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Carrying on the legacy

Women;s leadership conference to bring female tribal leaders together

SALT RIVER INDIAN COMMUNITY, Ariz. - The late Cherokee educational leader Bette L. Haskins had a vision that one day American Indian women would be given the opportunity to become leaders.

Haskins, who once worked as an Indian education specialist with the BIA in Washington, D.C., and was a director of the American Indian program at Harvard University during the 1980s and '90s, founded the Heart of the American Indian Women's Network.

It was when she worked at Harvard that she founded the network in 1988. Haskins, a native of Enid, Okla., wanted an organization that would give American Indian women a forum for debate, a platform to discuss their views and issues, and an opportunity to mentor and network.

''We have 1.3 million Indian women today; 1.2 million of them live in despair,'' Haskins once said as she addressed the network members during the fall 1999 conference. ''My heart goes out to you, ladies; the challenge is yours because you have the potential to touch other Indian women's lives.''

This year, Diane Enos, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community president, is scheduled to welcome members of the network during the first day of its annual conference in Scottsdale.

The 19th Annual Heart of the American Indian's Network Leadership Conference will be held April 7 - 8 at Chaparral Suites Resort in Scottsdale.

Conference events begin with registration at 7:30 a.m. April 7 and an introduction by the network's chairman, Mevelyn Kirkpatrick, Chickasaw.

Enos will welcome the female American Indian leaders who gather annually to continue the vision of Haskins, who died of ovarian cancer in March of 2000.

Chickasaw Doretta Sellers, this year's conference organizer and longtime network member, said: ''Each year, female tribal leaders gather to discuss issues and problems their tribes are facing. Many times we have found that tribes have the same obstacles to overcome and it is interesting and informative to learn of the various ways each tribe handles a situation.''

She said that every other year, the network conference organizers ''try to alternate'' holding the conference one year on the East Coast and the next on the West Coast.

Sellers added that network members are excited that next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the network's creation, and they plan to commemorate it a special way.

''We plan to hold our conference at the site of its origin: Harvard University,'' Sellers said.

Various American Indian tribes have hosted prior conferences, such as the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians of Oregon, the Coquille Indian Tribe of Oregon, the Navajo Nation, the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and the Powhatan Nation in New Jersey.

Other conference sites include the Harvard campus in Massachusetts; Mashantucket, Conn.; Oklahoma City; Palm Springs, Calif.; Seminole, Fla.; and Washington, D.C.

There are approximately 110 members across the country, and American Indian women who are heads of state or on tribal councils are automatic members.

The network members and conference organizers welcome all women tribal leaders and those interested in leadership positions within their tribe, state or national government to attend the conference.

The deadline to submit the conference fee of $175 is March 15. For more information on the conference, call Sellers at (580) 436-1460.