Evolving Histories; Modern Warrior Women

It is with great privilege that I write this month’s YWCA blog post to honor the contributions of Native American women indigenous to the spirit and lands of Arizona. The month of November and one writer’s recommendations of women to cast light upon is a mere wrinkle in time and one that will not do full justice to all that is, all that has been, or all that is taking shape. Be warned at the creative magnitude of wordplay that leaves you to take the onus & responsibility in following up to place a name to the accolades.

In all Native or indigenous cultures, we have distinct roles and responsibilities that are taught to us most often in cultural practice and through our languages. These teachings are handed down across spans of time, rites of passage and as we each embody the spirits we have been gifted. With respect to our history as descendants of past civilizations that persevered through great ordeals and an evolution of society, we are now in an age of transformation that runs parallel to many pursuits of women for the betterment of our global society.

Where our mothers understandably seek to give the best to their families, indigenous women more often than not, have a profound sense of responsibility toward infinite realms of life. Raised with inherent beliefs that we are connected to all living things, we see women stepping into creative professions that have strong ties to their cultural roots. The interconnectedness of clans as relatives, further extends our roles and active participation in providing for those outside our immediate families.

With recent and significant transformations of community activism, the term activist has been exchanged for Protector, in roles where women (and men) of all ages lend their voice, their active participation, organizational skills, computer literacy, legal advice, and direct connections to their communities in tandem to promote a sense of urgency for the land & natural resources. This can be observed in the resounding land development efforts and mining issues across Native lands. We have great community organizers leading grassroots efforts in partnership with non-profits, corporations, industry, government and interest-based organizations, to raise awareness of the implications of mining and development as it pertains not only to water, mineral and land rights, but the long-term impacts of the contamination of water sources that rural communities largely depend on. This line of work is not for the faint of heart as it requires tough conversations, strong and committed leadership, and continuous efforts that are not always recognized or rewarded. Though these efforts and the underlying terminal effects are not new, there is far greater momentum to collaborate and rally in force.

At current, there are a few standout young ladies and a notable community startup who are inspiring their people and others to seek a greater sense of awareness of their responsibility to organize and communicate to multiple forums, on the intergenerational traumas and injustice tied to the history of our land and people. It’s a profound joy to see a young woman speak to audiences of youth and adults while both advocating for protection of the land and imparting heartfelt truths of cultural teachings that reflect on our inherent rights to take a stand in honor of our ancestors, our children and their futures. Barely a child herself, you can only imagine that her community and family are proud of her knowing she has been chosen, as well as blessed with a genuine spirit for this work. More inspiring yet, is when she is joined and supported by her sisters, their mother, aunts and cousins who all walk this path in solidarity for their community.

A local shop on the Navajo reservation in Window Rock, Arizona, is gaining momentum for its quick take to hosting community conversations, offering a collection of Native American literature, and largely being open & responsive to the concerns and issues of the local community. K’é infoshop, by its social media content, seems to be creatively conspiring to involve all walks of indigenous life and perspective to shed light on and give breath to the pervasive work that can be attributed to historical traumas that collide with present day societal ills & norms. The nature of an indigenous heart behind much of this work has embraced collective camaraderie into what one might consider, a radically empowered demonstration of Native souls prompting action & change. While for many years, the weight of these statistical challenges has been sadly overwhelming, many brave women are actively toeing the line for progress.

I would be amiss if I did not mention the mainstream professions of government, administrative leadership, non-profits, education, social service, law & justice services, as well as tribal programs & departments. It is with great respect that I bring it back to the home front where Native American women largely represent head of households in both rural and urban settings. Leaving our communities for school and career is often a compromise to be able to provide for our families financially and in opportunities not always present in our home lands.By far, it is a compromise we manage for the change we hope to be a part of by giving to other service areas. Working in your home communities is both a gift and a test of the wills. At an early age, it is ingrained in all of us to go out and get an education so that we might return to help our people. Those words imparted on a young soul may not always take shape quickly, though we all know what it means to “come home.” It’s more than just a family to come back to, it’s a deep, spell binding feeling that washes over you as soon as you pass the marker of landscape or infinite blue sky, that makes it home for you.

For women who work in their communities, it is with great responsibility and choice that they maintain a balance of their home, work and cultural frameworks to be and feel successful. There may be small moments of time when this balance consumes your every breath as there is always a new season of expectations to welcome within each culture and community. That is, until you come to understand and embrace the roles you have been nurtured to fulfill since your birth and will impart to your children in their wakeful presence. Such complexities of rigor in Native American and indigenous cultures might only be explained if we trust that women of great societies have been spun in galaxies past and imparted as a blessing to their people.

In Hopi culture, a woman has many roles she will both naturally and purposefully fulfill in her lifetime. One such woman finds her strength to persevere in the spirit of her mother, an aunt and grandmother who passed on traits of baking, caring for the family, and indulging in hospitality & generosity. Wendi Lewis was raised in the Hopi village of Kykotsmovi by her parents, Ellen & Harvey Honyouti. She is currently the Project Manager for Community Development with the Moencopi Developer Corporation in Tuba City, Arizona. Wendi coordinates projects and programs that support Hopi community members through job creation and community education opportunities that lead to developing sustainable income for individuals with cultural & personal talents, as well as life & work skills or trades.

Wendi credits her own mother for the cultural lessons by way of a “tough love” attitude towards her development as a strong Hopi woman. She expresses that it was her mother’s commitment to family and culture that impressed upon her early, the roles of a Hopi woman. First, a Hopi woman has a responsibility to provide unconditional love to her family that includes immediate family (father, mother, siblings, spouse and children). Secondly, she believes there is a responsibility of emotional and physical support for her family demonstrated in any manner that she can impart. And finally, an extension of support is then afforded to those members of her extended family, including familial relatives and clanship extensions.

Like many Native women deeply rooted or connected spiritually to their people and communities, we all come to know our place in this world through experience. Our first breaths of life are whispered to our creators with prayers for a long and healthy life, to persevere beyond adversity and to lead our daily lives with purpose. We may merely inherit what has been left for us, though we are a divine manifestation of the history that courses through our veins begging to conspire with our spirits to bring about change. With sincere diligence, prayer and practice, may you seek to know more about the ways you can contribute to the progress of Indian Country and be drawn to the issues that await your humble attention.

As a contributing writer to the YWCA of Metropolitan Phoenix, whose efforts center on empowering women and youth to take on roles that work to eliminate civic and social injustice, I find that any opportunity to shed light on Native and Indigenous women who are creatively inspiring progress is a blessing. It has been an honor to pay tribute to the women who inspire us as a nation of women in the pursuit of our life’s work, our passions and in cultivating our future with respect to our culture and heritage as Native American Women of Arizona.

List of Notable Native American Women of Arizona

  • Diane Humetewa, (Hopi) Attorney – US District Court, AZ
  • Natasha Johnson-Hale (Navajo), Grand Canyon Trust – Native America Program Director
  • Naelyn Pike, Pike Sisters, (Chiricahua Apache) Apache Stronghold, Peotector
  • Radmilla Cody (Navajo)
  • Wendi Lewis (Hopi), Moencopi Developers Corporation – Program Director
  • As’kwali/Thank you
  • Sahmie Sunshine Lomahquahu, MEd