Native Americans We Celebrate

Our Native women congressional representatives!

Read this terrific historical review of Native women’s role in American politics, A tribute to those who always imagined Native women in the Congress. Congratulations to our first two Native American congresswomen, Reps. Davids and Haaland. Way to represent!

Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kansas, and Rep. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico. (Photo via Twitter, reposted from Indian Country Today)


Shining a Spotlight on Missing and Murdered Native Girls and Women

The Kwek Society cheers on, and cries with, the three Native women who testified at the U.S. Capitol in mid-December 2018 during a hearing held by the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to examine what authorities call a “silent crisis” — the deaths and disappearance of hundreds of Native American women.  As reported by Montana Public Radio, the three women shared stories of personal loss and profound frustration with a legal system that they say has essentially abandoned them.

Among the testimony offered were the following gut-wrenching statements:  “I wear this yellow scarf in honor of our baby-girl Ashlynne Mike who was taken from us in 2016 when her and her brother Ian were abducted and ultimately murdered in our community,” said Delegate Amber Crotty, Navajo Nation Council, Window Rock, AZ [an early supporter of The Kwek Society].

Kimberly Loring HeavyRunner testifies about missing and murdered indigenous women, December 12, 2018.  Photo courtesy Sen. Tester’s Office, found on Montana Public Radio‘s site.

“There’s something seriously wrong here,” said Kimberly Loring-HeavyRunner, the sister of 20-year-old Ashley Loring-HeavyRunner, who disappeared from Montana’s Blackfeet Reservation in June of 2017.  HeavyRunner begged the Senate Indian Affairs Oversight Committee to continue its investigation and pressure law enforcement to treat indigenous people with the dignity and respect their cases deserve, noting, “Our girls, our people, our men are important. We shouldn’t have to be here and plead to make us important. Because we are important. We are people. We are important.” 


North Dakota State Representative Ruth Buffalo

#SheRepresents:  You won’t want to miss Native News Online‘s coverage of  Representative Ruth Buffalo, who wore her traditional regalia to her swearing in as North Dakota’s first Democratic woman in the state’s legislature.

Photo of Ruth Buffalo (Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation), during her swearing-in,
clipped from Native News Online.

Congresswoman Deb Haaland (NM)

Congratulations to Deb Haaland, the first of two Native American women to win election to the U.S. Congress.  Recent press quoted Rep. Haaland as follows:  “I think we’ve been working toward this for a long time. . . . Just because you’re the first Native woman doesn’t mean you get any breaks. . . . It’s not something that’s freely given.”

Now that she’s in Congress, Haaland wants to give Native Americans more representation on crucial issues:  “I don’t know if it’s actual legislation as much as it is just really advocating to make sure that Congress recognizes the fact that the United States has a trust responsibility to Indian tribes,” she noted. “So at every possible opportunity, I’ll work really hard to make sure tribal leaders have a seat at the table when there’s issues of importance.” Chi migwetch/heartfelt thank you for the work you will do, Rep. Haaland!

High school student, Destany “Sky” Pete, brings science and culture together

Destany Sky Pete
Destany “Sky” Pete at the International Science Fair in Los Angeles.   Photo reprinted from Indian Country Today, which credits Barbara Pete.

Here’s a report that only just caught our eye (it was carried last year by Indian Country Today) about a remarkable young Native woman scientist, Destany “Sky” Pete.

Pete’s recent science project found that chokecherries wield medicinal properties that extend beyond prior knowledge— in fact, cancer-fighting properties. (Chokecherries are a tree fruit that has been a staple among many Native American tribes for millennia.)

Pete conducted her project while a high school junior. After high school, Pete hopes to attend Stanford University and major in biology, then attend the University of California Davis Veterinary School. She hopes to return to the reservation to open up her own veterinarian practice. Pete wisely notes to the reporter that “There is so much out there in the world. You can go to college, and do anything, and then come back to your community.”

Our favorite quote from the report is this one: “I’m proud to be Native American . . . And I want people to know that science and culture can be represented together.” The Kwek Society is so proud of you, Destany “Sky” Pete, and we couldn’t agree more about the need to explore and celebrate the connections between science and culture.

Mohawk elder Katsi Cook


Here’s a delightful interview with a grandmother and midwife who has led her people in a wide array of initiatives at the intersection of women’s reproductive health issues and environmental justice. Enjoy!

