Fire and Inspiration: Native American Women’s Conference

On a cold Tuesday night, the wood started to burn, flames danced with the wind, and flashing airplanes echoed in the sky. We sat around the fire on a patio of a cliff, covered with a cozy blanket. Steven Darden, the story teller, opened the night with the history of Native Americans—the child’s first laugh, the seven spirits, the Doorway Mountain, the ceremonies, the interdependence of people, plants, mother earth, and father sky and more.

I was sitting there, listening to the prayers to honor the elderly, smelling the seed burnt in the fire, tasting the sorrow in their stories of life-long struggles and feeling their desires to connect with roots and the spirits. I felt like I was in an old dream, where I was crying while reading the book about the heart-broken tragedy due to marriage separation of Han (the major nationality) and Hui (the Muslim minority, one of the 55 minority nations in China). Surprisingly there are so many similarities in the world and its histories.

I was fortunate to know more about the Native American population while I was volunteering for Project DreamCatcher. Project DreamCatcher is a business training program for Native American women entrepreneurs from the Hualapai, Tohono O’odham, San Carlos Apache, and White Mountain Apache tribes. The program is fully-funded by the Freeport-McMoRan Foundation and implemented by Thunderbird for Good. Based on Thunderbird’s proven training programs for business women, Project DreamCatcher brings cohorts of Native American business women to Thunderbird’s Glendale campus for an intensive week of training.

This warm and emotional story night kicked off the Native American Women’s Conference, a platform for Native Americans to pursue an unconventional career path and sustainable prosperity. In this Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe property gathered female and male Native Americans from the Phoenix Indian Center, the Navajo Nation, the Gila River Indian Community and more, to learn from successful practices and build their business network.

Caroline Felicity Antone, a DreamCatcher graduate, generously shared her knowledge of entrepreneurial skills development and her insights of handling difficult situations. Rising from domestic violence, sexual assault and attempts at suicide, Caroline designed her own destiny, built her business, and inspired many more people in her community and her tribe, Tohonon O’odham.

Photo by Youfeng (Gloria) Pan

Another session I really enjoyed was “True Colors” that help people understand their colors and their ways of thinking, as well as their teams’. Thunderbird for Good staff members Katherine Zuga and Faduma-Dhool Mohamed (MAGAM ’17) are both “Blue”—characterized as an enthusiastic, compassionate, sincere, romantic, and peaceful relationship seeker. I am “Green”, a global, analytical, inventive, and non-conformist problem solver. With a detailed understanding of different thinking, these entrepreneurs can better manage their teams and achieve success.

Besides the speeches, the conference provided opportunities for vendors to showcase their handmade products. Monkey Shine Handbags was one of the unique vendors. The bags are amazing outcomes of sustainability plus creativity. All the handbags were made of recycled materials. For instance, a side bag might be from a pocket of a jeans; a button might be from an old shirt. With a little imagination, these bags become unique arts.

Photo by Youfeng (Gloria) Pan

Chuck and his family drove from San Diego to share the unique designs and art pieces they created. In addition to an artist, he is also an advocate. He allocated a prominent space on his booth for the T-shirts with words “NO DAPL”.  Although he is now away from his tribe in Dakota, he is still fighting to defend the treaty agreement and Native Americans’ rights.

For hundreds of years, life has never been easy to Native Americans. However, they still feel hopeful because they are tracing back their roots and transforming them to the new era, because they are fighters for their lives, and because resources from the society are flowing to them.

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