Commerce honors Native women this International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

Many strong leaders are setting a powerful example for younger generations


On August 9, people around the world are celebrating the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, and so is Commerce! The United Nations (UN) established this holiday to mark the founding of its Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1982. This year’s theme focuses on the role of Indigenous women in preserving and sharing traditional knowledge.

Native women have stepped into highly visible leadership roles at the federal, state and local levels. They are setting powerful examples for younger generations of Native women. Such trailblazers include Secretary Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo), Rep. Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk), Rep. Debra Lekanoff (Tlingit), President Fawn Sharp (Quinault), respected elder Vi Hilbert (Upper Skagit) and respected elder Lorraine Loomis (Swinomish).


Secretary Haaland made history as the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary. She is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna. The U.S. Department of the Secretary website shares her story.

She first stepped into leadership as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives alongside Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas. Rep. Davids worked her way through school as a single mother and centers education in her work. You can learn more about her story on her website.

State and local

In Washington state, we have influential Tribal women in leadership. Rep. Lekanoff serves the 40th legislative district. She has sponsored bills focused on salmon protection and missing and murdered indigenous persons. She focuses her work on preventing and reducing homelessness, addressing the housing crisis, and reversing the history of racial and economic injustice. Read more about Rep. Lekanoff.

Meanwhile, Fawn Sharp of the Quinault Nation is serving as the 23rd president of the National Congress of American Indians, the oldest and largest Tribal government organization in the country. She describes herself as a president of NCAI, past five-term president of Quinault Indian Nations, human rights attorney, climate change activist and mom. Learn more about her amazing story.

Native women are making waves in the political leadership world as well as stepping into the role of traditional knowledge keeper. Take Vi Hilbert as an example. An honored elder of the Upper Skagit Tribe, she was known as a storyteller, writer, educator, linguist and fluent speaker of Lushootseed.

She wrote curriculum for language classes and shared traditional stories all over Washington state. She received the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts from the Clinton administration as well as being named a Washington state living treasure in 1989. You can learn more about Vi Hilbert’s story.

Finally, Lorraine Loomis was a Swinomish Tribal elder, chairperson of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, manager for the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and one of the strongest advocates for Washington salmon. She dedicated herself to the ceaseless fight for treaty fishing rights for all treaty Tribes in Western Washington. To learn more about her story, read this Seattle Times article.



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