2023 Remembering Our Sisters Week Recap

February 8, 2023The Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) virtually gathered the Remembering Our Sisters Fellows to begin their journey into the 6-month fellowship. Throughout the week, Danielle Fixico, Autumn Mcmillan, Rachel Janis, Mackenzie Sleeman, Mercedes Danforth-Hernandez, and Kami Jo Whiteclay participated in various training and knowledge-sharing sessions led by CNAY staff and various leaders within the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Girls and Two Spirit + (MMIWG2S+) movement. These sessions were focused on understanding the MMIWGS2+ movement, the many ways to advocate within it, historical trauma, narrative sharing, Indigenous leadership, and enhancing photography, film, podcast, and other digital art and storytelling skills.

Fellows started off their week in a welcome session with the CNAY staff.  The fellows and staff got to know one another better and everyone presented an item to the group that represented love and safety. Stories and laughs were shared behind significant items, which included pieces of traditional clothing, medicine, books, dolls, and more. Fellows also participated in a writing workshop that focused on the power of one’s story and Indigenous leadership to set a grounding for the week ahead. Writing prompts included medicine I carry, superpower, opportunities to grow, and questions about themselves and the MMIWG2S+ movement.

On Tuesday, the fellows were joined by Executive Director of the Native Wellness Institute (NWI) Jillene Joseph (Aaniiih) for a discussion on historical trauma and healing. Jillene introduced the history behind trauma within Native communities, stating that, “We have to talk about trauma in order to heal.” The fellows dived into the conversation by sharing how trauma is still prevalent within their communities, but there is little to no conversation to address it. This led to a discussion on the importance of being a good relative to others and oneself in order to, “let go, forgive, and move forward.” Jillene encouraged the cohort to practice self-care and recognize that healing is not an overnight journey and may look different each day. She shared a self-care method with the fellows to recognize how they were feeling and to do one healthy practice a day that would uplift themselves. Jillene shared final words with the cohort stating, “Your fellowship is collective healing, is creating an impact, and is the gift that keeps on giving,” and reminded the fellows that their healing is an act of resistance, love, and self-care.

The following evening was focused on filmmaking within the MMIWG2S+ movement and included two inspiring guest presenters. Leya Hale (Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota and Diné Nations) is a documentary filmmaker that created the documentary Bring Her Home. The film follows three Indigenous women – an artist, an activist, and a politician – as they fight to honor their missing and murdered relatives and channel healing through their advocacy. Leya shared her passion for film and Indigenous storytelling, the inspiration behind creating Bring Her Home, raising awareness for the MMIWG2S+ epidemic, and the need for more Native representation in film. She also shared with the cohort tips on how they can create their own film and that impacts from filmography can come from many perspectives. She relayed that all you have to do is to start small, plan out your story, and the importance of getting permission when it comes to creating a documentary. Leya encouraged the fellows to follow their own vision and that more Indigenous women filmmakers were needed.

After hearing Leya’s inspirational words and tips the evening transitioned into the next session, “Art is Activism.” The fellows were joined by guest speaker, Agnes Yellow Bear (Kawacatoose First Nation) is an advocate and seamstress, known best for utilizing her art and platform to bring awareness to issues across Indian Country. Through her art, she has honored missing and murdered relatives, created skirts for the families of those who have gone missing, and has been helpful in guiding those interested, to understand intentional advocacy. Agnes shared her story and inspiration for the MMIWG2S+ movement, advised on the protocol and respect of sharing stories, the importance of listening, and to lead with a good heart. She also reminded the fellows that they are already leaders. 

Fellows shared space with photographer Jennifer Buckley (Chippewa Cree), most known for the MMIW Montana Billboard Project. A self-taught photographer, who has photographed many projects, Jennifer captures portraits of women and relatives with the symbolic MMIW handprint. These portraits are then used for billboards across Montana to bring awareness to the epidemic. Jennifer shared her feelings and the barriers she faced as someone new to activism and photography. She decided to accept the challenge of “if not me then who?” and despite self-doubt, was able to create something that would lead to an important impact within the MMIWG2S+ movement. Jennifer encouraged the fellows to take healthy risks and how to utilize photography as a form of advocacy.

This memorable ROS week concluded with a reflection workshop and a talking circle. The fellows shared their key takeaways from guest speakers and discussions, how they will best apply their new learnings towards their MMIWG2S+ awareness projects, and what they enjoyed most from ROS week. After brainstorming potential project ideas together, the fellows and staff shared a moment of intentionality and shared their hopes and visions for this experience.