Humphrey School News—March 14, 2019

Commentary: Cultural Connections at the Heart of Indigenous Women's Day Event

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Group photo of five women at the International Women's Day event at the Humphrey School March 8, 2019
Nevada Littlewolf, far right, pictured along with (L-R): Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, Jayme Davis of Native Governance Center, US Sen. Tina Smith, and activist Lourdes Tiban of Ecuador. Photo: Lisa Miller

By Nevada Littlewolf

International Women’s Day was a cause for celebration at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs on March 8. The School’s Center on Women, Gender, and Public Policy co-hosted a day-long symposium celebrating the accomplishments of Indigenous women, along with the Tiwahe Foundation and the Native Governance Center.

Nevada Littlewolf, president and CEO of Tiwahe, shares her insights about Indigenous women and their roles as leaders.

In 2018, we saw a record number of diverse women running for public office across the country. And Indigenous women ran and won at all levels: tribal, local, state, and federal. They also have an important role in international conversations.

The Humphrey School’s decision to focus its International Women’s Day celebration on Indigenous Women Have Always Been Leaders lifted these voices even higher, honoring our Indigenous cultural lens and its relevance to leadership needs.

Head shot of Nevada Littlewolf, president and CEO of Tiwahe Foundation in MinneapolisI served on the Virginia, Minnesota, City Council for 10 years starting in 2008. When I first ran for local public office, I was woefully naïve about all the problems related to the gender gap in political leadership. 

I expected to face challenges as the first American Indian person to ever run and win. I didn’t expect to be the only woman on my City Council from 2008 to 2016. I didn’t expect to be the youngest person on the Council for the entirety of my service. Yet, it feels so distant from the politics of now.

I was fortunate to have connected to a few key organizations that would change my life and support my political leadership ambitions. I intentionally became networked statewide and nationally, since there were so few people who looked like me at the local level—especially in a small rural community.  

The Indigenous women leaders I have met over the years have become my sisters, my mentors, my friends, and my community. International Women’s Day brought so many powerful Indigenous women together. Some had been connected for a long time, some are emerging leaders, and some are youth. 

This cross-generational, cross-tribal gathering was a sacred space. It was a space we don’t get to experience very often—the laughter, the songs, the stories and the connections, all bound together by a commitment to improving our communities and our world through Indigenous values and lifeways.

As a partner organization, Tiwahe Foundation provides resources to American Indian people to live culturally centered, economically independent and healthy lives—grounded in sovereignty and Indigenous world view. We invest in individuals and build leadership networks across the state.

The Tiwahe Foundation is a nonprofit community foundation based in Minneapolis that provides grants to Native individuals and families for their pursuit of professional, educational or cultural opportunities. It promotes the development of leadership skills and networking for American Indians. Tiwahe means ‘family.’ tiwahefoundation.org

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