GTPulse: Traverse City Woman Honored In 100 Indigenous Women, 100 Years 100 Women Project
On August 18, 1920, Congress ratified the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, stating:
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
Mainly white, upper-middle-class women were granted the right to vote, women of color and Black women were not.
100 Indigenous Women is a part of the 100 Years 100 Women project put on by New York City-based arts organizations Park Avenue Armory and National Black Theatre. They partnered with nine other organizations to put together the project, and Traverse City Indigenous activist, judge, attorney, healer, and water protector Holly T. Bird is one of the 100 women chosen to be featured.
Holly worked tirelessly as the Civil Ground Coordinator for Water Protectors Legal Collective in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. A colleague and friend that she worked with thought of her when he became involved with the 100 Indigenous Women project and reached out.
“We’ve stayed in contact and he contacted me one week and said, ‘Hey, we are inviting Indigenous women that are teachers, activists and healers that we admire and we want you to be a part of this group. Would you please send a photo and a bio?’ So it was really that simple,” she said.
A span of amazing women are honored for their different kinds of work. Professors, artists, software developers, authors, actors, teachers, and students are featured from all over the Americas.
They’re honored for their work, but also for their resilience. A video tribute to the honorees replaced an in-person celebration due to the coronavirus, and a quote featured in it was from Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, also known as Zitkala-Sa, an Indigenous suffragist from the Yankton Sioux tribe. When the 19th Amendment was ratified, she reminded the newly granted voters that the fight was not over. It’s still not.
Holly being feature alongside other Native women is special because so much of her work is dedicated to helping Native people, and especially Native women.
“I was recently appointed to the Federal Task Force on Research for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. The government has no accurate counts, they stopped counting I think, six years ago at 576,000. So, Native communities have had to start making their own systems, their own tracking, Facebook pages. Whatever we can to keep track of this. One out of every three Native American families is affected by this.”
Reservations are systemically poor, and because of how federal law works on reservations, they can’t prosecute people for felonies, including non-Natives. Perpetrators that prey on young Native women do so with little to no repercussions. The loophole has been devastating to Native women.
“Of course they’re going to prey on women that are younger, maybe having a hard time, maybe partying. A lot of young mothers who go out just don’t show up at home the next day.”
Change comes slowly and with great effort and strife from Native people. They had to fight state by state to gain the right to vote, and it’s a right that Holly encourages people to exercise.
“I work with a group called Sisters Rising with Sarah Eagle Heart and other Indigenous women who are really working to try to get out the vote.”
She somehow finds time to be the Co-Executive Director for Traverse City-based nonprofit organization Title Track, and she’s happy to see other Native people taking on larger roles in their communities and running for office.
“There are a lot of good people out there doing the work and it is helpful to our communities.”
She’s also inspired by the women she was featured with. All of them passionate about their work, artistry, and advocacy. All of them uplifting their communities.
“I was pretty surprised and very honored of course because I admire every single woman that’s a part of the exhibit. In our culture women are life-givers, and as such, they’re held to a sacred place. Our mothers, our aunties, our grandmothers. They are traditionally the ones we look to for guidance and making decisions. They’re the ones who keep the home and the community strong.”