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International Women’s Day 2024: Honoring Mother Earth, the Water, and Indigenous Women and Matriarchs

Updated: Mar 8

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Nizhoni Begay, WPLC Communications, communications@waterprotectorlegal.org 


International Women’s Day 2024: Honoring Mother Earth, the Water, and Indigenous Women and Matriarchs


Happy International Women's Day. The Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC) stands committed to highlighting the indispensable role of Indigenous women in our movements. Since time immemorial many of our communities have revered Mother Earth. Honoring Indigenous women's stewardship of Mother Earth emphasizes the profound connection between women, particularly Indigenous women, and the nurturing and protection of our environment. We also honor the Water this Women’s History Month with World Water Day (March 22) approaching.


About International Women’s Day 2024

International Women's Day (IWD), observed annually on March 8th, serves as a global platform to recognize the achievements of women and advocate for gender equity. It traces back to the early 20th century, marked by women's movements for better working conditions and voting rights. Today, it has evolved into a day of celebration, reflection, and action, highlighting the ongoing struggle for women's rights worldwide. At the heart of IWD for WPLC is the acknowledgment of Indigenous women's integral role in environmental justice. 


The UN’s theme this year is “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress.” In 2022, Native women working full time, year-round were typically paid only 59 cents for every dollar paid to white men. Throughout a 40-year career, this wage gap costs Indigenous women $1,149,880. Indigenous women are paid less than white men—and white women. On average, Indigenous women in the U.S. are paid 40% less than white men and 24% less than white women. Join WPLC in our international call to #CloseTheGap and #InvestInWomen.


Honoring Mother Earth, the Water, and Indigenous Women

While there are so many women, seen and unseen, throughout the world fighting for our Peoples, here are some Indigenous women doing the work for cultural survival, the Land, the Water, and our Peoples:

  • Pua Case was born and raised on the Island of Hawai‘i surrounded by the high mountains of Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, Hualalai and Kohala. She is a Kumu Hula, a teacher of traditional dance and chant, and a teacher of the ways, culture and traditions of the kanaka maoli or native peoples of Hawai‘i. With a degree in Hawaiian Language and culture, and a teaching degree in Social Studies, interwoven with the traditional teachings, philosophies and expectations from her kupuna or elders, Pua has integrated ‘Ike Hawai‘i or Hawaiian knowledge and lessons into the public school system for over 30 years. Pua sits on various educational and cultural boards including the Waimea Hawaiian Civic Club, Waimea Community Education Hui, and MKEA, Mauna Kea Education and Awareness. Pua and her family are petitioners in the Contested Case hearing filed on behalf of the sacred Mauna Kea mountain. As a representative of the Mauna Kea ‘Ohana Na Kia’I Mauna, Idle No More Hawai‘i Warriors Rising and Idle No More Mauna Kea, she and her family have traveled throughout the continent, to Europe and various places across the Pacific to network, support and address the issues and challenges facing sacred places and life ways of the people of Hawai‘i.

  • Jennifer Nez Denetdale is a professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico, where she teaches courses in Native American Studies with an emphasis on race, class, and gender. She is the first Diné person to earn a Ph.D. She is the director of UNM's Institute for American Indian Research (IfAIR) and the chair of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission. As a Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission commissioner, she has advocated for Navajo women and the LGBTQ+ community.

  • Berta Cáceres was a Honduran environmental activist and Indigenous leader. She was the co-founder and coordinator of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). She won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 after her grassroots campaign successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam in Río Gualcarque. After years of threats against her life for her activism, Berta Cáceres was assassinated in her home. Last year in 2021, David Castillo, former president of hydroelectric corporation DESA (that wanted to build the Agua Zarca dam), was found guilty of plotting the murder of Berta Cáceres. One of her quotes that resonates with us on WPLC staff is: “Lo vamos a lograr, me lo dijo el río.” “We will succeed, the river told me so.” Berta Cáceres

  • Radmilla Cody is a singer, GRAMMY Nominee, multiple Native American Award Nominee, Indie Award Winner, NPR's 50 Great Voices, and anti-domestic violence activist who was the 46th Miss Navajo from 1997 to 1998. She was the first biracial Miss Navajo and thus so far the only Miss Navajo partially of African-American heritage, sparking debate over Navajo identity. Despite this, Radmilla has persevered and not only plays an active role within community and organizing spaces, but advocates for new language and spaces for Diné Nahiłií. Radmilla advocated for the now widely used term Nahiłií (Naa = those who came across or overcame, hil – dark and calm, ii – oneness) replacing an outdated Diné Bizaad (Navajo language) word for our African-American relatives.

