As an opening, and occasionally, I would like to share stories of women who have struggled but continue to thrive. More often than not, the media focuses on poverty, alcoholism and crime, tragedy, and the poor quality of life that is portrayed as the norm of every native that comes from and lives on reservation lands. I want to celebrate the lives of all those strong women who have turned negatives into positives. These are stories of overcoming obstacles, finding faith and spirituality, discovering and utilizing inner strength and will, of beating the odds. When a person shows talents in sports, education, music, art, and culture the whole community celebrates, praises and honors them. I want to celebrate the successes of native women everywhere. Because they are showing strength for the people. Renewing hope. Increasing ambition. Creating positivity. Diminishing stereotypes.  These are the stories that should be heard.
My first story is of Monica Yellow Bird. She grew up in different places, among those being the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation and Standing Rock Indian Reservation. But she feels most at home in Minneapolis, MN. She knows all too well the negative side to living the reservation life and to struggle as an urban native. She’s survived abuse in many forms that is so common among native american women. There were times she had to steal food from grocery stores to eat or sell drugs in order to pay her bills; to survive. When you’re down in life, problems seem to be everywhere and it takes a toll on how a person sees themselves. And that is a doorway to addiction which she fought with and won.

“Those hard times are what shaped me into the person I am today, and have taught me tough life lessons that can’t be learned from text books. I’ve been homeless, hungry, abused, in and out of homes and institutions in my younger years, and been on my own since I was 14.  I did everything I could once I was older to take care of my family and I did.  For me, I always knew that my pain and situations were temporary and someday if I worked hard enough that I’d be able to make it out, and I did. One huge memory would be my friend Lakota, who died tragically.  I think about her everyday and hope she’s proud! “

Monica isn’t tall but she has a big personality. She has a smile and laugh that is contagious. Her friendly, no nonsense, fun loving nature makes it difficult to imagine the sometimes overwhelming things she’s been through and
overcome. She doesn’t believe in living in the past and encourages positive change in those around her. She knows how hard it can be and will gladly go to the trouble of shaking you up to make you see everything is possible. (jk, kinda)

“What are my plans for the future?  My plans for the future are to finish my MBA degree and continue on for my Doctorates degree and maybe someday teach at a university level or start my own business.  I know that I eventually want to move to the northwest!!”

Having someone to look up to in life makes it easier to reach for dreams. But a lot of times we grow up confused about role models. When we’re younger we want to look cool and be accepted. So we look up to older individuals who end up steering us in the wrong direction. We wind up becoming part of the wrong crowd and that leads to all types of problems. Like Monica says, “It’s so easy to take the wrong path because the right one is so hard and full of tests.” Having good role models for our youth is important. They need to see the potential they all carry and are capable of doing great things.

“I have role models for different reasons. My dad is a role model since he has changed his life over and has been a huge spiritual guide for me. Another role model is the young people, the young people who strive to overcome all the obstacles that us native people face. They give me hope. And my grandma Grace is a huge role model for me, she has her masters degree and took care of me, she knows her Lakota language and is good at bingo haha…”

    So here it is, a woman with the courage to keep going after life has thrown not just rocks in her path, but boulders. In my own opinion, because I know her and she’s my friend, I’ve seen her get put through the grinder and yet she always come out stronger and braver than before. I am proud of her. She’s come a very long way in her life, I am witness to it. Her amazing spirit and perseverance are what our young native women need to look up to. This little woman is blessed and the world better get ready.

“My personal message to all native women would be: There are no short cuts or handouts for us and anything we want we have to work hard for it.  Life will be unfair but we can’t use that as an excuse or a crutch, we have to keep going, learning and growing and never ever give up. People are going to talk whether you’re doing bad or good, so keep doing good.”

She is currently a full-time student in graduate school at Baker University in Kansas, working towards a Masters
in Business Administration with emphasis in finance.  She works full time during the day at a career college, and part time as a fitness trainer.  With such a busy schedule she still find time to train at her home gym the Haskell Boxing Club.

Photos courtesy of Hannah R. Banks.
Editor’s note: Originally posted on the “Inspired Blog” by Carrie King on August 31, 2013.
Red Honey Mag

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