Indigenous Women Have Always Been Leaders

2019 International Women's Day Conference

Conference Overview

Every year on March 8 the world celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women during International Women’s Day

Join the Tiwahe Foundation, the Native Governance Center, and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs as we celebrate International Women’s Day 2019. The theme of this year’s celebration is: Indigenous Women Have Always Been Leaders

Ruth Buffalo, North Dakota House Representative, District 27
Image of Ruth Buffalo, North Dakota House Representative, by Lea Black Photography

Indigenous women have always been the backbone and heartbeat of their families and communities. They channeled their history of leadership into victories at the state and federal levels during the 2018 election, marking a major turning point for their political representation. Indigenous women are poised, now more than ever before, to use their strengths to shape the future of their communities and awaken the nation. Don’t miss this daylong celebration of Indigenous women’s leadership featuring speakers, artists, and food.

Native women have been leading our communities since time immemorial.” – Peggy Flanagan, lieutenant governor of Minnesota, the nation's highest-ranking Indigenous woman in executive office.

Connect with the Conference

Connect with the conference on Twitter by using the hashtag #IWD2019UMN.

Conference Co-Hosts

Native Governance Center, Tiwahe Foundation, and Center on Women, Gender, and Public Policy logos

Conference Co-SponsorsThe Women's Foundation of Minnesota and the Bush Foundation

*AIS contributed in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the department's founding.

Conference Agenda

Unless otherwise noted, events will take place in Cowles Auditorium.

Registration and Breakfast** | 8:30–9 a.m. (Mondale Commons)

Opening Prayer | 9–9:10 a.m. 

  • Janice BadMoccasin, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community 

Welcome and Opening Remarks | 9:10–9:25 a.m.

  • Jayme Davis, Program Director, Native Governance Center, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and Standing Rock
  • Laura Bloomberg, Dean, Humphrey School of Public Affairs

Intergenerational Indigenous Women’s Leadership | 9:30–10:30 a.m. 

  • Alexis Davis, Native Governance Center Youth Rebuilders, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa
  • Sharon Day, Executive Director of Indigenous Peoples Task Force, Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe
  • Vanessa Goodthunder, Director of Cansayapi Wakanyeza Owayawa Oti, Lower Sioux Indian Community
  • Jaidyn Probst, Young Women’s Initiative Cabinet, Lower Sioux Indian Community
  • Brook LaFloe, Tiwahe Foundation and YWCA, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa (moderator)

Break | 10:30–10:45  a.m. 

Video Address | 10:45–11 a.m. 

  • Deb Haaland, Congressional Representative from New Mexico, Pueblo of Laguna

Indigenous Women Political Leaders 11 a.m.–12:15 p.m.

  • Melanie Benjamin, Chief Executive, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe
  • Ruth Buffalo, North Dakota House Representative, District 27, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation (via Skype)
  • Karen Diver, Former Special Assistant to President Obama on Native American Affairs, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
  • Mary Kunesh-Podein, Minnesota House Representative, District 41B, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
  • Anne McKeig, Minnesota Supreme Court Justice, White Earth Band of Ojibwe
  • Jayme Davis, Program Director, Native Governance Center, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and Standing Rock (moderator)

Peggy Flanagan, Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota, White Earth Band of Ojibwe | 12:15–12:30 p.m.

  • Introduction by Karen Diver, Former Special Assistant to President Obama on Native American Affairs, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa

Lunch** | 12:30–1:30 p.m. (Mondale Commons)

  • Tina Smith, U.S. Senator, Minnesota
  • Introduction by Vanessa Goodthunder, Director of Cansayapi Wakanyeza Owayawa Oti, Lower Sioux Indian Community

Keynote Address | 1:30–3 p.m.

  • Lourdes Tibán, former Ecuadorian Congressional Member and member of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
  • Introduction by Christina Ewig, Faculty Director, Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy, Humphrey School of Public Affairs

The keynote will be followed by a North-South dialogue between Lourdes Tibán and Jodi Gillette, former senior policy advisor for Native American Affairs under President Obama, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The dialogue will be moderated by Sandy Vargas, senior executive leadership fellow, Humphrey School of Public Affairs

Break3–3:15 p.m.

Blanket Exercise | 3:15–5:15 p.m. (Mondale Commons)

  • Prairie Rose Seminole, Program Director of American Indian Alaska Native Ministries, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation

** A limited amount of breakfast and lunch food is available on a first come, first served basis.

Speaker Biographies

Melanie BenjaminMELANIE Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin (Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe) is the chief executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. She was first elected to the four-year term of chief executive/chairwoman for the tribe in 2000, and was re-elected in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016. Under her leadership, the band achieved economic diversification through leveraging its expertise in the hospitality industry, and the band now owns several hotels in the Twin Cities.

Ruth BuffaloRepresentative Ruth Buffalo

Ruth Buffalo (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation) is a public health professional and community organizer. She was recently elected to the North Dakota House of Representatives in District 27. She is a volunteer to several local, statewide, and national boards that focus on improving the quality of life for all people. Her work includes research and advocacy, community capacity building, and continued reconciliation efforts through education.

Sharon DaySharon Day

Sharon Day (Ojibwe) is the executive director and co-founder of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force. She is the co-editor of Sing, Whisper, Shout, Pray!: Feminist Visions for a Just World, and Drink of the Winds, Let the Water Flow Free. She has performed with Illusion Theater, the American History Theater, and Pangea World Theater. Her poetry has been included in numerous anthologies including the St. Paul Almanac and Indigenous Women's Network.

