Pictured above: An honor dance in Pawnee America.
It’s been said that Mother Earth was the first Indigenous woman. After all, she is the original life giver, the first ancestor of us all—from microscopic single-celled organisms, to colossal prehistoric dinosaurs and the fabled leviathan of the deep. Her blood, our fresh water, flows along her surfaces like so many veins and capillaries, forming rivers and tributaries that sustain us. We evolved to exist in unison, forever linked and connected as relations. We are a part of her, stardust children of the Sky and Earth. She is the divine feminine, Creator and Mother. There is no humanity without her.
– Ruth H. Hopkins, Dakota/Lakota Sioux
Women’s History Month is Happening now, and International Women’s Day is March 8.
First Nations celebrates these awareness-raising events every year. But we also know that the power of women transcends this month or this one day.
Every day I bask in the beauty of amazing Indigenous and non-Indigenous (my grandmother) women. Their glory and magnificence are pervasive, and I am always inspired by their ingenuity and perseverance. I am honored to be part of this sacredness and to be a woman and giver of life.
Through time, colonialism has worked to deconstruct and disempower the feminine power. As a result of this European construct, many women have been forced to take a subordinate role in their families and in society, leading to internalized oppression and unbalanced energy.
But, we all must remember that the stories of Indigenous (and non-Indigenous) women live on. They live on through our hopes and dreams, they live on through our victories, they live on through art, and they live on through our songs and ceremonies. Most importantly, they live on through our future generations of women!
During March and on International Women’s Day, First Nations is taking the time to acknowledge and commend Indigenous matriarchs. Through our space you will find stories and accomplishments, as we uplift the voices of women, recognize their contributions, and honor the sacredness of feminine energy.
First Nations recognizes that one month – or one day — is not long enough, as women should be revered every day. Yet, in the spirit of March’s celebrations, we send a special thanks to our mothers, grandmothers, aunties, sisters, cousins, and ancestors who have made our world possible.
In these proclaimed 31 days of “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories,” we appreciate the brilliance of our heroic women, for without their stories we would cease to exist. And we share a few (there are many more) of these stories here.
Sacagawea, Lehmi Shoshone
Sacagawea is one of the most well-known Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). When Sacagawea was about 10-years old, she was kidnapped by Hidatsa Indians and taken to what is now North Dakota. Sacagawea was sold as a slave to Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian fur trader, and later became his wife.
In 1804, Lewis and Clark persuaded Charbonneau to join them on their expedition as an interpreter. Sacagawea, who was six months’ pregnant, was forced to go along on their journey as a peace keeper when they encountered other tribes. During their voyage, Sacagawea proved to be a great guide and interpreter, saving the group from starvation and inclement weather more than once.
As stories go, there are many accounts of what happened to Sacagawea. Some say she died of putrid fever at the age of 25. Others say she died during childbirth. My favorite account is she lived to be the ripe old age 96 in Wind River, Wyoming, where she rejoined her tribe after marrying a Comanche man and living with the Comanches for many years.
Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee
Suzan Shown Harjo is a poet, writer, curator, and activist, who has been at the forefront of many Indigenous battles in the United States, helping develop critical legislation, including the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. From advocating against the use of racist mascots to being a founding trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian, Suzan has served the Native community in many capacities.
In 2014, Harjo was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, who stated “Her tireless efforts have protected Native culture, returned Native lands, and improved Native lives. With bold resolve, Suzan Shown Harjo pushes us to always seek justice in our time.”
Harjo is currently working as the president and founder of the Morning Star Institute to promote sacred land claims and protection for traditional cultural rights, artistic expression, and research.
Sarah Eagle Heart, Oglala Lakota
Sarah Eagle Heart is an activist, author, philanthropist, and Emmy award-winning producer. She was raised in the Oglala Lakota tribe on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Eagle Heart became an activist at a young age and has worked internationally as a leader for social and environmental justice, with a goal of uplifting Indigenous voices.
In 2014, Eagle Heart was awarded the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development’s Top 40 under 40 for those who have demonstrated leadership, initiative, and dedication in their community. And in 2017 she won the American Express NGen Leadership Award, which recognizes trailblazers whose work has had a transformative impact on a critical social need.
Eagle Heart is a co-founder and senior advisor to Return to the Heart Foundation to support innovative Indigenous women–led projects for climate justice, narrative change, civic engagement, healing, and restorative and regenerative development. Prior to this role she served as CEO of Native Americans in Philanthropy, a national nonprofit that focuses on investment in Native American communities.
Grace Balawag, Kankaney-Igorot, The Philippines
Grace Balawag, a Kankaney-Igorot Indigenous woman from the Philippines, is the deputy coordinator for the Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Program of the Tebtebba-Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education. She began policy advocacy work for Indigenous peoples under Tebtebba at the global and regional levels, in relation to climate change, biodiversity, sustainable development and human rights, and especially Indigenous peoples’ rights.
Through her work, Balawag also coordinates the Indigenous Peoples’ Partnership on Climate Change, Forests. and Sustainable Development, called the Elatia Partnership, working with 19 Indigenous organizations in 14 countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Verónica Inmunda, Kichwa, Ecuador
Verónica Inmunda, a Kichwa woman from the Ecuadoran Amazon, is a law student focusing on the protection of Indigenous peoples’ rights. She works for the Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas de la Amazonía Ecuatoriana (CONFENIAE) as a youth, culture, and sports coordinator.
She is one of the leaders of Sacred Headwaters Initiative whose mission is to build a shared vision among Indigenous peoples, NGOs, the philanthropic community, social entrepreneurs, and governments toward establishing a bi-national protected region. This region would be off-limits to industrial-scale resource extraction, and governed in accordance with traditional Indigenous principles of cooperation and harmony that foster a mutually enhancing human-earth relationship.
Join us in acknowledging the women who have made a difference in your world!
The role of women as revolutionaries in historical texts and stories is often underplayed or blatantly disregarded. During Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day – and always – let us remember women, whose stories are not told or have been forgotten.
First Nations Development Officer