  • Francia Márquez is a Goldman prize-winning Afro-Colombian human rights lawyer and environmental activist in Colombia. The Goldman prize is sometimes called the “environmental Nobel.” She first became an activist at 13 years old when the construction of a dam threatened her community and livelihood. Francia organized the women of La Toma and stopped illegal gold mining on their ancestral land. She ran alongside Gustavo Petro and became Colombia’s first Afro-Colombian vice president. “La guerra es guerra, venga de donde venga. Lo que deberíamos estar exigiendo es la paz real para nuestros territorios…A ninguno le importa, o ninguno se ha puesto a mirar que, en últimas, quienes terminamos pagando los platos rotos somos las comunidades afros, indígenas y campesinas.” “War is war, wherever it comes from. What we should be demanding is real peace for our territories…Nobody cares, or nobody has looked at the fact that, ultimately, those who end up paying for the broken dishes are the Black, Indigenous, and rural communities.” Francia Márquez

  • Hinaleimoana Kwai Kong Wong-Kalu, also known as Kumu Hina, is a Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) māhū – a traditional third gender person who occupies "a place in the middle.” Traditionally, the people who held this third space were healers, artists, practitioners, teachers. Kumu Hina is a kumu hula (hula teacher), filmmaker, artist, activist, and a community leader in Native Hawaiian language and culture preservation. She co-founded Kūlia Na Mamo (a Native Hawaiian and transgender-led health organization), served as the cultural director of Hālau Lōkahi (a charter school with a Native curriculum), and was the eponymous subject of the 2014 feature documentary Kumu Hina. In an article in Them, she said, “To be māhū is a blessing. To be māhū is greater than the gender binary—male, female, those are the ordinary people. I can see the world from two different sides, I can do things from two different sides. And so can a lot of other māhū.”

  • Jakeline Romero Epiayu was a Wayúu matriarch and human rights defender in the department of Guajira, in the northeast of Colombia. Jakeline was part of the organization Sütsuin Jieyuu Wayúu (Force of Wayuu Women), created in 2006 with the aim of visibilising and denouncing violations of the rights of the Wayúu Indigenous people, which are a result of the mining megaprojects, forced displacement, the situation of vulnerability of the victims of the armed conflict and the presence of armed groups and the militarization of the Guajira territory.

  • Mililani Trask is a leader of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, political speaker, and international human rights attorney. She founded Na Koa Ikaika o Ka Lāhui Hawaiʻi, a native Hawaiian non-governmental organization focusing on cultural, social, and economic development, education, health, housing, land entitlements, energy, and water issues. She has advocated for Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) rights at the United Nations. In 2022, after being a part of the kūpuna (elders) arrested at Mauna Kea, Mililani spoke at the National Science Foundation public scoping meeting saying, “You will not build on Mauna Kea. The die was cast more than two years ago; one call, 36 came to be arrested just of the elders. And 10,000 [other people]. You think we will continue to allow this? We worship there. The iwis of our kūpuna are buried there…Mark my words, you will not build on Mauna Kea. We have said it for 50 years. Go back to the lawsuit filed by my office in 2002, at that point the pleadings say 30  years. Listen to what we are saying. We have tolerated it to the point where our kupuna will be arrested and thousands will come. You will not persevere. You will not build on Mauna Kea. Spend all the money you want. If we have to go, we will return. Three kupunas died. I promise you the next time we go to the road, there will be a hundred to replace each of them... Next time around, more will come. Mark my words. You want to waste millions, do it. You will not build [on] Mauna Kea and if 20,000 and 36 kūpunas going to prison didn’t show you that, then come back and we’ll have 50,000 and hundreds of kūpuna.

