Powerful Alliances Grow with Women Are Sacred Efforts

How do we support Native women? There are people in different places and positions doing a lot of work.

Sometimes, it's community organizers marching, handing out t-shirts. Sometimes, it's professionals advocating for Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization, which expires at the end of next month, September 30, 2018. 

For so many of us, this is a tough subject to visit. Part of the reason I call this a lifestyle blog is because of the statistics Native Women face. Statistically speaking, it's tough to just live as a Native woman without dehumanization, harassment, and violence. We need support. Efforts are ongoing and I had the opportunity to see some advocates share at a conference in Albuquerque, then my tribe asked me to publish on the topic. In the conversations since, I try to build upon the things I heard and saw.   

There is so much work to do, yet so many emotional triggers. I cannot tell you how or what to do to support this effort. Maybe you will just read today, share an article later, wear red in honor of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women or call Elected Officials (Tribal and Federal) about Violence against Women Act Reauthorization. Maybe you will curl up in bed and cry as a painful memory of a loved one resurfaces. Be careful in this process and take care of yourself. One of the most powerful things I heard from another Native Woman is something I pass to you, "I wish you strength."

The Following was published as a special to the Yakama Nation Review:

Powerful Alliances Grow with 'Women Are Sacred' Conference

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico – With the theme of the Women Are Sacred Conference is “Resilience: Walking in Ancestral Footprints Carrying our Medicine, the June 26-28th event began the journey with seeking stories of the Pueblo people.  

Ancestral Footprints

Pueblo Legend talks about they came from the ground. There is a ladder which they climbed out. “The ladder has points on the tips,” explains Irvin Louis, Acoma Craftsman, and owner of Yellow Corn Shop. “This style of ladder connects the earth, with the sky, the points help with the rain.” He’s sharing this legend from his folded table and pottery set-up in the Indian Pueblo Culture Center. “This is made to connect with our origin story.” As he turns the pottery we can see the horsehair swivels that he set with fire from his Acoma Pueblo. “If you ever forget, contact me, I’ll re-share the story,” he says kindly.

Craftsman Irvin Louis, Acoma Pueblo

Photo 1: Craftsman Irvin Louis, Acoma Pueblo

The Indian Pueblo Culture Center is located in the historic Albuquerque Indian School District and is jointly run by 19 Pueblos in New Mexico. There is a restaurant, gift shop, and museum. The food menu includes pre-Colonial traditional dishes. Culture, art, and artifacts are displayed in numerous exhibits. If you go, bring your tribal I.D. as tribal members are admitted for free.

The connection with agriculture as well as how their houses are made is shown in realistic displays. The boarding school era and Spanish struggles leave a somber reflection. When visitors come upon cartoonist Ricardo Cate’s work, his pieces reflect struggle and humor. The laughter releases the pain. When mentioned to other Pueblo people, they describe how some people take in people’s pain and can release it out. Sometimes, this is through laughter. It is a sacred and honored role with many teachings.

Cate is a humble man – he just appeared in Forbes Magazine. He wears a bandana and he stopped by the conference’s powwow for a surprise visit. When asked to see his art, he showed original paintings. “People say I should make prints, that it doesn’t make sense I keep painting originals to sell.” Cate said this as he set out canvas after canvas from his black bag. “It doesn’t make sense not to paint,” Cate said. 


Over 500 attendees, including two youth groups, attended this year’s “The Women Are Sacred Conference,” which is considered one of the oldest and largest gatherings of advocates, survivors, tribal domestic and sexual violence programs, tribal community members, tribal leadership, law enforcement and tribal court personnel dedicated to ending violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women and children.

Attendees shared with each other and online through #WomenAreSacred or #WAS2018, with people focusing on healing and helping their communities.

The 2018 theme, “Resilience: Walking in Ancestral Footprints, Carrying Our Medicine,” points to who we are as Indigenous people and our journey – where we came from and where we are going – and speaks to the many different directions and cultures we come from, what was taken from us, what was lost along the way.

“We survived calling upon the cultural strength, reliance and Indigenous knowledge we carry with us into the future: our medicine. It speaks to the deep cultural roots we come from and the deep roots we need in our movement to lead in social change in ending the violence across all relations. With deep roots, we cannot be washed away. Let us walk together on this journey,” the conference program stated.

There was an attire theme each day – traditional to Represent Your Tribe, red for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Awareness, and purple for Domestic Violence Awareness.

Two artists were selected and highlighted at the conference, Joanne Brings Thunder (Shoshone) and Waya’aisiwa Gary Keene (Acoma Pueblo).

