It’s no secret that Indigenous women have been through a lot in the last few hundred years. Between European colonization and the genocide of native peoples, Native women’s status in society has been hurt significantly. This month we have the opportunity to celebrate Women’s History Month and let us not forget the history of brave and noble Native women.
The right to lead
The right for Native women to lead is not some new concept, it stems directly from history and native creation stories. Creation stories from many tribes tell us of the status that indigenous women held. The women of these stories were not only equal with the men, their status and right to honor and respect are similar even to the traditional female deities.
Native women have held positions of respect and admiration for centuries, from the word mother, Grandmother Turtle, and Spider Woman of our creation stories, on to more recent native women like Susan la Flesche Picotte, Wilma Mankiller, and Lyda Conley. Indigenous women have not only a right but a responsibility and a duty to step up and take positions of influence.
Resistance and Resilience
From pre-colonization culture through the years of genocide and into today, native women have shown a resistance to unjust powers and resilience through hardship that’s truly unmatched. As Native women today fight against racial bias and sexism, these traits of resistance and resilience are as important as they’ve ever been.
Indigenous women leaders exemplify strong survival skills and a desire to build a sturdy support system for other women and indigenous people around them. Resistance and resilience are important on an individual level, but when they are practiced in a community as a whole is when change can truly happen.
Working Through A Failed System
As poverty levels and statistics of rape and domestic violence against Native women continue to rise, it can be difficult to have the strength to continue fighting. But strong women persevere and continue to live their lives and work their way up even though governments and hierarchies systematically discriminate against them.
Strong Native women like Cecilia Fire Thunder and other modern feminist icons don’t let the system pull them down, and instead take a stand to make changes for native women of the future. While indigenous women have every excuse to give up and be unsuccessful, they instead choose to take responsibility for their futures and help lift others toward a better and brighter future.
Standing Up Against Cultural Changes
For the last five centuries, Native culture and tradition have been attacked from all sides. This is most apparent when it comes to women’s rights and reproductive rights in particular. Native culture historically regards women as sacred creators of life, and that belief has been threatened heavily in recent times, even among the indigenous peoples.
As stated by Elizabeth Cook-Lynn in Decolonization of American Indians, “Oglala Sioux men have never interfered in the reproductive lives of Oglala Sioux women until this moment … until this modern age when domestic violence is increasing, and tribal sovereignty is reduced to signing gaming contracts with the state for casino halls…In the old days, it would have been the subject of ridicule for men to have forced the submission of women and the dispossession of their roles as creators of life.” It is the responsibility of Native women and honorable Native men to stand up to these changes and reassert the respect and admiration that is due to women and mothers.
Why Women’s History Month
In the month of March, we have the opportunity to celebrate all women and their history, and it’s vital to remember the role that indigenous women have to play. Native women’s history is women’s history, and this month is a chance to remember and celebrate that.
Let Native women and their supporters everywhere take this opportunity to remember the bold and brave indigenous women that have blazed the trail for those to come after them. Let native leaders take a stand and work to teach non-native government officials and civil leaders the value of sharing power to improve communities and organizations. Across races, genders, and cultural boundaries, a focus on cooperation and continued learning from each other can help restore the status of Native women to what it once was — that of loved and respected beings, pillars of the home and the community.
This project was supported by Grant №20155-TA-AX-K069 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Justice.