there was some history there that she didn’t necessarily support … so I made that same calculation when I decided to apply to the Peace Corps.”


“It challenged my identity because I was in a place where I was both native – I could identify with the Indigenous people that I was working with – but I also was privileged as a westerner. And so to try and both fill both roles really created a conflict.”

Author Ursula Pike. Courtesy photo


“I really hope people will gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of cross-cultural attempts to help. That it’s important to move away from that ‘white savior’ myth of development and understand that the recipients of the charity or the help that we’re trying to give are not empty vessels waiting for us to fill them up with our generosity.”


“I do still encourage people to investigate the Peace Corps or other service opportunities because it does connect you to this worldwide network of people committed to making the world a better place. But it’s important to understand that you don’t have to save anyone, that you can go and serve but also learn.”


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