Artist Waya'aisiwa and Emily Washines

Photo 2: Artist Waya'aisiwa and Emily Washines


Tara Gatewood, an Isleta Pueblo, hosted a live session of Native American Calling at the Conference, with a panel of Native women.

NAC guests included Jacqueline “Jax” Agtuca, a Cherokee and legal and public policy consultant for the Nation Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Elizabeth Reese, a Nambe Pueblo and project attorney at the National Congress of American Indians, and Kathryn Nagle, a Cherokee, a partner at Pipestem Law and playwright.

Powerful Panel of Native Women speaking on Native American Calling Hosted by Tara Gatewood

Photo 3: Native American Calling, hosted by Tara Gatewood, with guests Jacqueline "Jax" Agtuca, Kathryn Nagle, and Elizabeth Reese

“We'll look at the success of the programs five years after the Violence Against Women’s Act reauthorization. VAWA is up for reauthorization again this year,” stated the NAC introduction. “We’ll also get an overview of the landmark legislation that provides additional protections for Native women.”

The VAWA Reauthorization is set for September 2018 and everyone on the panel spoke of strength, advocacy and the importance of connecting women’s stories the legislation.

A Yakama Nation production, “Historic Stories, of the Yakama Women Violated in 1855,” was shared and the panel was asked if there was any insight or other tribes using this as a component of voice and healing.

Panelists mentioned the book, Mending Broken Hearts, by Adele Wilcox.

“I wish you strength,” Gatewood told the Yakama producer, Emily Washines.

It was a sentiment echoed again and again throughout the conference.

We Carry Our Medicine

Of the 24 Navajo Nation Council Delegates (council members) Amber Crotty is the only Navajo female elected official attending the conference.

She is a strong advocate of the environment and her people.

Among those listening were Patsy Whitefoot, a Yakama and Toppenish School District Indian Education Director and with the Yakama Nation Wellness Coalition and Rose Quilt, a Yakama and Director of Research and Policy at National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center.

With a roomful of problem-solvers, survivors, advocates Crotty began by asking people to “Show me your medicine.”

From around the room, people held their medicine high in the air, she greeted each one happily.

“When we talk about medicine, we need to talk about gaps to people that have access to medicine, herbs, and teachings,” Crotty said.

Identifying access and shame that may come was powerful, yet Crotty kindly reiterated, “Don’t feel ashamed.”

She went on to share the importance of prayer and ceremony.

“The most important thing I’ve learned are these prayers: Protection Prayer, Travel Prayer, and Harmony Prayer,” Crotty said. “When we just talk about the trauma, not the healing, we are left without the core value of connection.” 

She explained violence against people and how she worked to address it.
Amber Crotty, Navajo Nation Delegate delivers Keynote "We Carry Our Medicine" supported by Cherrah Giles, Board Chairwoman of National Indigenous Women's Resource Center (seated).

Photo 4: Amber Crotty, Navajo Nation Delegate delivers Keynote "We Carry Our Medicine" supported by Cherrah Giles, Board Chairwoman of National Indigenous Women's Resource Center (seated). 

“We went back to the teachings, where Native lost their way – our stories,” she said. Crotty outlined how this helped reshape services including how they serve their people at Indian Health Service and schools.

“It’s not an overnight success,” she said, “But it gives individuals an opportunity to heal, not have them cope in a way that is absent of our teachings.

“We can become the people our people have prayed for us to become. Too many times our dignity, our voice is taken away from us.”

Crotty described the impacts of abuse elders still whisper about or have others speak for them.

“I want to encourage everyone to move away from that model. To be vulnerable, that’s how we’ve created these communities where this violence takes place,” she said.

She talked about utilizing medicine, sweat lodges, asking ancestors for wisdom as our armor.

“It’s our communities that suffer when we don’t’ have courage,” Crotty said.

Speaking for the Resources

Conference members recognized the importance of all the natural resources set down for their survival.

Along with speaking for themselves, conference attendees also exhibited teachings to speak for the resources that cannot speak for themselves.

The Yakama Nation holds a connection to the Pueblo People.

In the 1970s, the Taos Pueblo were trying to get back Blue Lake at the same time the Yakama Nation was working to have Pahto (Mt. Adams) returned. Both tribes were told wait so many times.

Through courts, meetings, politicians, the Yakama and Taos Pueblo people coordinated and talked.

Today, when Yakamas travel down, it is very welcoming. They ask the Yakamas to return and they pray for us in “The North” in their ceremonies.

With such intense topics at the Women are Sacred Conference, it is important to have messages of prayer and culture, conference organizers said.

Blog Published:

Published in Yakama Nation Review on July 11, 2018 Volume XLVI Number 4




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1 comment

  • Great blog post! Inspirational


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