I recently attended the United Nations, as an Episcopal Young Adult Delegate attending their Council on the Status of Women. This was an honor, and a privilege. I am a young, native hawaiian woman, and I often thought my world would not get bigger than Hawaii. I bear witness to so many other young Hawaiians who don’t get off the rock, who are unaware of the larger world.

I would love to see more young Native people have the opportunity to travel to New York City, and to hear the stories of the other women who come to the UNCSW. I found so many connections with others–though they live across the world from me, the struggles that I have faced as a Native person are kin to the problems others have faced. It was important for me to see that I live not within a small network of indigenous peoples facing hardships, but in a global community of women facing problems, the same as mine, and dealing with them.

I met a woman from Africa, who was telling me that in her country, women are not allowed to own land. Only men are allowed to own land, and so even if a woman cultivates it, if her husband passes away she has no rights to it. Indigenous peoples everywhere struggle with land ownership. So much of our culture is based on ecology that land is of incredible importance. Without our land, we have nothing. In Hawaii, we do not have any rights to land. Hawaiian people are not Federally recognized in the way that NAtive Americans are. We have no reservation land, and our water rights are being constantly jeopardized. I didn’t realize that this problem persisted in other places. Listening to her story, I felt a kinship and a sense of relief. I am not alone.

There was a woman from South America who was talking to me about how hard it is to get her church to sing in Spanish. She goes to one of the English speaking congregations because she likes to practice her english. She wanted to incorporate some Spanish songs, and there was an upheaval. This is a story I have heard time and again from Native people, that their language was disallowed in church. She felt rejected, and as if she didn’t fit in to her faith community. To fit, she felt she needed to change.

I have been rejected for being too rich, too white, too educated, too proper, and a plethora of other things. In the wider world, I have been accused of being too native, too brown, too different. I live in an in-between space, often not belonging in any one group. We cannot stand together, or raise our voices until we can say the same thing. We need to depend on each other, and leverage each of our experiences to tell the larger narrative of our people, and change the world we live in.

I think one of the first steps to unity is conversation. I had to listen at the UNCSW. I mostly listened, in fact. I listened to much wisdom, and many stories. Sometimes I had to bite my own tongue in order to really hear the other voices in the room. Through conversation, and listening to each others stories, comes not only a shared sense of understanding, but also a very powerful recognition of the story you are telling. Too often we accept our situation as one that is permanent, and forget to fight for rights we deserve. As women, we have the skill of negotiation and facilitation. We can leverage these skills, which are societally taught, to our benefit. We can encourage conversation and bear witness to the struggles our sisters face, both globally and locally.

With a common understanding and recognition of the struggles we each face, we can move forward. We can move out of hurt and into joy. We can make our voices heard, even above the roar of the world. Our voices will cry, “Let there be justice. Let there be freedom. Let there be peace”.

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