Amy Besaw Medford, Ed.M. ’02
Enrolled member of the Brothertown Indian Nation and of Menominee descent
Researcher at the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
When I was a young girl, it was hard to see female leadership outside my tribe as I was raised on military bases. But I saw the important role that women played within my tribe and within my family. The older I got, the more I saw the generation above me filling in leadership roles, whether it was tribal leaders on a regional or national scale. But it was usually in the tribal context: Indians supporting Indians.
When I entered the Ed School’s master’s program, there was just one senator who was Native: Ben Nighthorse Campbell [senator from Colorado from 1993 to 2005]. Now, there is not just one Native woman in Congress, there are three! And they can support each other and be part of that great alliance of women of color and their allies. As a mother, it gives me hope for my daughter and my son, who can see what is a clear recognition of the roles that women can play on a national scale.
As secretary of Interior, Haaland will be the first Native woman who will be responsible for policies that will affect Native American communities. That’s very powerful. She’s better able to represent the interests of Indigenous communities. As a Native person, Haaland doesn’t have to be given an Indian 101 course, or be taught about tribal sovereignty. She doesn’t have to be given the history of treaties between the U.S. government and the Native nations, and how the government failed its responsibilities. Haaland also knows from direct experience how Native nations govern themselves. She was a tribal administrator: She gets the nuances that exist in Indian country. As the first people of this land, I love that we have her protecting our land. For Native people, it’s inspiring, prideful, and empowering to see Haaland, a strong woman fighting for our rights and for the protection of our land. It is going to be a tough job; she won’t be able to please everyone. But I have faith in her leadership and I think she will serve our nation well.