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Kalle Benallie
Indian Country Today

Five women from the “Indigenous Matriarchs” LGBTQIA+ roundtable bonded in a personal conversation about what it’s like in their community.

Diné Pride Executive Director, Alray Nelson, said “Our Indigenous mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters are to be uplifted, protected, and honored as the matriarchs of our Sovereign Nations. Only through the leadership of our Native Women can we remain resilient.”

The Navajo Nation celebrated the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and two-spirit community and its allies from June 14 to 20. The “Indigenous Matriarchs” roundtable was streamed on Facebook and Youtube on June 16.

Josie Raphaelito, program director, (she/her) Diné & queer, acted as the moderator and said it’s hard to gather Indigenous queer women together. The roundtable, ranging in ages, tribes and locations, allows her more than ever to hear from different perspectives in the community.

“Being able to bring all of us here together is such a special moment for me, where, I’m like, super pumped,” she said.

Diné Pride parade on the Navajo Nation, June 2021. (Photo courtesy of Carey Tully)
“Indigenous Matriarchs” LGBTQIA+ roundtable on June 16, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Navajo Nation Pride livestream)

Here’s how they began learning about the LGBTQIA+ community and their journey’s as Indigenous LGBTQIA+ women.

Katie Holtsoi (she/her) Diné 

Holtsoi is a student at Arizona State University, studying public policy. She said she hopes to be the first Indigenous mayor in Gallup, New Mexico and someday be the first queer Navajo Nation president. Since Holtsoi grew up with family members who are part of the community, it was easier to learn about it. But she still seeks to learn more about different identities from other tribes, particularly from tribal knowledge.

She thinks a big step in having kinship is expanding the Navajo language vocabulary to be inclusive, and reaching out in areas where many tribes and non-Indigenous people reside.

If she could talk to her younger self, she would tell her that she could make a difference by just existing.

“Just being vocal in whatever form that is, I think is very crucial to authenticity and being out and proud,” Holtsoi said.

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Jessica C. Shutiva (she/ her) Diné, Acoma Pueblo and Chamorro

Shutiva has competed and mentored in the motocross community, worked as a freelance photographer, and currently works in human resources.

She said she knew she was different growing up and took a while to tell her family. However, they said they knew already and continued to support her.

Shutiva began doing her own research and sought information at libraries after learning about Native LGBTQIA+ youth suicides and violence through local newspapers, online and documentaries. She envisions the LGBTQIA+ communities will make their way back to Indigenous culture through pride events and panels. Shutiva said this panel in a way has put them in a leadership position and there is an opportunity to help others. If she could talk to her younger self, she would say to learn to embrace everything about their life’s journey, including the negative, because it could make you better and stronger.

“Love really wins. Everybody needs to learn how to be accepting and [embracing] because we really are one race and be open to that. Take the time to learn. We’re just one big amazing family,” Shutiva said.

Angelita Jim (she/her)

Jim is currently going to school for physical therapy. Growing up she learned about the community through social media. She didn’t learn what two spirited meant until her father explained it to her. She pictures the community having a place in her culture, particularly in ceremonies, that will impact the younger generations. If she could talk to her younger self, she would tell her to be patient with others, that she’s strong and beautiful.

“Who you love and who loves you does not validate your worth. Advocate for every single person, every walks of life because that’s what your ancestors did and that’s what you need to do,” Jim said.

Dacia Johnson (she/her) Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

Johnson is a journalist who works with 12News in Phoenix. She said she wants to tell more Native stories in Arizona and across the country, especially as the only person in a newsroom who is Indigenous.

She discovered the community through social media and was a “watcher” for a long time until she recently came out within the last few years. She hopes to understand more about the history of her tribe and sees the roundtable as a great first step in helping her connect with her roots.

If she could talk to her younger self, she would tell her to stop hiding, and love who she is. Yet, she sees how her journey has brought her to where she is.

“Being completely myself has been wonderful. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I’m doing the best work I’ve ever done,” Johnson said.

Audrey Yazzie (she/her)

Yazzie works at the Cornfields Chapter House in Arizona. She recently came out to her extended family and hopes to represent being queer on tribal land. She learned about the community through the media and self-educating herself. She hopes that sometime in the future there will be a resource center on the reservation that will guide and help youth.

If she could talk to her younger self, she would tell her not to worry about her extended family’s reaction because they would accept and support her anyways.

“Being a queer person who is now 30, I’m out and I’m proud. Now since coming out to my extended family, I hope I’m some type of role model for the younger generation to show them that there is a positive outcome for when you get older--to not live in fear and not to have second thoughts and be your authentic self,” Yazzie said. 

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