Soaring Spirit: Flying Eagle Woman Fund to Award Women Leaders in Indigenous Peace and Development

Rick Kearns
5/17/11

For important contributions on behalf of indigenous communities throughout the world, the Ingrid Washinawatok El-Issa Flying Eagle Woman Fund (FEWF) is honoring three distinguished women at a special ceremony at the United Nations on Friday, May 20. The event will include a video clip of related work being done by North and South American activists in the U’wa community of Colombia.

The recipients of the 2011 Ingrid Washinawatok El-Issa Flying Eagle Woman Peace Justice and Sovereignty Awards are Ann Rockefeller Roberts, the founder of the Fund of the Four Directions (FFD), now part of FEWF; Teresa Juarez, board president, Peace Development Fund; and Yi-Chun Tricia Lin, the director of and an associate professor in the Women’s Studies program at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU). These women have all been active in international humanitarian efforts.

The Flying Eagle Woman Fund for Peace, Justice and Sovereignty was created to commemorate and further the work of Ingrid Washinawatok El-Issa (O’Peqtaw-Metamoh) (1957-1999). Washinawatok, a member of the Menominee Nation, was among the most promising Native leaders of her generation. Writer, spokeswoman, educator, philanthropist and activist, she devoted her life to the cause of indigenous peoples around the world. Just before her murder by Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia guerrillas in Colombia in 1999, Washinawatok was working with members of the U’wa indigenous community in that country on community building efforts.

The international nature of this year’s ceremony reflects Washinawatok’s broader vision, said Ali El-Issa, founder of FEWF and the husband of the slain activist.

“Because Ingrid’s work wasn’t only in North America, it was international, that we decided to honor women who had helped indigenous communities all around the world,” El-Issa said. “We want to recognize both indigenous and non-indigenous women who do this important work.”

He noted that Ann Rockefeller Roberts has been involved with indigenous activism since she was a teenager. FFD gave money at first to environmental projects. Then, after Washinawatok joined the organization, she provided funding for the “revitalization of the lifeways and cultures of Native Americans of North America with a strong emphasis on language restoration and intergenerational collaboration,” said a press release.

El-Issa noted that Roberts helped raise close to $20 million for a variety of communities throughout North America.

The second honoree, Teresa Juarez, is also focused on Native North America; she is a woman of Chicana and indigenous heritage in New Mexico. “She’s one of my heroes,” El-Issa said. “Teresa has, along with working on the peace and development fund, done tremendous work in areas of criminal justice, environmental justice, and she put together youth camps among so many other things.”

Chavez also runs the Teh-Luh-Lah Learning and Healing Center and is the lead organizer of the New Mexico Alliance.

The third recipient is educator Yi-Chun Tricia Lin, who was born in Taiwan and is an award-winning professor of women’s studies. It was through Lin’s collaboration with FEWF that the organization was able to connect to various indigenous communities in Southern Asia and Taiwan, El-Issa said.

“When she was teaching in New York, before moving up to Connecticut, Tricia heard about Ingrid from some of her students, and then when she started teaching at SCSU she read more essays about Ingrid by some of her university students who were mostly Puerto Rican and Dominican,” El-Issa recalled. “She started to be inspired by Ingrid and would talk about her as a role model for struggle of indigenous people everywhere.”

Lin has also brought indigenous women to speak to her students in her classes and at Women’s Studies conferences, he noted.

One other international aspect of the awards ceremony will be a video presentation by the U’wa Women’s Initiative/Women Defenders of Culture. The group is a collective involving indigenous and Latina women from the U.S. and the U’wa territory in Colombia, said activist and Initiative member Sandra Alvarez; she characterized the organization as a spin-off organization from the U’wa Defense Project. Alvarez videotaped some of their work with the community last year.

“We focus our support on leadership development, food security, and fund-raising among other things,” she said. “For instance we helped them buy sewing machines to help their families and community.”

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