Southern Cheyenne cartographer provides indigenous perspective on the high rates of missing and murdered Native women and girls

A recent report in Rewire.News discusses the work of graduate student Annita Lucchesi, a Southern Cheyenne woman.  Lucchesi has created a mapping tool that recognizes and honors the geographies in which missing and murdered Native women live and die.  As she puts it, “hand-drawn maps have great potential to reflect our ways of knowing.”

Using mainstream technology, Lucchesi seeks brings Native ways of thinking guided by community needs to her work on the Atlas of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in the United States and Canada.All My Relations by Penny Coates

“Every element of the atlas is voluntary. My hope is that it will be a model to honor people dealing with these issues, by offering skills with which they can build the work themselves,” said Lucchesi. Lucchesi asks those submitting reports of missing and murdered women to include greater depth of information than required by mainstream databases. For instance, the MMIW database includes tribal affiliation, an essential descriptor for Native people. Listings may also include information regarding life circumstances that may have led to victims going missing. To read more about Lucchesi’s important project, visit her website.

Celebrating Native Culturally-Focused Care:  Nurse Midwife Nicolle Gonzales

Nicolle Gonzales, Navajo nurse-midwife, is working within U.S. medical laws and regulations to create what she describes as the first Native culturally focused birth center on tribal lands.

Nicolle Gonzales, Navajo nurse-midwife
Nicolle Gonzales holds a baby she “caught” (in her words) from a client. Photo taken by mother, who prefers no ID. (photo and caption reprinted from Rewire.News.

Gonzales is founder and executive director of the New Mexico-based Changing Woman Initiative, received her bachelor’s of science in nursing and master’s degree in nurse-midwifery from the University of New Mexico and is a member of the American College of Nurse-Midwives and certified with the American Midwifery Certification Board.

Although eligible to practice in a conventional hospital, Gonzales envisions creating a birthing environment that is friendly and welcoming and where Native women can have ceremony, eat traditional foods surrounded by family, and reclaim their traditional ways of birthing and healing.

You can read more about her work and the work of like-minded advocates for Native women, here.


News of Note:

Seattle School Board selects first Native American superintendent in city history

As reported by The Seattle Times

Congratulations to Denise Juneau, an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation.  Ms. Juneau grew up in Billings, Mont., and later moved to Browning, the headquarters of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. She watched her parents and grandparents work in public schools, which she says made her see education as a “great equalizer.”  Her experience includes service as Montana’s state superintendent of education from 2008 to 2016. The president of the Seattle teachers union had this to say about the appointment:

“I think with her experience growing up on a reservation and her understanding of what the Native population experiences in education … she’s a better candidate to build on our work to close the opportunity gaps.”

Superintendent Denise Juneau

Chief Judge Abby Abinanti, Yurok Tribal Court, Klamath, California

Chief Judge Abby Abinanti
Chief Judge Abby Abinanti.  Photo courtesy of Abby Abinanti, as printed in the ABA Journal.

The ABA Journal’s recent coverage of Chief Judge Abinanti’s community-based, restorative approach to justice tells the story of a strong Native leader and her compelling, Native-centered approach to justice.  Here’s an excerpt:

The challenges facing litigants in Chief Judge Abby Abinanti’s court are great: poverty, geographic isolation, addiction and a legacy of occupation and oppression. Yet there is hope. And success. Abinanti presides over the Yurok Tribal Court in Klamath, California, and her community-based, restorative approach to justice, along with initiatives she helped launch and lead, are improving lives across this remote Northern California reservation. There’s a wellness program to help drug offenders, a community restitution program, and even a program for those accused of domestic violence that has a recidivism rate of zero. Abinanti’s accomplishments have been covered in a documentary film, written about in leading news outlets and, perhaps most impressively, are inspiring new approaches to jurisprudence across the nation.

You can read the full article here

Oregon State Representative Tawna Sanchez

A shout out to Oregon state representative Tawna Sanchez.  Rep. Sanchez grew up in Portland and is of Shoshone-Bannock, Ute and Carrizo descent. She is the second known Native American to serve in the Oregon legislature. (The first was our friend Jacqueline “Jackie” Taylor of Astoria, Oregon, a senator in the 1990s and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Tribal Legislature, who walked on in 2008.)


You can read more about Rep. Tawna Sanchez’s accomplishments, including her past legislative work, here.

In the 2018 five-week legislative session starting in February, Rep. Sanchez hopes to continue work on child welfare issues.

Maya Fourstar, Star Athlete

Here’s another young woman we celebrate, Maya Fourstar, from the Fort Peck Reservation.  Her story is told here.

Go Maya; The Kwek Society is cheering  you on!

Do you have thoughts on who we should feature on this page? “Leave a Reply” below!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.