Mother’s Day is the one day of the year where mothers are recognized for all they do for their children, but it’s an undeniable truth that many mothers contribute to building their nations every single day. Within their respective communities, women serve in many roles, but none is more important than the role they play in shaping their family circles.
In my nearly 30 years working with, in and for tribal communities, I’ve connected with generations of Native American mothers, each with their unique journey and stories of joy, courage, humility and grief. Their roles as mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and daughters intersect fluidly, with the combined end goal of fostering good relatives who treat others well and nurturing future generations of individuals who are equipped with a strong sense of self and culture. In celebration of Mother’s Day, I’m sharing the stories of two of these inspiring women.
Brycea, Fort Yuma-Quechan Community
Brycea is an 81-year-old manager at the Quechan Senior Center on the Fort Yuma-Quechan Reservation near Yuma, Ariz. Brycea was recently the recipient of an annual recognition given to an Elder of the Quechan Tribe for their good deeds and mentorship in the community. She’s also earned an Iron Award for her leadership efforts in Imperial County, Calif.
At home, Brycea reflects on her childhood where she and her siblings were raised by her older brother and his wife, as she’s now reciprocating the parenting role by caring for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Brycea’s intergenerational home includes her granddaughter who’s lived with her since Brycea’s daughter passed away a few years ago, along with a teenage grandson and a 7-year-old great grandson. Brycea took her great grandson in because his mother had been “in and out of the hospital.” Fortunately, Brycea tells us, his mother is doing much better now and will be able to take him back after the school year is done.
Her generational sense of responsibility is as steeped in community and work, as it is in family and home. Brycea says her age is “just a number.” Last year, after 16 years in retirement, she went from being one of the many Elders who receive services at Quechan to managing services for the entire center. Her advice for serving others is “listen and learn.”
Duanna, Standing Rock Sioux Community
At 47 years old, Duanna is changing the status quo and seeking a college degree in human services at Sitting Bull College. Witnessing the struggles that many in her community face on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in Fort Yates, N.D., Duanna wants to help reunite families through education and teach other mothers “a better way to parent and better themselves,” as she puts it. She was awarded a scholarship through the American Indian Education Fund (AIEF), a program of Partnership With Native Americans, to continue her education.
Duanna is also a grandmother who is co-parenting her young granddaughter with her son. She wanted to assist him and ensure his success as a parent to a young daughter. Duanna herself was raised by her mother after her father passed away at an early age.
She said her mother taught her many things – both verbally and non-verbally – “not just by words but by her actions that I mirrored.” For Duanna, her mother was also her best friend, mentor, and someone she looked up to and admired. “I like to think I made her proud by becoming the person I am,” said Duanna, “It was, after all, thanks to her teachings.”
As to how she navigates it all, Duanna shared this lesson of self-care that was once given to her: “Love yourself enough to know what is good for you, and what is not. Seek out good things that help you academically and spiritually. Surround yourself with positive people, educated people, spiritual people. In the end you must learn to love yourself before you can love others.”
PWNA wishes to extend a sincere thank you to all the mothers who serve their families and their communities, nurturing future generations of good relatives and strong, sustainable nations – not only on Mother’s Day but every day.