Indigenous women are asked to fit into their organizations. Sometimes it's with simple questions, and it's uncomfortable to confront something so subtle, systemic, and troubling. The burden of proof to expose disparity typically falls on members who are already burdened enough.
One in three Indigenous women will be raped in her lifetime, and we're murdered at a rate ten times higher than the national average. Six out of ten will be physically assaulted. It's obvious that these disparities follow us into a room, a job, a community, and an organization.
The ways women are asked to fit in are subtle. It's a nuanced and systemic issue that shows an organization's gender perceptions and lack. There are invisible and visible lines that discourage an Indigenous woman's success in the world.
You could qualify every Indigenous woman in a room as a survivor for simply working and living against odds that aren't present for so many. Does our disparity change the way men interact with us? I believe so.
"I've seen men simply repeat our ideas and garner attention we'd never receive."
There are a lot of kind, educated, empowering and reasonable men in our communities, but sometimes they fail to acknowledge what we deal with. Sometimes there's so few of us working at an organization that we become representative of Native American Women concerning every issue, no matter our personal experiences, or specializations, or politics on representation.
It's not usually intentional, but we are often given the task to problem solve and work behind the scenes, because people need a woman like that around, but the only people benefitting from our work usually undervalue it.
I've seen men simply repeat our ideas and garner attention we'd never receive. We eventually get ours, but usually, we have to be so persistent about our own faculties and values that we're deemed overly aggressive.
For Indigenous women authors, we're usually labeled as 'powerful' or 'strong' or 'brave,' but I've never heard a male author introduced as such. It's as if our own voices are brave for simply articulating our experiences. I believe it's become so familiar and disingenuous that it's lost all meaning for me.
"We should hold each other up. Maybe holding each other up is the only thing we can do sometimes."
Our work is often discouraged when it is sentimental, but when we draw romantic imagery of our people, plight, or the old ways, it's lauded as 'brutal' and 'heart-wrenching.' It's a strange thing.
It's not just men who use their positions to discourage us.
At my own residency as a graduate a mentor I admired introduced herself and exchanged contact information with my white husband, and then failed to ask me for mine every semester -- for two years.
We should hold each other up.
Maybe holding each other up is the only thing we can do sometimes. Without my mentors at the Institute of American Indian Arts I wouldn't have honed my work or seen it published. Men played roles in my success, but seeing other Indigenous women write, speak, and work within the organizations I'm part of has empowered me.
"We aren't your happy helpers."
I don't think some of the men in our spaces know that acclaimed women authors, academics, and peers, wonder sometimes if we aren't pretty enough, thin enough, polite enough, or able to navigate our spaces, and stay in good favor with the people we work with.
Some men don't realize that we are often asked to hide our pain or criticisms until we move up in the world, at a time when opinions can't be dismissed. We're asked to wait when we should be wielding our power any time we see fit.
We aren't your happy helpers.
You are going to make us coffee henceforth. Some of you already do, and you're truly amazing for that selfless effort.
Our voices are not tokens.
We have earned positions of power.
Your boy's club is done.
There's a way to carry dialogue that benefits both of us, but it honestly feels paternalistic when you're too quick to explain things.
We know you're well intentioned, but if you're ever working on a project and you haven't included an Indigenous woman, it might be lacking some potency and dynamism.
We're going to be important to you if we aren't already, and you're going to need us. I'd say you should pay us what we're worth and extend the same benefits and attention to us as you do with them.
Some of you are our brothers, and we need you too. Some of you know how being an outcast can feel, and we'd like to be acknowledged.
The community is stronger together, absent of discrimination or the gender perceptions that hurt us.
I'll close with a link to Ramona Emerson's work, which could use love, support, and funding. A woman who has a book to publish and work to do--nothing can stop her, but I believe we exist in a community full of members who can help:
Her new film will be released by PBS in November.
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