Alexis DavisAlexis Davis

Alexis Davis (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa) was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. She is the chairwoman of the Turtle Mountain Youth Council and is a sophomore at Turtle Mountain Community College. Alexis is working toward a degree in Native American studies with an emphasis on language, and a minor in law. Her biggest goal in life is to start a K-16 immersion school on the Turtle Mountain Reservation.

Jayme DavisJayme Davis

Jayme Davis (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and Standing Rock) is the program director for Native Governance Center. She oversees the design and implementation of two leadership programs: Native Nation Rebuilders and Youth Rebuilders. She also works to provide tribal governance support resources (grants, technical assistance, and education) to the 23 Native nations located in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Karen DiverKaren Diver

Karen Diver (Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa) is currently serving as the inaugural Faculty Fellow for Inclusive Excellence for Native American Affairs at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota. She was previously an appointee of President Obama as the Special Assistant to the President for Native American Affairs. She assisted with inter-agency efforts, policy, and regulatory changes to benefit 567 Native American tribes.

Peggy Flanaganlieutenant governor Peggy Flanagan

Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Band of Ojibwe) is a mom, an organizer, and near-lifelong resident of St. Louis Park. On November 6, 2018, she was elected the 50th lieutenant governor of Minnesota. Peggy has dedicated her life to giving back, particularly to children, families, communities of color, American Indians, and low-income and working people. For nearly a decade, she worked at Wellstone Action as one of the trainers of the organization's signature program, Camp Wellstone.

Jodi GiletteJodi Gillette

Jodi Archambault Gillette (Hunkpapa and Oglala Lakota) is the director of Indigenous Peoples Initiatives at Wend Ventures, a social impact investment portfolio working across sectors to create positive change. Previously, she was a policy advisor at Sonosky, Chambers & Sachse, a national Native American rights law firm. She was an appointee of President Obama as the Special Assistant to the President for Native American Affairs on the White House Domestic Policy Council.

Vanessa GoodthunderVanessa Goodthunder

Vanessa Goodthunder, Sna Sna Wiƞ (Snah-Snah Weeƞ) comes from C̣aƞṡayapi (Chahƞ-shah-yah-pee), which means "Where They Paint the Trees Red," also known as the Lower Sioux Indian Community. She currently serves as the director of the C̣aƞṡayapi Waḳaƞyeża Owayawa Oṭi—A Dakota Immersion Early Head Start and Head Start. Her passions are education, revitalizing the Dakota language, and working with Native youth.

Lourdes TibanLourdes Tibán Guala

Lourdes Tibán Guala is a lawyer and Ecuadorian politician. She was born in the small Indigenous community of Chirinche Bajo in Cantón Salcedo. She currently serves as a member of the UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), a post to which she was nominated by Indigenous organizations. In 2009 she ran for and won a congressional seat in the National Assembly, representing her home province of Cotopaxi.

Mary Knuesh-PodeinRepresentative Mary Kunesh-Podein

Mary Kunesh-Podein (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe) was elected in 2016 to represent District 41B in the  Minnesota House. As an educator for more than 20 years, Mary also continues her role as the library media specialist at Robbinsdale Middle School. She is proud to be a founding member of the first Native American Caucus in the Minnesota House of Representatives, learning more and advocating for our Native communities.

Brook LaFloeBrook LaFloe

Brook LaFloe (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa) is the assistant coordinator for the Young Women's Initiative (YWI) at the YWCA, and an intern at the Tiwahe Foundation. She is also involved with the Montessori American Indian Childcare Center and works as a guide at Bright Water Montessori. She earned her bachelor's in neuroscience and anthropology from Tulane University, and her master’s in Montessori education from Loyola University-Maryland.

Justice Anne McKeigHonorable Anne K. McKeig

Anne K. McKeig (White Earth Band of Ojibwe) is an associate justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court. She was appointed in 2016 by Governor Mark Dayton, becoming the first Native American woman in the United States to be appointed to a state’s highest court. Justice McKeig is a former assistant Hennepin County attorney, where she worked for over 16 years handling child protection cases and adoption matters, with a specialty in cases involving the Indian Child Welfare Act. 

Jaidyn ProbstJaidyn Probst

Jaidyn Probst is Bdewakantunwan (Spirit Lake Dwellers) Dakota and comes from C̣aƞṡayapi (Where They Paint the Trees Red), otherwise known as Lower Sioux. She is a senior at Redwood Valley High School and a member of the Young Women’s Cabinet under the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota. Jaidyn is a senior class officer, the president of the Cansayapi UNITY chapter, and the president of her school’s National Honor Society.

Prairie Rose SeminolePrairie Rose Seminole

Prairie Rose Seminole (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation) is a citizen of the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota, descendent of the Sahnish/Arikara, Northern Cheyenne and Lakota Nations. She is program director for the American Indian, Alaska Native Ministries for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, serving American Indian and Alaska Native communities around the United States as an educator and advocate, deconstructing colonial systems of oppression.

Senator Tina SmithSenator Tina Smith

Tina Smith serves as United States senator for Minnesota. She has dedicated her career to working on behalf of Minnesotans to improve lives and ensure that the state government works better for the people it serves. She's served as chief of staff to both Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and Governor Mark Dayton. In 2014, Tina was elected to serve as Minnesota’s 48th lieutenant governor. 

Conference Venue

The conference will be held at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. The address is:

301 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455

The main conference meeting spaces, Cowles Auditorium and the Mondale Commons, are located on the first floor and are fully accessible. To request disability accommodations, please contact

March 8, 2019
8:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m.
Cowles Auditorium
Humphrey School