|History of IWN|
|Sunday, 24 December 2006|
The Indigenous Women's Network (IWN) was established in as a grass roots initiative at a gathering of over 200 Indigenous women at Yelm, Washington in 1985. The (Founding Mothers ) were and continue to be strong, committed Indigenous women activists who dedicate themselves to generating a global movement that achieves sustainable change for our communities. Under their visionary leadership, IWN has become known for inspiring, strategic, pro-active and affirming events that facilitates the inter-generational transfer of traditio
nal knowledge to young, Indigenous women. Our training programs and publications reach and link Indigenous
women around the world in a network of support that includes award winning artists, activists, authors, community leaders, educators, attorneys and traditional healers.
Over the past 21 years, IWN has evolved into an international coalition
of Indigenous women from rural and urban communities who approach the
resolution of contemporary challenges from a traditional Indigenous
values base. IWN serves as a major driving force behind Indigenous
communities, mobilizing change around issues affecting ourselves and
our families, Mother earth and the environment, cultural/spiritual
beliefs and traditions, health services and tribal governance. IWN is
proud of its achievements and the programs that have been designed to
provide information, education, training, support and leadership
development to Indigenous Women across the Americas and around the
Based on our vision, IWN serves as a major driving force behind Indigenous communities, mobilizing change around issues affecting ourselves and our families, Mother earth and the environment, cultural/spiritual beliefs and traditions, health services and tribal governance. As a nonprofit organization, IWN seeks to support and develop social, economic and cultural projects that utilize appropriate and sustainable technology based on traditional philosophy and practices.
Our Constituency - Indigenous Women and Our Families
For complex reasons, related to historical and current political, social, health and cultural environments, Indigenous peoples worldwide have become endangered species. Genocide, disease, development and imposed, foreign economic structures marginalize Indigenous peoples in their own land. They do not have a voice in the majority government and are by default forced to access mainstream health, social and economic programs and services. In the United States - unarguably the wealthiest, most powerful nation on Earth - Indigenous peoples have the highest unemployment rate, worst housing conditions, highest poverty levels, poorest health and shortest life expectancy of any group in the country - including other minorities.
Years of ineffective problem solving occurring completely outside of the community and without the input of Indigenous people has led to failure after failure. It is now widely recognized and cited as "best practice" that any successful solution must come from within our community. As Indigenous women, we have always been problem solvers in our communities and we along with our sisters have worked sometimes quietly but with much strength to support our families and communities in addressing the many issues we face. Indigenous women are a critical resource in our communities having worked courageously to bring important issues affecting our communities to the forefront. Yet too often, we have not been given the opportunity to speak and participate in political platforms and community forums, to present testimony, or to have a say within tribal government or boardrooms. However, our voice has grown stronger. Since the early 1970s, we have asserted ourselves in ongoing dialogues and are assuming greater authority in the governance of our Nations and communities.
By caring for our children, we are often the first to realize threats to our communities' health - and the first to recognize solutions. We see our communities in a holistic fashion, seeing issues of education and illiteracy, environmental and personal health, natural resource management, housing, economic development, preservation of Native language and culture, and spirituality as interrelated and interdependent. We cannot - and should not - fix the one without somehow addressing another.
Indigenous women, having few other places to turn, come to IWN for help in facing the struggles in their communities with cultural, environmental and economic threats. As civil society unfolds in reservation communities, Indigenous women and nonprofit organizations need to organize to form a united voice and to create our vision for our future. We need Native-controlled organizations for this organizing and development. We need to be able to pass on and acquire new skills and knowledge to new leaders - particularly young women - through our traditional ways of sharing orally and demonstrating, in a safe and nurturing atmosphere.
IWN believes that successful Indigenous leaders must come from within a community and have strong cultural and tribal ties. Even the experts agree with us: "Strategies that build on the strengths of community identity and culture are more likely to succeed than those imposed externally."2 Our premise for our work lies in our belief that community change as well as global change can be achieved for the benefit of Indigenous peoples through developing strong leaders.
1. Capacity building in 2004 was carried out with the support of the Ford Foundation, the Unitarian Universalist VEATCH Program at Shelter Rock, the Sister Fund, the Tides Foundation, and the Environmental Support Center
2. Quote from a March 1992 survey of American Indian-Alaska Native Youth Health by Drs. Blum, Harmon, Harris, Bergeisen and Resnick.
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