  • “For Diné, our traditional values influence how we view our women and how they take on roles that are reflective of the first mother of the Diné, which is Asdzáá Nádleehé (Changing Woman).” Dr. Jennifer Denetdale


In tandem with honoring matriarchs in our communities, we must also remember to honor Mother Earth, Asdzáá Nádleehé (Changing Woman) and Our Waters, Yoolgai asdzáá (White Shell Woman). To Diné (Navajo people), these mother figures are recognized as Holy Peoples. Every day we work to protect and safeguard our Earth, Land, and Waters.


We honor Berta Cáceres and Jakeline Romero Epiayu as ancestors who we carry with us in this work.


Honoring Matriarchs: Our Executive Director, Natali Segovia

This year, WPLC staff also want to take a moment to honor our Executive Director, Natali Segovia (Quechua). Natali Segovia is an international human rights attorney. Her advocacy focuses on defending Water Protectors and human rights defenders facing repression for their activism, particularly concerning forced displacement, sacred land desecration, and human rights violations due to extractive industry and development projects. She has worked for over 15 years addressing similar issues in rural areas of Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. In addition to leading WPLC’s work, Natali frequently lectures at law schools to foster a new generation of attorneys. She was a Givelber Distinguished Public Interest Lecturer at Northeastern University School of Law in 2022, where she taught "In Defense of the Sacred: Human Rights, Earth Justice, and the Law."  Natali has also taught “Indigenous Peoples and Colonial Law” as well as “Unsettled: Indigenous Peoples' Struggles for Defense of Water, Land & Human Rights” at CUNY Law School in New York City. She holds a law degree from Arizona State University and dual degrees in Political Science and Latin American Studies from Columbia University. She currently serves on the Scientific Committee of the Monique and Roland Weyl People’s Academy of International Law.


Natali has built WPLC into an international and national legal organization, while still keeping true to our roots: Standing Rock. WPLC has flourished under Natali’s leadership and attention to finding new, creative avenues and ways to use the law apart from mass criminal defense. Her personal and professional experiences throughout Indian Country and Latin America guide our work at WPLC. Recently, Natali spoke compellingly about why we need to make seen, the unseen injustices inflicted on Indigenous and First Nations Peoples at the HEAL2023 conference in Australia, saying we must be “documenting the frontline, making the invisible visible to the world, sharing knowledge on a regular basis.” She cited a 2022 Front Line Defenders report that documented the killing of 401 Human rights defenders in 26 Countries and spoke about the law being used as a tool for repression and being weaponized against our People. She continued emphasizing the importance of using international human rights frameworks for Indigenous Peoples and the intersection between justice and having access to basic human rights.


Natali is part of the less than one-half of 1 percent of all lawyers (0.4%) who are Indigenous. She serves as an example and inspiration for Indigenous students hoping to grow that 0.4%. WPLC Communications Coordinator, Nizhoni Begay (Diné/Quechua) reflected on this fact and what IWD means saying, “Seeing people like Natali is important for Indigenous Peoples wanting to enter spaces not traditionally meant for us. Her litigation experience and accolades speak for themselves, but the perspective she brings to the law and how she interacts with our community is what inspires me most. Indigenous Peoples have had a complicated history with our legal system, we continue to be underrepresented in the legal profession and overrepresented in our prison industrial complex. Representation matters and I am so grateful to have a mentor and role model like Natali.”


As we celebrate International Women's Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to amplifying the voices of Indigenous women and supporting organizations furthering the rights of Indigenous Peoples with an emphasis on environmental stewardship. By recognizing and honoring their contributions, we pave the way for a better future for all.


About WPLC:

Born out of the #NoDAPL Movement at Standing Rock, the Water Protector Legal Collective is an Indigenous-led legal nonprofit that provides support and advocacy for Indigenous peoples and Original Nations, the Earth, and climate justice movements. To learn more about WPLC and how to contribute, visit: www.waterprotectorlegal.org.

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