I was asked to write this for someone but it was never published so I am offering it to the Spirit Journey Youth blog page.
Native Women in Leadership
By Katy Yazee, Navajo Young Adult
It is hard for those of us who are Native American women to claim our leadership in society, in our tribal Nation, and in the Episcopal Church. I fit all stereotypes. I am a young mother of two awesome children with no husband. I’m in recovery from addiction, from abusive relationships, from generations of alcoholism, and from institutional racism.
Women are taking their place in all roles but not without a fight. When I go into a store that has Anglos, I get a hard stare. If it is an Anglo store worker, I am evaluated with looks and a sneer or questioning look. If it is a man, I am looked up and down like I am for sale. If I have my children with me, we are treated as if we are invisible or we get racist side comments loud enough for us to here. My young daughter wants to stay in the car rather than go into some of those stores.
When I turned eighteen, Kaze, our youth missioner asked if I would be part of the leadership team. Although I said ‘yes’ I was so scared that I was sick in my stomach and head. I visited my grandmother in my mind and asked her if there was any use my doing this. All the stories she told me when she was alive came back to me and I decided it was what I needed to do to put myself back in balance with the good.
Two of my cousins and I started taking weekend trainings on how to stand and talk and budget our time and money. It was some of the hardest things I had to learn. We were taught how to look at assumptions behind what people said and to be able to talk through the context of anything we wanted to do. For myself, learning how to lead a workshop and to reflect deeply on everything we did changed me.
I started writing and posting my poetry. My reading list changed and I began reading books with lots of meaning. It became easier for me to talk with others. I began taking online classes at the community college. But we still had not gone out to meet strangers.
That changed when we went to our week training program in Colorado. We visited hospitals, realtors, retail stores and companies. No one looked at us like we were freaks. We were sponsored by members of the congregations and it was the best I have ever been treated. People looked at me with respect, especially when I told them that I was taking college courses.
After the training, I used what I had learned to get a job in Flagstaff in a retail shop as an assistant manager. The owner said she hired me because I was confident in myself and could answer my questions with some depth to them.
Lots of people from our distant Church family sent me good clothes for my work. I have discovered that if I am wearing my good clothes when I go into a store or a Church, people treat me better. At first, I thought that it was money that made the difference.
It does matter what I wear. It means that I can only wear jeans and a tee shirt if I am among friends if I want to be accepted as someone. And I still hear racist comments even when I wear a suit. That doesn’t change.
What has changed is that I feel good about myself. I can express myself. I am well read. I am getting a college education. I have a good job. I am doing really good with my kids. And I know how to reflect with meaning. The Church is not offering me leadership responsibility but maybe that is my fault because I don’t have much time to do much with all that I do. If I moved to the Rez which I am not going to do, I bet I could make a difference.
Women still have to fight to get a place in our society but I have a chance now to accept new roles. I have a long way to go but I think that our church is ready to accept more Native women. The intensive leadership training program of the Spirit Journey Youth has been the best thing that has happened to women.