An indigenous womxn holds an empowering sign at a march

Up & Coming Indigenous Women Leaders: Indigenous Women Resisting Colonial Systems

Up & Coming Indigenous Women Leaders: Indigenous Women Resisting Colonial Systems

With Native American Heritage Month in November, we’re reminded of the hundreds of years Indigenous Women have been fighting colonial systems put in place by Western European colonists and Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors. These systems have not gone away, but neither have Indigenous Women who continue to resist the evolved 

systems of oppression around the world. Specifically in the United States, Residential Schools, Christianity, Victorian Era society—most importantly the imposition of gender roles that came with it—the Dawes Act, and Indian Health Services were a few of the methods used to “assimilate” Indigenous people. 

However, the purpose of these systems was not solely to assimilate; colonists and governments alike destroyed, controlled, and murdered Indigenous people, land, and culture. Western Europeans colonized 80% of the world, leaving a surplus of Indigenous communities greatly affected. Yet, through all of this, Indigenous Women continue to be at the forefront to fight for justice and change. Today you’ll meet Nemonte Nenquimo, Autumn Peltier, Haunani Kay-Trask, Larissa Crawford, and the Zapatista women who are defending their people and land.

Nemonte Nenquimo stands in the Amazon Forest with her right hand up and covered in oil

Nemonte Nenquimo 

Nemonte Nenquimo is an Indigenous Waorian, colonial-named Ecuador, leader, and land-protector. Nenquimo is the first female president of the Waorian of Pastza and the co-founder of the Ceibo Alliance. The Ceibo Alliance is “an indigenous-led Ecuadorian non-profit organization comprised of members of the Kofan, Siona, Secoya and Waorani peoples, who, in partnership with Amazon Frontlines, [are] creating a model of indigenous resistance and international solidarity rooted in the defense of indigenous territory, cultural survival, and the building of viable solutions-based alternatives to rainforest destruction.” 

A monumental moment for Nenquimo occurred in 2018. The Ecuadorian government announced that they would be putting 16 new oil concessions up for auction that would cover 17 million acres of Amazon forest. In response, Nenquimo initiated a campaign called "Our Rainforest Is Not For Sale," which gained about 400,000 signatures. 

By April of 2019, Nenquimo and the Waoranian people won a lawsuit against the Ecuadorian government stating that they had not gotten approval from the Waorani people to put their land up for auction.

Autumn Peltier stands in front of a body of water holding a ceremonial copper bowl

Autumn Peltier 

Autumn Peltier is an Anishinaabe-kwe, 17-year-old water protector from the Wikwemikong First Nation in northern Ontario, Canada. Since the age of 8, Peltier has been advocating for clean access to drinking water for First Nation communities, earning her international recognition as a water advocate. 

At 8 years of age, Peltier spoke at her first speech for access to clean drinking water. She has also spoken in front of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about oil pipelines he has supported at the United Nations' Water Day Conference in 2018. Peltier has been nominated three years in a row for the International Children’s Peace Prize. 

"We need water to survive and live and that's literally the only reason we're here today is water,” Peltier said to BBC News.

Dr. Haunani Kay-Trask looks to the left in her Native land of Hawaiʻi

Dr. Haunani Kay-Trask 

Dr. Haunani Kay-Trask was Kanaka Maoli/Native Hawaiʻian, a scholar, poet, and advocate for Hawaiian sovereignty. While she was a professor of Hawaiʻian Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, Dr. Trask led the Hawaiʻian Sovereignty movement that became popular around 1990. Dr. Trask was also the founding director of the University of Hawaii’s Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiʻian Studies and the founding member of Ka Lahui Hawaiʻi, “an organization that promotes self-determination for Native Hawaiians.” 

Ka Lahui Hawaiʻi introduced a bill into the U.S. government to free Hawaiʻi, but the bills didn’t pass. Along with wanting Hawaiʻi to be independent of the U.S., Dr. Trask was very against tourism in Hawaiʻi. Dr. Trask advocated and believed that Hawaiʻi was colonized and ruined by the U.S. government. She passed away in July of 2021 still fighting for Hawaiʻi to be free from American hands. 

At a protest led by Dr. Trask, she stated, “We are not American. We will die as Hawaiians. We will never be Americans.”

Larissa Crawford looks to the left in front of a lake

Larissa Crawford 

Larissa Crawford is a mixed Métis — part of the U.S. and Canada— Jamaican researcher, ribbon skirt artist, and climate change, racial justice, and Indigenous sovereignty activist. Crawford is also passionate about the future of Indigenous peoples and the legacy of Indigenous ancestors. Crawford is very active on social media and the founder of Future Ancestors Services, an "Indigenous and Black-owned, youth-led professional services social enterprise that advances climate justice and equity with lenses of anti-racism and ancestral accountability." Through Future Ancestors Services, the organization has raised $39,000 and benefitted 47,000 people. Additionally, Crawford has participated in the 2018 G7 Summit and other forums to confront climate change and how it’s being tackled.

6 Zapatista womxn wear the same outfit all with their right firsts up

The Zapatista Women 

The Zapatista women are part of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), a grassroots social movement based in Chiapas, Mexico that first came together around the 1980s. The goals of Zapatista women are rooted in “gender violence, self-defense, self-care,” sexism, “sexual rights, health and education,” misogyny, “discrimination against indigenous LGBTQ+ communities, women environmental rights defenders,” and decolonization of gender roles in today’s society. In photographs of the Zapatista women, they have their faces covered with a mask of some sort. These masks act as a protector of their identity and a marker of their fight for freedom, protection, and unity. 

The Zapatista Women first gained media attention in 1994 when they rose against the Mexican government because of NAFTA. According to the U.S. Federal Register, NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, is an agreement between Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. with the goal of removing tariffs and other trade and investment hurdles between the three parties. NAFTA would industrialize the farming industry in Mexico, exploiting Indigenous labor and meaning that Indigenous people—including the Zapatistas—would make nothing for their work. This event also made Zapatista women realize that they shouldn’t have to sell their work for a lower price but rather that they should receive a dignified price that reflected their hard work and creativity.

Since the ’80s, the movement created by the Zapatista women has upheld Zapatista government laws. Their events have gained more and more traction and are still a significant inspiration for women’s movements and other social efforts. 

While our history classes and media may try to paint Indigenous people as a people of the past, in reality, they are the ones fighting for our future. So, in this season of thankfulness, remember to acknowledge who is fighting for the wellbeing of the land you live on. 

Sources: world-a-better-place istas-a-qa-with-hilary-klein ging-director-of-future-ancestors-services/