Four years ago, Indigenous women came together in prayer at the Women’s March in front of the National Museum of the American Indian to raise visibility on the issues of violence against women and the earth, as well as protest the current administration. An Indigenous elder knelt on a blanket and smudged the crowd as Indigenous women spoke about the issues they were working on via megaphone. The women and men linked arms to hold the circle as the crowd continued to grow and we began to round dance to the drum. It was celebratory and sacred all at once. As we began to descend down the steps single-file, singing the “Woman Warrior Song,” the very packed crowd parted. Around every corner, the women would hear the song, cry, and cheer. Today, I remember this incredible moment and continue to fight for truth and healing because the colonizers playbook must end now—especially as we enter this election year with a dangerous and reckless threat of war. We must build the future we want to live in, one where freedom is for everyone, without exception. This means we must work through our differences, know each other’s history and struggle, and we must fight together.
In 2017, Indigenous women demanded representation on the Women’s March steering committees as the first march was planned. Organizers from the Women’s March listened, and with only a few weeks to organize, a small group of women joined the steering committee and contributed to the development of the UNITY Principles: Chrissie Castro, Anathea Chino, Rosalee Gonzalez, Kandy Mossett, Deborah Parker, and myself. This was the first time in recent years that Indigenous women were given an opportunity to contribute to a major platform working for collective liberation.
In the last few years, the group of Indigenous women contributing to the Women’s March agenda has grown to also include prominent leaders like Jordan Daniels, Liz Medicine Crow, Lori Pourier, and Prairie Rose Seminole. I watched in real time as women debated and negotiated language around family separation for immigration issues, as well as the Indian Child Welfare Act. It was a triumphant moment to watch the education of so many feminist leaders as they began to understand the intersectionality of their issues with indigenous issues and tribal sovereignty.
It is critical for Indigenous women to have access to large platforms to share our contemporary issues and ancestral wisdom handed down from generation to generation. In the past, many have not understood how the issues Indigenous women face are tied to the future of humanity. We have been the first to face the issues threats of colonization and capitalism. Many missing and murdered Indigenous women have disappeared near man camps at oil fields, and fracking continues to be the most detrimental violent action against Mother Earth possible. Despite many climate justice groups claiming Indigenous people have the solutions, we are still fighting for inclusion and funding to share our wisdom through mainstream storytelling.
Recognition of our place in American history is also critical, especially as the 100th Anniversary of the right to vote is celebrated in 2020. In 1848, the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York, where a visionary goal was set forth for women to gain the right to vote. While the women who organized the early suffrage movement were extraordinary, it is rare that credit is given to those who inspired and helped inform their transformative vision—Native American women. The women who organized the early suffrage movement lived in the traditional lands of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy—also known by the colonized name of the “Iroquois Confederacy”. The suffragists who organized the Seneca Falls Convention and demanded that women have the right to vote knew firsthand of the matrilineal social organization and freedoms Native American women had in their society, which were absent in their own. The suffragists personally knew Native American women from the six nations that comprise the Haudenosaunee Confederacy including the Seneca, Tuscarora, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk Nations. Passed by Congress June 4, 1919 and ratified on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote. Black and brown women would not be able to exercise that right until decades later.
This year, I am working with “Sisters Rising,” a collaborative campaign to educate, empower, and celebrate women in 2020 during the 100 year anniversary of the ratification of the women’s right to vote. This campaign is organized by the new Indigenous women led organization Return to the Heart Foundation, as well as Justice for Migrant Women, and We Stand United to highlight the historic role Native American women played in the suffrage movement. We will provide a forum for dialogue with Native American women today, and offer a cutting-edge grassroots platform for women to organize women in their communities to turn out voters in 2020.
Fight for truth and healing with us. You can support Sisters Rising through Return to the Heart Foundation and you also invited to march with us in Washington, DC and/or contribute for the final stages of the Women’s March happening on January 18, 2020. When movements of movements come together, we can create transformative change for the future. We can bring our earth into balance and bring our country into balance.