Even though this story was published nearly four years
ago, it remains timely and with good lessons.
Group seeks solidarity among Indian women
by Emily Johns, AP
MINNEAPOLIS - When Susan
Masten first campaigned to lead California's Yurok tribe, she was up
against five men. One told her she wasn't qualified because she was
still "playing with Barbie dolls."
"No one would make that kind of remark about a tribal male," Masten
Though she lost that race, Masten went on to victory in 1997. But she
never forgot the insult.
Since then, Masten said she's been intent on helping American Indian
women establish their own network, supporting each other for jobs,
working to get each other elected, even buying goods and services from
Last year, when her term as chairwoman expired, she founded the group
Women Empowering Women for Indian Nations, which begins a national,
three-day conference in Minneapolis Thursday. The meeting, which is
expected to draw 200 participants, is seen as a way for American Indian
women to trade ideas on everything from protecting tribal sovereignty to
Melanie Benjamin, chief
executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and co-founder of the group,
said she would share some of her experiences running for office, which
still represents a challenge for many women.
"If we can share knowledge with others for the benefit of Indian
Country, that in itself is something that would be a high
accomplishment," said Benjamin, one of four women running tribes in
Cecelia Fire Thunder, who took office seven months ago as the first
woman president of South Dakota's Oglala Sioux Tribe, said it's not only
men who resist being led by women. Some women also don't have confidence
in their female leaders.
"I try to convey to women
that leadership is not about gender, it's about ability," said Fire
Thunder, who also will speak at the conference. "I like to think that I
was chosen by the people. It was based on who I was and what I stand
for, and that people trusted me."
Organizers said they plan to start regional and local chapters of the
group so members can have women to turn to on a daily basis. They can
also teach younger girls how to work together so future generations of
women leaders will be successful.
Organizers want to collaborate with other women's groups, as well. One
powerful group invited to the conference is Women in Public Policy, a
bipartisan public policy group in Washington that helps women business
leaders understand public policy and gain access to lawmakers.
Barbara Kasoff, that group's co-founder and chief operating officer,
said she'll talk about the appropriate way to approach lawmakers, an
important part of the job for many American Indian leaders. The worst
time to contact a senator is when you're in trouble, she said.
advice: Establish a relationship. Set up a meeting. Leave behind reading
material. Follow up with a thank-you note.
"They first need to have a seat at the table, then they need to learn to
maximize their power and leverage," Kasoff said. "That gives the women
themselves great visibility in their communities and recognition as
Masten, who is past president of the National Congress of American
Indians, said she hopes the women at the conference will learn to back
each other up when they run into trouble.
She recalled talking several years ago with a male tribal leader and
several women. When one of the women criticized the man, another man in
the tribe approached them.
"The male came up and said, 'You're not going to talk about him that
way, he works very hard and he doesn't deserve for anyone to say
anything about it,'" Masten said.
She said that's what she wants to have happen with women someday.
"We're the ones who give
life, and we're the ones who have a vision for creating a better place
for our children," Masten said. "Those are really good traits that we
need to encourage and uplift and support."
Women Empowering Women for Indian Nations
43408 Oodena Drive
Onamia, MN 56359
Walters of Television's 20/20 did
a story on gender roles in Kabul, Afghanistan several
years before the
Afghan conflict. She noted that women customarily walked five
paces behind their husbands.
She recently returned to Kabul and observed
that women still walk
behind their husbands. From Miss Walters' vantage point, despite
the overthrow of the oppressive Taliban regime, the women now seem
to walk even further back behind their husbands, and are happy
to maintain the old
approached one of the Afghani women and asked, 'Why
do you now seem happy with an old custom that you once
tried so desperately to change?'
The woman looked Miss Walters straight in the eyes, and without
hesitation said, 'Land Mines.'
Moral of the story is (no matter where you go) behind
every man, there is a smart woman.