Written by Mars Harren, COSS Communications Student Assistant

“I’d always imagined doing something different for Women’s History Month,” said Dr. Leece Lee-Oliver, Director of American Indian Studies and Women’s Studies professor. And that’s exactly what she did.

Lee-Oliver organized the inaugural Native American Women in Leadership Summit which took place in the Table Mountain Rancheria Room on March 1, to kick off this year’s Women’s History Month at Fresno State.

The summit began with President Joseph I. Castro and College of Social Sciences’ Dean Dr. Michelle Denbeste welcoming and thanking event attendees, speakers, and organizers.

The Native American Women’s Leadership Summit featured and centered around the work of Native American women tribal leaders: Jennifer Ruiz (Tribal Chairperson from Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians), Jennifer Malone (Wukchumi Elder and member of the Native American Advisory Board at Fresno State), Melinda Micco (Seminole citizen and Ethnic & Native American Studies Scholar), Leilani Clark (Native Diné/Santa Clara & African American heritage and Activist), and Shirley Guevarra (Tribal Vice Chair of the Dunlap Mono peoples).

For Guevarra, it was important she attend the event not only to inform the public about the Dunlap Mono’s efforts to become federally recognized but to also network with, meet and find ways to support other Native women and peoples.

“Let’s face it, women are the backbone of this society. The women are in charge, we’ve always been and we always will be,” Guevarra stated. For this reason, she believes that Native women have to support each other beyond money but also physically and emotionally.

It wasn’t just Native women who found it important to attend the event. Maria Guzman, a student in the Master’s program in School Counseling, was there to get an understanding of Native culture to be able to better accommodate Native students who she may counsel someday.

“I know I’m going to work with a diverse student population so I think the best way to actually understand each community is to attend every cultural event. It’s important for me to come and learn about their experiences and culture,” Guzman said.

Lee-Oliver hoped those who attended the event left feeling like they were more connected to Native women, each other and hopefully those feelings can help pave the way to become better allies with one another.

“We have to remember to thank the Earth, take care of the Earth and do what we can to really take care of it because we’re depleting it. We can best take care of one another in that respect,” said Guevarra of what she hoped attendees walked away with from the Summit.

Guevarra hopes the summit is a continuous effort. She acknowledges that what may work with one group of people may not work with another and says it’s important these kinds of events continue to happen. This way, different peoples can learn from one another, expand on what works, and carry on sharing cultures.