Indigenous Women in Urban Communities

Women's History conference

The historical and contemporary experiences of Native American women living in urban areas of the U.S. and Canada will be the subject of a three-day conference, "Native Women Weaving Urban Traditions: An Exploration of Indigenous Women and Their Urban Communities," which will bring leading Native American activists, artists and academics to the campus of Sarah Lawrence College beginning on Friday, March 5 and continuing through Sunday, March 7. The conference, sponsored by the College's Women's History Graduate Program, is free and open to the public. For a full conference schedule, registration information, and directions, please call (914) 395-2405.

The conference is unusual in its design by bringing together such a diversity of participants and perspectives. "It is an important opportunity to bring together people who share common interests but too often move in different circles, Native and non-Native, U.S. and Canadian, elder and youth, academic, activist and artist," says Alice Nash, Sarah Lawrence faculty member in the Women's History program and one of the conference organizers. "We believe the conference will energize future activism and scholarship that will be of long-term benefit to Native American communities in urban areas. The conference is very much in keeping with the Sarah Lawrence tradition of reaching out to local communities."

During this historic conference, Native American women from many different nations, including Iroquois women from New York and Canada along with Narragansett, Lakota, Cree, Yakima and Yaqui women, among others, will offer papers, lead panel discussions, and present artistic performances intended to formulate new perspectives for approaching contemporary challenges in the areas of Native American health, education, religion, community leadership, women's organizations and youth culture.

Academic presentations will provide in-depth looks at Native American women and their communities in cities including Buffalo, Toronto, Chicago, New York, Seattle and Cleveland.

"The conference reflects our teaching philosophy of balancing intellectual inquiry, the creative arts and community service," Alice Nash observes. Panel discussions will focus on such important topics as Native American Urban Communities Before and After World War Two, Youth and Gangs, Women and Urban Native Community Leadership Building, Health and Health Education, and Issues in Education: Teaching and Learning.

The conference will open at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 5 with greetings from Sarah Lawrence president Michele Tolela Myers and a keynote address by Tonya Gonnella Frichner, a citizen of the Onondaga Nation, Snipe Clan, and founder and current president of the American Indian Law Alliance in New York City, to be followed by a reading by the acclaimed poet, Chrystos, and a presentation by performance artist Murielle Borst.

A slide presentation on the cultural importance of indigenous handicrafts by Alexandra Hart, an independent scholar, followed by a discussion of contemporary Native American women artists by Joanna O. Bigfeather, Director of the American Indian Community House Gallery/Museum in New York City, is scheduled for 3:30 p.m., Saturday, March 6.

A highlight of the conference will be an honoring ceremony to be held at 5:30 p.m., Saturday, March 6, in Reisinger Hall. The ceremony will publicly acknowledge three Native American elders, Iola Boyle, Mifawnway Hines and Rosemary Richmond, for their outstanding contributions to the American Indian Community House in New York City. Honoring songs will be performed by The Shy Woman Singers from New York. Additional performances will begin at 7:30 p.m. featuring The Mankillers, a drum group from California and theatrical presentations by Spiderwoman Theater and The Coatlicue Theatre Company from New York, and Alyyana Maracle, a performance artist from Vancouver.

About the presenters:
Chrystos is an internationally known poet and urban Indian whose work appears in the landmark anthology, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981). Her books of poetry include Not Vanishing (1988), Dream On (1991) and Fugitive Colors (1995). She won the Audre Lorde International Poetry Competition in 1994.

Spiderwoman Theater, composed of three Kuna/Rappahannock sisters, Lisa Mayo, Gloria Miguel and Muriel Miguel, is the oldest continually running women's theater in North America. Taking their name from the the Hopi goddess Spiderwoman, the trio uses a performance technique called "storyweaving" to re-examine contemporary social issues and preconceived social beliefs through the lens of Native American storytelling and theatrical conventions.

Murielle Borst, daughter of Muriel Miguel, is an outstanding performance artist in her own right. Her one-woman show, "More than Feathers and Beads," examines contemporary issues of identity for Native American women. She is currently working on a Native American version of "Medea.

The Coatlicue Theatre Co. was founded by storytellers, playwrights, performers and community activists Elvira and Hortensia Colorado. Incorporating the Nahautl language, the performers whimsically weave together stories of Native American deities, along with personal stories of their families and themselves to focus on the current issues affecting Indian, Chicano and Mexican communities. With great flair and comic whimsy, they weave powerful designs and narratives with words and movement to create an overlay of interlocking stories that theatrically transform deeply-felt topics of race, sexuality, ethnic heritage and women's rights into powerful arguments for social change.

