Latisha Casas

Treasurer, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians

National Women’s History Month only officially began in March 1987 in the United States, but we know that Native women on this continent played an immeasurable role within their Indigenous nations long before this country was established.

More than two hundred years since contact with Europeans, our tribe, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, a band of Serrano Indians, adapted to an ever-changing world and remained resilient in the face of great adversity. The way that San Manuel, especially the female members, managed through these multigenerational hardships is the reason I am able to flourish today as a proud Native woman.

With the coming of foreign powers onto our territory, Native men were pulled away from their communities by the mission system and early California state laws leading to unjust incarcerations and forced labor.

Later, our separation was further compounded by violent military conflicts both at home and overseas which continually separated us from our fathers, sons and brothers. In their absence, Native women stepped into leadership roles and worked to sustain their communities culturally, economically, and politically all while still fulfilling their caretaker roles.

Growing up, I was very close with my Tutu (grandmother) Martha Manuel Chacon. She previously served as chairperson of the tribe and taught me about the hardships that our people went through and sacrifices that had to be made in order to survive. In fact, I am one of the last generations to have lived life in the high level of poverty that we endured in the century following the establishment of our reservation in 1891.

These experiences taught me to value even more the culture and traditions that enabled us to survive. My grandmother and my mother Carla Rodriguez, a recent San Manuel chairperson, reminded me to never take for granted what the Creator has provided and to make sure we secure the future for generations to come.

So at 18, I made a promise to my Tutu to go back to school, get an education and bring that education back to the tribe. I am now the treasurer for the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, which is an elected officer of the seven-member business committee where I currently serve with four other amazing tribal women.

Each business committee member looks to women leaders in their families who set out a path for service just as my mother and grandmother had done for me.

My story is being replicated in other tribal nations and communities across this country each day. Native women, young and old, are making significant contributions to their Indian nations today, enabling their governments, communities, and families to grow and secure a future for their seven generations.

As I reflect on the meaning of National Women’s History Month, I respect the gains women in my tribe have made over just a few generations. This inspires my further commitment to ensuring future generations will have the same opportunities for growth in leadership and society passed onto me by my elders and ancestors.

I honor all the elected women of the tribe and recognize the predominately-female framers who drafted and adopted our tribal governing documents for their lasting impact in this foundational work.

My grandmother, mother and all women leaders paved the way for the Serrano women of San Manuel and I will do all I can to carry on their incredible legacy.

In her leadership role as part of the business committee, the elected officers of the tribe, Latisha Casas is a key leader in the formulation of strategies, overseeing and maintaining the financial health of the tribal government as well as the tribe’s enterprises and investment portfolio.