Over the summer, I was fortunate enough to enroll in the Navajo Nation Cultural Immersion Service Learning program through our Global Opportunities Office. We spent two weeks on the Navajo Nation, doing service work, being educated about Navajo cultures and experiences, and touring the area. It was an incredible experience and I learned a lot of wonderful things. I thought I’d highlight some of the experiences that are most closely related to the work we do in the Women’s Center.
The Kinaalda Ceremony
The Kinaalda ceremony is the celebration of a young woman’s first menstruation. Although not everyone choose to practice this ceremony, it traditionally lasts four days and ends with a ceremony that lasts the entire evening. This website provides a great overview. It was really neat to see such a different cultural take on menstruation. Western culture treats menstruation as something dirty and shameful that should be hidden. I loved to imagine what a difference it would make if all of us were raised to celebrate and value menstruation as an important part of life.
Navajo society is matrilineal! This means that families trace their lines through the mother. Western U.S. society is patrilineal (this is clear in the traditions we have, such as a wife and children taking the husband’s/father’s last name). In Navajo society, a person identifies themselves with the names of their four clans beginning with their mother’s clan. One is from their mother’s clan, born for their father’s clan, and then the maternal and paternal grandfathers’ clans.
To learn more about the histories of Indigenous women, I recommend the documentary A Thousand Voices.
Miss Navajo is a pageant that was inspired by Miss America, but is very different! Miss Navajo Nation is a pageant that focuses on contestants showcasing their knowledge of traditional Navajo talents. Contestants must be able to speak Navajo, butcher a sheep, and engage in other traditional talents such as singing or dancing. Girls and young women can compete in these types of royalty pageants from very young ages, learning traditional skills and being rewarded for their knowledge.
Navajo Women are Making a Difference!
In preparation from our trip I researched a number of different people who are taking a stand against injustice in their communities. The first is a young woman named Jamie Lynn Butler. Here’s a video which features Jamie talking about the work she has done to preserve our environment.
Next is Amanda Blackhorse. Amanda is a Navajo plaintiff in a case filed against the Washington Redsk*ns football team. Democracy Now has an interview with Blackhorse in which she eloquently explains the reasons that the name is so offensive. Because of this case, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the football team’s trademark registration. This doesn’t force the team to change their name, but it does make it hard for them to protect their name from third party use. As of now the team still refuses to change their name.
And Valerie Taliman! She is the president of Three Sisters Media and wrote a five part series for Indian Country Today on the deaths of hundreds of Native women for which she won a NAJA’s (Native American Journalist Association) Richard LaCourse Award. Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is a huge problem. Futures Without Violence offers these shocking statistics:
”American Indian women residing on Indian reservations suffer domestic violence and physical assault at rates far exceeding women of other ethnicities and locations. A 2004 Department of Justice report estimates these assault rates to be as much as 50% higher than the next most victimized demographic.”
”Federal government studies have consistently shown that American Indian women experience much higher levels of sexual violence than other women in the U.S. Data gathered by the U.S. Department of Justice indicates that Native American and Alaskan Native women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the USA in general (5 vs. 2 per 1,000).”
This is an epidemic of violence that we need to be aware of and push our government to address! The 2013 re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provided some protection for Native American women, but we still have a long way to go.
After reading this post, I encourage you to continue to educate yourself about the issues that Indigenous communities are facing around the country and the world. We can’t make things better if we don’t know the problems!
Sarah Tucker Jenkins
Women’s Center Program Coordinator