Open Letter to Native Youth: The Power of Matriarchs
Dear Native Youth,
My entire life I have been surrounded by women – my mom, my tias, my auntie mommas, my sisters- and I consider myself lucky. I have seen women in action since I can first recall the smell of freshly cleaned laundry in the air or the sight of wood burning under a cooking chickee or the sound of a keyboard clicking and clacking late at night. There was always work to do, but opportunities for hugs or laughs were never missed. Despite patriarchal influences, I was never told to not be great or to not take up space. In fact, I was taught the very opposite – to be big, unapologetic, brave, and loud. The importance of education, culture and ancestry was instilled in me as a little girl. I was encouraged to pursue a career, but to always remember who I was, where I came from, and those that came before me. The traditional roles of women in both Seminole and Chilean cultures have been challenged by western patriarchal standards, but the women who raised me challenged those standards and lived the lives they wanted. They went to school, built careers, and had families. My upbringing was unique in that the heads of my Seminole side and my Chilean side were women, a matriarchy. Society may have its set ways, but my family has its own. I was raised with tender hands, strong minds, loving words, and the kindest patience from the women in my life. I am the product of Seminole and Chilean women.
I look around me and find myself in the same moment again and again- surrounded by women. My upbringing, my reign as Miss Indian World, and now as an employee with the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY). I think back to the values and foundation I was taught as a young girl, and I see those very pillars in my workspace. Those pillars being trust, respect, generosity, thoughtfulness, prayer, ceremony, and love. As Indigenous people, we are taught the lesson of reciprocity and to be mindful of future generations. There is a generational transition of knowledge, lessons, and even jokes that happens within our communities, and that is mirrored within CNAY. Our team is made up of women spanning generations, perspectives, and backgrounds, but at the core of our team is a genuine love for our people. We stay grounded in our mission to give youth full, healthy lives grounded in their culture. When I look at our team, I do not see co-workers or supervisors or even a hierarchy of positions amongst us. I see aunties and sisters with the same kindness, patience, and strength that my blood relatives carry. We are a team of matriarchs.
Do you remember being a child and being curious about everything? Asking questions about every thought that crossed your mind? This is the first phase of our life, being a knowledge seeker. We look forward to hearing stories before bedtime and we marvel at every answer to every question we have. As we grow into our adulthood, we experience life and lessons, our perspectives expand, and we find ourselves looking for a place to take all the knowledge we have been gifted throughout our upbringing. This is a phase of intentionality and purpose, where we use the lessons, experiences and insight for progress and action. Then one day, after years of living and learning, our responsibility changes. It is no longer to only obtain or apply knowledge but to share it. We transition from a knowledge-seeker to a knowledge-giver. We share the stories we were told; we share the lessons we heard and experienced, but most of all we prepare our young people to take on the world knowing that they carry wisdom and strength that has been passed down for thousands of years. May we remember being young and curious, or confused and searching for our path, or older, wiser, and ready to pass on the gift that we have been gifted from generation to generation. Remember this generational gifting the next time you pick berries from your family’s secret spot or when an elder shares the creation story. Honor your gifts and those who gave them to you by living a great life.
Celebrate the women that raised you, uplifted you, and empowered you with gifts of knowledge, power, and love every day. Happy Women’s History Month.
Cheyenne Eete Kippenberger
Seminole Tribe of Florida
Communications Coordinator | The Center for Native American Youth