We are Native Women, Woven with Resilience

In honor of Women’s History Month, 2019 Champion for Change Shandiin Herrera of the Navajo Nation writes in this guest blog about the strength she finds in her identity as a Native woman. In the blog, Herrera honors the women of her past who have paved the way, thanks the women of the present who empower her, and gives advice for women in the future. 

I am a culmination of strength, wisdom, and passion. I bring a sacredness to every space that I enter. The embodiment of beauty passed down from my mother and mothers before her is my truest form. I am a Native woman woven with resilience.

Yá’át’ééh, Hello, welcome,

Shí éí Shandiin Herrera yinishyé, I am called Shandiin,

Tachiinii nishłį́, I am of the Red Running into Water Clan,

Naakai dine’é bashishchiin, born for the Spanish people,

Bitahnii dashicheii, my maternal grandfather’s clan is Within his/her Cover Clan,

Naakai dine’é dashinalí, my paternal grandfather is of the Spanish people,

Ákót’éego diné asdzáán nishłį́, in this way I am a Navajo woman.

Through my introduction, I acknowledge who I am and where I come from. I acknowledge the Native women who have come before me by stating my mother’s clan first. I proudly present myself to the world as a Navajo woman. The power in my voice is that of a generational presence and guidance. In me, I carry the tenets of my family and my nation.

Some of my earliest memories are that of my grandmother weaving a Navajo rug at the crack of dawn. I awoke to the sound of the beating of the loom and a soft hum in a language woven with prayer. My grandmother created a visualization of beauty and translated the imagery in her mind for us to keep. She used her art for healing and to pass on to us the way in which she saw the world. She was patience, she was diligence, she was grace – she was a Native woman.

I was five years old when I told my mother that I wanted to be a dancer. It was the night before the pow wow and instead of telling me to wait until the next pow wow, or more simply, no, she spent the entire night sewing me my first dress, a purple jingle dress with butterflies. I had learned the jingle dance was a dance of prayer and healing, a shared responsibility I wanted to be a part of. To be as graceful, as selfless, and as beautiful as the Native women I saw was my introduction to the healing of dance. I emulated dancers because in each dancer I saw my grandmother, my mother, and a future version of myself; graceful, selfless, and beautiful. To this day, my mother carries an unshakable selfless pride, always choosing to find a way to foster dreams. Like the night she sewed my first dress, my mother has tirelessly worked behind the scenes, raising me to be a strong Indigenous woman as she walks this earth as one. Shimá, my mother, is the face of intelligence, an assiduous work ethic, and a symbol of resilience – she is a Native woman.

When I think of my own journey, I always remember where it began. On a dirt road winding through healing land to the opening doors of classrooms at Duke University. I have the experience of two colliding worlds, but I have found hozho, a beautiful balance in this life. In this world of chaos and doubt, I walk boldly as my ancestors did, and I smile at the new challenges I am faced with. Yet, questions will always arise. Will I be strong enough to withstand any adversity? Will I be wise enough to teach young Native women how to stand tall? The answer is always yes, because I am enough; we have always been enough.

We have to be extraordinary to live normally, and that is the plight of Native women everywhere. We give more than we receive, love more than we are shown, share our light when we remain in the dark, but we always persist. We pray, we work hard, and we always show up for others.We are daughters, mothers, sisters, and friends. We are taught that when we think with our hearts, our minds will follow. We are walking monuments and living testaments to the strength and beauty of our people.

There is depth to being a Native woman. When I cry I do not cry only for the woes in my life, I shed tears for those before me who, along with their beauty, have passed onto me their pain. This is a history I may have never lived, but mourn over every day. Pain in protecting ourselves, those we love, and the lands we call home. When I laugh, it is a laughter of triumph, of immense joy, of an ever-lasting humor that transcends time and heals. Likewise, my accomplishments are due to those who have paved the way for me and for those who will walk my path long after I have completed my journey. I do not live only for myself. I represent and I thank those who have boldly represented me.

So, I say to Native women, when you look in the mirror do not focus on how tired you may look or fixate on every flaw. Instead, see our ancestors’ resilience and the strength of our nations. See the unwavering beauty you have been blessed with. Know that it is possible to piece ourselves back together when the world continues to take pieces of our identity. Understand that every day we wake up is our greatest testimony.

We are the culmination of strength, wisdom, and passion. We bring a sacredness to every space that we enter. The embodiment of beauty passed down from our mothers and mothers before her are our truest forms. We are Native women woven with resilience.

Learn more about Shandiin and her work here: https://live-cnay.pantheonsite.io/champions-for-change/shandiin-herrera