Activism and Expression as Empowerment
What I learned when I became involved in political issues is that our perceptions as women very much relate to our cultural, racial, traditional backgrounds. I found that my work, which is primarily political work, became spiritual work as well because the protection of our spiritual practice and sacred sites is a political issue. My work also relates to the health of our communities, women's health, and domestic violence. I consider my political work to be all encompassing because these issues are all related. — Mililani B. Trask, native Hawaiian, attorney, and elected prime minister (kia-aina) of Ka Lahui Hawai'i, the Sovereign Native Nation of Hawai'i
Today, more Indigenous women participate in tribal politics than ever before. 1 As discussed in chapter 6, although Native women traditionally did not serve as tribal “leaders” per se, they did control tribal activities by dictating the recipients of crops, declaring leaders, and serving as mothers, advisors, medicine women, midwives, and manufacturers of skins, hides, clothing, and implements. Females figured prominently in tribal religious stories as well. Many modern Native women leaders point to their tribal religions and traditions as inspiration and justification for their positions as leaders. They argue that taking leadership roles is a way of regaining the prestige and power their ancestors once held and of assuming responsibility for the welfare of their tribes.
Research suggests that white women leaders tend to emphasize certain aspects of their life more than male leaders might. Those “women's issues” are considered to be child care, reproductive rights, spousal and child abuse, health care, education, and welfare. 2 Native women, however, have the best interests of all aspects of their tribe in mind, from those issues listed above to environmental issues, including concerns over land, water, and air pollution as well as worries about how that pollution affects humans (poisons in breast milk and salmon, for example).