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Gabriella Cazares-Kelly: Indigenous women lead Tucson Women's March

Gabriella Cazares-Kelly: Indigenous women lead Tucson Women's March

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The 2019 Tucson Women’s March will be lead by Indigenous women.

To be more specific, the march will be led by teams of Tohono O’odham toka players, followed by Indigenous women from various tribal nations and our supporters. Toka, is a traditional O’odham women’s game similar to field hockey, but played with materials harvested from the desert. Over 30 teams from O’odham communities have been invited.

The word Tucson, comes from the O’odham word,” S-cuk son,” or base of the black mountain, and is land that was traditionally occupied by our people. To have O’odham women leading a march on O’odham land is powerful and important. To many, we’re almost invisible.

Many Tucsonans are simply unaware that they are living less than 50 miles away from the second-largest reservation in the United States and that they’re only a short drive from the San Xavier community, which is also a part of our tribe.

A common thing that people say to me is, “I’ve never met a Native American before.” Well, we’re still here, and we’re impacted by the same social, economic and governmental policies that the rest of the country is dealing with, and sometimes it impacts our communities even harder.

The 2017 Tucson Women’s March did not formally include any local Indigenous people; although a group of 200-plus attended and marched together, it was a grassroots organizing effort.

The 2018 Phoenix Women’s March had invited Indigenous people to lead the march, but an impatient crowd didn’t allow for that, and not only did we not lead the march, we were separated and unable to stay together as a group.

The 2019 Tucson Women’s March planning committee has worked to give Indigenous Women a platform. Not only will we be leading the march, but two respected community members are included in the programming.

Ofelia Zepeda will be reading her poetry in O’odham and English to start the festivities. Community organizer April Ignacio will be sharing more about the game of toka, followed by a speech addressing the local aspect of the international issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

Although the Tucson Women’s March, like others throughout the country, has been the cause of painful blunders in regards to diversity and inclusion, it is important to recognize that the planning of the event itself is a catalyst for these conversations.

We have been in communication with the Tucson Women’s March organizers for over a year to make this happen and have recently stepped up our organizing efforts within that space as well as in the O’odham community as the dates grow closer.

We are aware of a group of women of color who are choosing to boycott the march, and we wholeheartedly support them. Their concerns are valid and the community work that we all do often intersects. They are our community as well.

However, we are committed to making Indigenous people more visible, as we have often been ignored, forgotten or even erased from the public eye.

We’re still here, and we’re leading the way.

Gabriella Cazares-Kelly is a member of Indivisible Tohono, a grassroots organization that provides opportunities for civic engagement and education for members of her tribe, the Tohono O’odham Nation of Arizona. She is an educator and the 2017-2018 Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.

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