International Women's Day: Honor the Strength of Indigenous Women

Indigenous women "are not only essential, but powerful," writes mother and educator Sarah Sunshine Manning for International Women's Day.
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“International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.” –United Nations

Our mark on the world as indigenous women is often told in the time-honored creation stories of our nations. Stories of formation, emergence, resilience, triumph, and grace are threaded throughout the creations stories of our people where women are not only essential, but powerful. 

The stories of Stone Mother, Sky Woman, Spider Woman, White Shell Woman, and the White Buffalo Calf Woman remind us of who we once were, and the potential of we who can become again. It is from our creation stories where our revered understanding of women transpires, and through the telling and retelling of stories that our understanding of women is bolstered and maintained: Women are sacred, and the life force of all creation. 

Yet where we stand today as indigenous women in the 21st century is in an unfortunate, complicated, and injured position, resulting from centuries of colonial assaults on our identity, assaults that disconnected entire nations from the fundamental understanding of the worth and sacredness of women. We are the backbone of nations, and yet, our backbone, today, is aching.

As a collective, we ache as single mothers who struggle to raise children alone, as abused and battered women, as women sexually assaulted, and sometimes assaulted multiple times, as women taken advantage of and dishonored by men, dishonored by society, sexualized, minimized, and dismissed, as women whose bodies still lie unfound, murdered, violated, and left behind, stories untold, spirits broken, and pains unhealed. In our world today, it is tragically normal for indigenous women to suffer so egregiously. As nations, we have lost our way.

As a collective, indigenous women we are hurting greatly, and, in many ways, our aches and pains penetrate our spirits so deeply that our children ache just as deeply, and thus as a natural consequence, entire nations ache just as deeply, too. The condition and treatment of women in Indian country must change, and the efforts to heal and honor women must be greater. 

Upon examination of our many beautiful creation stories, it is clear that our ancestors intended for us to be so much more. On this significant day set aside for reflecting on the condition of women in our world, it is of value and significance to revisit those creation stories that lift up the sacredness of women, the stories that teach us to honor the totality of women as life-givers, as nurturers of children, and builders of nations. We are all deserving of so much more, and our creation stories hold key insights to reconnecting to the strength of who we once were. 

As the Cheyenne proverb says, “A nation is not defeated until the hearts of its women are on the ground.” And though our collective hearts are by no means on the ground, for far too many indigenous women, the painful reality is that perhaps their hearts are tragically close to the ground, and for some of them their hearts may already be buried, in the literal sense. If there is any day that we can speak of this honestly, International Women’s Day is that day. Today is the day to speak of lifting indigenous women back up. 

In honor and remembrance of the women who may have never experienced a life of feeling deeply valued, sacred, and protected, and also in honor of the women who blazed the paths before us to reconnect to our power today, we owe them this much — remember them, lift up indigenous women today, as sisters, relatives, spouses, and significant others, and honor the totality of our collective worth. Women are sacred, the life force of creation, and the backbone of nations. Together, we form an energy that nurtures children, and builds entire nations. Today and every day, let us reconnect to our power as nations by honoring the sacredness of women.

Sarah Sunshine Manning

Sarah Sunshine Manning (Shoshone-Paiute, Chippewa-Cree) is a mother, educator, activist, and an advocate for youth. Follow her at @SarahSunshineM.