Native American writer Laura Tohe speaks at the library about indigenous women. Photo by Rita Jackson

Approximately 50 people were at the Patagonia Library on January 19 to hear the Navajo Nation’s second poet laureate, Laura Tohe, speak on the topic “Indigenous Women Rising
from Invisibility.” As a Diné, or Navajo woman, Ms. Tohe traces her ancestry through her mother’s lineage. She is
Tsénahabiłnii, Sleepy Rock People clan, and born for the Tódich’inii, Bitter Water clan. She grew up in New Mexico and Arizona and shared stories of amazing and daring Southwest Native American women; names and stories that some of us are unfamiliar with.

Laura told the audience that there are no princesses in Native American language or part of tribal culture and that she had written an essay entitled: “There is no word for feminism in my language.” She went on to share that Native American women are very autonomous within tribal culture and have not had to fight for their place in those societies. While they have not always been widely acknowledged for their roles, they have always been independent and strong leaders in the tribal nations. In fact, within the Laguna (Pueblo) tribe, it is believed
that women thought the Universe into existence.

Among the women she mentioned are: Annie Dodge Wauneka, the first Native American to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her efforts to improve health care among
her people. She also spoke about Diane Humetewa, the first Native American woman to ever serve as a U.S. District Court judge, Lori Arviso Alvord, the first Diné woman to be
board certified as a surgeon, and Amanda Blackhorse, a social worker and member of the Navajo people who is known for her work as an activist on the Washington Redskins name controversy.

Tohe’s published books include “Making Friends with Water”; “No Parole Today,” a book on boarding schools; “Sister Nations: Native American Women Writers on Community,” co-edited with Heid Erdrich; “Tseyí Deep in the Rock,” in collaboration with photographer Stephen Strom; and “Code Talker Stories,” an oral history book with the remaining Navajo Code Talkers. The Phoenix Symphony commissioned her to write the libretto for “Enemy Slayer, A Navajo Oratorio,” which made its 2008 world premiere as part of the Phoenix Symphony’s 60th anniversary.

Tohe’s talk was funded by a Library Services and Technology Act Grant in partnership with the Arizona Humanities, funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services.