Reflections on Women’s History Month: Standing with Indigenous Women
Since March 1987, Women’s History Month has offered an opportunity to reflect on the contributions of women to our society. This year, I have been reflecting on the contributions made by the Indigenous women whose knowledge, traditions, and lands I benefit from. As a DEI consultant, one of the most transformative tools I use is Circle Practice, a technique rooted in Indigenous traditions that invites participants to speak and listen to one another in an atmosphere of bravery and equality. My knowledge of these origins prompted me to look more closely at the contributions of Indigenous women this month, and more closely consider how I, as a white woman, can give back, lift up, and support Indigenous women in overcoming the struggles they continue to face in the aftermath of colonization.
While white suffragists like Susan B. Anthony are credited with pioneering the women’s rights movement, what we don’t often hear about are the ways they drew inspiration from Indigenous Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy women to develop the vision for what would become the women’s suffrage movement. White women of the suffrage movement were inspired by the ways Indigenous women held power and looked to Haudenosaunee women as a model for how other women could attain social, economic and political power. We’ll never know how far the suffragettes would have gotten or what women’s rights would look like today without the example given by Indigenous people. For this alone, American women today owe a huge debt of gratitude and recognition to the Indigenous people who taught us what gender equality can look like.
In today’s struggles for gender equality, the voices and experiences of Indigenous women continue to be eclipsed by those of white women. We know, for example, that gender-based violence impacts all women. Yet there are huge disparities in how media and law enforcement respond to missing persons based on their race. I’m sure we can all think of several examples of missing or murdered white women that have made national or international news. But how many of us can name even one missing or murdered Indigenous woman? I would argue it’s a shameful few, myself included. How can this be true when Indigenous women and girls are murdered at a rate 10 times higher than the national average? And knowing that the vast majority of these crimes are committed by people who are not part of the Indigenous community?
Where mainstream media and law enforcement have failed, Indigenous women all over the United States have started a movement to spread awareness and change laws to help combat this problem. But they are finding little media attention and little support from white women. Where is our outrage? Why do we so easily accept this injustice against our sisters? Why are we not taking up their cause as our own?
In DEI work, we learn to look at our experiences through a lens of intersectionality. It is through this lens that we, as women, can begin to understand how gender, race, class, sexuality, ability, and other factors come together to enable and perpetuate violence against women of all walks of life. It is through this lens that we can better understand our own biases towards women who look or act like us, and begin to develop the capacity to be better feminists—intersectional feminists—who understand that oppression can be overlapping. There is so much shared experience that unites all women living under patriarchy, and we must move beyond seeing Indigenous women’s suffering as a “them” problem and address it as an “us” problem. As white women, we have the privilege of being listened to, so we must use that privilege to lift up and support the Indigenous women who are fighting for justice.
Given the immeasurable benefits we have received from Indigenous women, doing the work on both systemic and individual levels to support them is the least that we can do.
*Photo by Dulcey Lima on Unsplash