Celebrating Indigenous Women on International Women's Day
Today, March 8th is recognized as International Women's Day. In response, we have decided to recognize three Native American Women who have stood up for what they believe in and advocated for their fellow indigenous women.
Lorelei Williams: Born a member of the Saktin and Sts’ailes First Nations (now living in Vancouver, B.C.). Lorelei has been a strong advocate for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s movement. Both Lorelei’s cousin Tanya Holyk and aunt Belinda Williams have disappeared. Belinda went missing three years before Lorelei was born, and Tanya was murdered in 2002 by the Canadian serial killer Robert Pickton. Williams’ own family experience with missing and murdered women is the driving force behind her wanting justice for other families and raising awareness. In 2012, Lorelei founded the “Butterflies in Spirit,” a dance group where she builds awareness of how dance can be utilized as a healing practice for indigenous survivors and their families. Since its inception, Butterflies in Spirit has performed over 100 times to spread its message. Williams won the Samara Canada’s Everyday Political Citizen of the Year award for her advocacy work.
Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte: Born in 1865, Dr. La Flesche was credited as the first Native American Woman to receive a medical degree. Born on the Omaha Reservation to Chief Joseph La Flesche (Iron Eyes) and his wife Mary, education was very important to Dr. La Flesche. She was inspired to become a physician at a very early age. As a child, she witnessed a Native woman die because a local white doctor refused to care for her. While serving as a teacher on the Omaha Reservation, Dr. La Flesche decided to enroll at the Hampton Institute, one of the first (and best) schools educating non-white students. Eventually, La Flesche attended the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP) upon the advice of Hampton Institute’s Resident Physician. With the help of a former colleague, La Flesche secured a scholarship for her professional degree, becoming the first person to receive federal aid for a professional degree. Dr. La Flesche treated over 1300 patients across 450 square miles throughout her career. Eventually, she also opened a hospital in the reservation town of Walthill, Nebraska. Through her intelligence and perseverance, Dr. La Flesche conquered a lot of barriers faced by Native American women and became a role model for many young Native women seeking to go into the medical field.
Sarah Winnemucca: Born in 1844 in what is now considered Nevada, to a line of Chiefs of the Northern Paiute, Sarah grew up knowing five languages. Due to her vast linguistic skills, Sarah served as an interpreter at both Fort McDermitt and on the Malheur Reservation. In 1878, Sarah began to advocate for Native American lands and systemic improvements. The following year, she lectured in San Francisco about the plight of Native Americans and the injustices faced at the hands of Reservation Agents and The United States Government. Eventually, Winnemucca traveled to Washington D.C. to lobby for the release of Paiute people who were taken prisoner after the Bannock War. A few years later, she wrote what is often credited as the first autobiography written by a Native American Woman, Life Among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims. After her book was published, Sarah went on a tour of the Eastern United States, giving lectures on her people. Eventually, she returned to Nevada and founded a school for Native children in Lovelock. The Paiute people recognize her for her social work and activism for indigenous rights.
The three women listed are among the long list of strong Native American women who not only have worked toward a better life for Native Americans but serve as an inspiration for future generations of Native American women who seek to make the world a better place. For this, we strive to honor the three women listed in today’s blog post and seek to remember the sacredness of women everywhere.