Aiyyana Maracle is a performance artist from Vancouver. Her style is described as bold and visceral, crossing gender and cultural boundaries. In 1997 she was awarded the prestigious John Hirsch Prize from the Canada Council for the Arts as the most artistically exciting new director of promise in Canadian theatre.


Friday, March 5

5:00 - 7:00 PM


7:00 - 9:00 PM

Opening Remarks: Michele Tolela Myers, President, Sarah Lawrence College
Keynote Speaker: Tonya Gonnella Frichner, Esq., President, American Indian Law Alliance
Poetry Reading: Chrystos
Performance: Murielle Borst

Saturday, March 6

9:00 - 10:00 am


9:30 - 10:30 am

Invited Speakers (TBA)

11:00 - 12:30 PM

PANEL 1: Urban Communities Before WWII
Wendi-Starr Brown, Temple University, "It's Always the Women: The Role of Women in a Native American Christian Church"
Rosalyn Rae LaPier (Blackfeet Nation/Chippewa), NAES College, "Native Women in Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s"
Leota Lone Dog (Lakota/Mohawk/Delaware), New York University, "The New York City Native Community"

PANEL 2: Workshop: Youth and Gangs
Wauneta Lone Wolf (Oglala-Lakota), Dream Weavers, Ltd.

PANEL 3: The Experiences of Ongwehonwe Women in the City of Buffalo
Peggy Oldsmoke (Tonawanda Seneca, Heron Clan), Iroquois Crossroads Center
Nancy Johnson (Onondaga, Snipe Clan), University of Buffalo
Barbara-Helen Hill (Six Nations Mohawk, Cayuga, Bear Clan), University of Buffalo
Susan Hill (Six Nations Mohawk), Buffalo State College
Chandra Maracle (Tyendinaga Mohawk), University of Buffalo
Evelyn George (Cattaraugus Seneca, Heron Clan), Native American Community Services

12:30 - 1:30 PM


1:45 - 3:15 PM

PANEL 1: Urban Communities Post WWII
Karin Enloe, Western Washington University, "Helping Indians Help Themselves: The Case of Seattle's American Indian Women's Service League, Indian Identity, and Community Building"
Irina Loukina, University of Toledo, "Chieftess Rising Star: Preserving Cultural and Racial Identity Among the Paugussett Indians"
Susan Applegate Krouse (Oklahoma Cherokee), Michigan State University, "Urban Native Women's Organizations"

PANEL 2: Health and Health Education
Deborah Campbell, Utah State University, "Diet and Health Patterns Among Native Americans in Utah"
Carmen Chavez (Yaqui), "Urban Indian Women and HIV Prevention"
Mary Beth Welch (Wampanoag) and Florence Dunham (Mohawk), "Native Women Reweaving Our Communities and Our Lives Through Storytelling: The Case of Health Education and Domestic Violence Intervention in Chicago"

PANEL 3: Women and Urban Native Community Leadership Building
Heather Howard-Bobiwash, University of Toronto/Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, "'We do our best to serve everyone': An Overview of Native Women's Community Service in Toronto," Slide Presentation
Eileen Antone (Oneida), Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, "Traditional Healing Teachings in a Toronto Native Pre-Employment Training Program"
Dina Anker (Ojibway/Dene), Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, "'Bridging the Gap': Further Experiences in Native Adult Education in Toronto"
Laara Fitznor (Metis/Cree), University of Toronto, "Community Leadership Building in Winnipeg: The Experiences of Native Women's Groups"

3:30 - 5:00 PM

PANEL 1: Issues in Education: Teaching and Learning
Susan Gardner, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Ellen Lester Arnold, Emory University/Appalachian State University
Susan Dominguez, Oberlin College/American Indian Education Center, "Connecting the Community to the College: Outreach of the American Indian Education Center in Cleveland, Ohio"

PANEL 2 Youth Culture and Identity
Brian Joseph Gilley, University of Oklahoma, "Disjunctures in Identity: Transforming Female Native American Identity Along the Rural-Urban Continuum"
Wauneta Lone Wolf (Oglala-Lakota), Dream Weavers, Ltd., "Youth Violence and Gang Activity"

PANEL 3 Slide Presentation
Alexandra Hart, Independent Scholar, "Indigenous Handicrafts as a Means to Preserve Indigenous Identities and Traditions"

5:30 - 8:30 PM

Drum: Shy Woman Singers and The Mankillers
Performances: Coatlicue Theatre Co. and Spiderwoman Theater

Saturday, March 7

9:00-11:00 PM

Closing Remarks