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Women Are Our Strongest Warriors

As a Native American man, and as a man who tries to live my life as a warrior, I would be nothing without the loving guidance of Native women that I know and care about. Every step I have taken to try and succeed or blaze a trail for Native people, my wife Delores has guided each one before I have even put on my shoes in the morning.

I recently returned from Washington, DC after an incredible Native American Journalists Association Conference, the White House Tribal Youth Gathering and during a time where two women Native Warriors, Suzan Shown Harjo and Amanda Blackhorse were able to feel the success of years of dedication and hard work in which the Washington Redskins were once again reminded that their name is indeed a racial slur.

I was able to hear straight from these two amazing women as to how their years of hard work, have finally began to show fruition.

I spoke with Amanda Blackhorse the morning after the Redskins trademark ruling and held a plethora of newspaper’s with front page headlines and stories on the decision. I looked at Amanda who was most assuredly smiling with a huge sense of relief, I thought to myself, “wow, they did it!”

I later heard Suzan Harjo speaking at an outbreak session about the decision and stood in awe as I saw the decades of hard work sitting before me. The amount of respect I felt toward Suzan Harjo as an elder is impossible to describe (in English words anyway.)

During the rest of the conference, I was surrounded by consistently amazing warriors in the field – and yes, they were all Native women. Yes, of course there were men who were also doing hard work, but in my opinion the women stood out.

Our ICTMN’s own correspondent Suzette Brewer took home the Richard LaCourse Award for her work on the Indian Child Welfare Act. (Congrats!)

I watched such trailblazers as Mary Hudetz, Rebecca Landsberry, Patty Talahongva, Suzanne Gamboa, Loris Taylor, Teresa Lamsam and many many many more Native women warriors step up to the plate and delivered a collective grand slam. After everything was said and done, the NAJA conference as far as I could tell, went on flawlessly.

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In Mohawk culture, chiefs are only able to hold on to their positions as long as they are acting in a way that is approved by women elders. The council of women, if they are not happy, can remove the chief from his position. I think that is the way it should be. Like it or not fellow men, we need to be kept in line.

So as a Native man, I just want the sacred women warriors who are out there to know, that you have my profound admiration and appreciation for your incredible ability to deal with us men. I KNOW we can be frustrating.

All said, I will leave you with the words I told to Suzan Harjo. After the NAJA Awards dinner, we had a few moments after I had taken a few hundred photos over the course of the evening. She seemed to be taking in the energy of a great week that would be coming to an end. Her face seemed proud of an incredible gathering of Native people who were working toward a common good.

I am paraphrasing what I said, but I will do my best to repeat it.

I said, “Mrs. Harjo, you are like my Tota’ (Mohawk Grandmother, though not necessarily by blood) and you are the Tota of Indian Country. I cannot even tell you how much I respect you, and how much I appreciate what you have done for Indian Country.”

“In my opinion, just as in the same way we look back at our warrior ancestors such as Sitting Bull, in 200 years, I believe our ancestors will look back at you and think of you in the same way. You and Amanda are the ancestors and warriors that our descendants will look back on as the warriors of their day.”

She looked at me and said, “Thank you Vincent,” and smiled. It was a small moment, but I will never forget it as long as I live.

Follow Vincent Schilling on Twitter.