We Are Born of Spirit Through Mother Earth and the Womb of a Woman: Exploration of Identity

By tai simpson, nimiipuu, Wendy Schlater, Payomkawichum, Dolly Tatofi, Native Hawaiian, and Paula Julian, Filipina
Tai Simpson, Dolly Tatofi, and Wendy Schlater speaking at the June Women Are Sacred Conference closing plenary panel. Photo courtesy of Paula Julian.

The strong-hearted leadership of survivors and advocates have been the lifeblood of our grassroots movement over the last three decades to restore the sovereignty of Tribal Nations and increase Native women’s safety. Restoring Indigenous protections rooted in Native cultures, customs, and traditions and reforming and transforming federal, state, and local systems requires:

  • A political clarity of the inextricable link between violence against women and colonization reflected in federal laws, policies, and practices.
  • National grassroots organizing by Indian Tribes, and Tribal and non-Tribal allied organizations to remove systemic barriers disproportionately impacting Native women.
  • Prioritizing Indigenous worldviews of justice, health, safety, to inform the development of solutions recognizing the sacredness of Native women and the resilience and strength of Native cultures. Indigenous identities are central to Indigenous worldviews 

As Alaska Native sisters from the Yup’ik Women’s Coalition shared: 


Women were so respected and honored. The enemy
came and stole their identity, but we can get our
identity back. We have been silent for so long.
It’s time to start talking. We are young, beautiful,
intelligent women, and we have a right to say no. Our
body is ours. It’s no one’s body but ours. We know
that the system is failing. The only way that we can
help our people is if we do something about it...Our
movement is like a seed that has been covered and
buried for a long time, and now it’s starting to bloom.
I feel like there’s a fire inside of me that wants
to burn.1


At our June 2023 Women Are Sacred Conference, we invited three Native women to discuss what identities each of them brings into our shared space at the moment and what stories or truths need to be shared about those identities. We invite you all to have these discussions with each other. We thank tai, Dolly, and Wendy for sharing some of their thoughts with us below.


I have known womanhood as I was carried as an egg while my mother was carried in utero inside her mother. Their stories as women, grams, aunties, sisters, and lovers are connected to the water that birthed each of us. It’s the water that connects us to the sky and the earth. It’s encompassing and powerful. On quiet days, standing by the river, we can hear the river song that connects our generations. I rely on this matriarchy and ancestral connection to land and nature as an engine for my life and way of being. Every day, I consider how to serve and honor my body, my body, a gift from the land. Every day, I consider and reflect on stories, gifts from matriarchs before me. Every day, I consider how to write a story with my life that deems me worthy of my descendants, a gift I give to them. Identity is not the individual experience we are conditioned to believe.


Identity is a reflective woven fabric of my history, ancestry, future, and current life. Each thread represents my laughter, my hurt, my joy, my tears, my pain, my steps, my falls, and even the experiences of those in my community and family. I am never alone, always held by my own experience but also connected to those around me, by the water and land in me, and by the time that connects the generational arc of my life.


I am honored and humbled to be in this vessel at this time with these loved ones. I am expansive and limitless. Imagining a world without violence, practicing decolonization, embodying liberation and abolition is more than possible when I, we, recognize the power in that limitlessness.



The identities I bring in the spaces I fill today foremost are relative, including 2S Payomkawichum $ungal (woman), mother, co-parent, daughter, Sister, Aunty, cousin, and friend. Being a good relative helps me show my best self as a Sun-dancer, Tribal leader, advocate, traditional singer, and activist.


My values, I feel, can be represented with the beginning of our people’s Creation truth in being born of spirit with a value/instruction of being a good relative doing no harm and, if harm is done, working towards healing and reconciliation. I know I am not perfect, but I try to end my days by making things right between people I may have had a conflict with (including myself) and growing from that point.


One value of surrendering and giving unconditionally that is in our people’s creation truth was when our teacher Wiiyoot died. Wiiyoot was the first to die and return as Moyla Wiiyoot, the new moon, who guides our spirits to the Milky Way when we leave this realm. Up to this point, our people had survived on white clay. When death came to our people, their diet changed, and they craved meat. $ukut (deer) is the first to lay their life down willingly so the people may eat. $ukut instructed how to take their life and prepare their body to nourish the people.


Every day, when I am mindful and show up with my best self, I go back to our people’s first teachings and use those to facilitate my interactions with those I live and work with. I often marvel at the examples of the seasons and how each brings us different environments to nourish the food that will grow for us to eat, use as medicine for ceremonies, or the materials to make our homes, clothing, baskets, etc. I pause and am reminded how loved we are and cared for no matter what we identify as. The seasons and all that comes with it show up for us All! I am so thankful to Tamáayawuti Mother Earth, for she has not only birthed us but has lived and gifted us with all the medicine, tools, and cognitive thinking so we may All continue to live fruitful lives interacting as good relatives. The choice is ours to make ;) Ayalanik (live a good life).

The Women Are Sacred Conference 2023 took place in Albuquerque, NM in June, boasting over 600 attendees. / Photo courtesy of NIWRC.



He Wāhine Wau, I am woman. A simple statement yet deep understanding of what it means to be wāhine. Wā is the expanse, a period of time and space; this includes everything and everyone. Hine, also known as Hina, is the female essence that carries this wā. It aligns with the kuleana that women have and bring forth, especially in this earthly space. Wāhine are the path for everyone that is born and should continue to be the path while our breath is still strong. A great reminder that needs to continue to reverberate across Papa, mother earth. I grew up diverse. Ethnically I am Hawaiian, Chinese, Russian, Samoan, and Portuguese and I had a dream to become a translator of all of these languages in order to help others to communicate effectively; it was about bridging understanding. Being so diverse had emphasized the importance of being sensitive to the ways of a people and not having judgment. As we reflect on the LGBTQ+ population and how identification continues to expand it should make us stop and wonder on a deeper level why this is so. Why do the labels continue to evolve? There has to be something about this, why do people want to be specifically identified in a certain way?


Connecting to this thought I do not claim one pronoun and rather say that my pronoun is whatever you feel. I also donʻt claim one identity, yet I identify highly in the spiritual; essence is where our true self lies, our genuine, authentic, and complete self. Essence is experienced mostly through feeling, and this is why ALOHA is my identity. All I know is aloha; love. Aloha is the feeling that we need to bring back completely in our ways of living and being, and it needs to be ʻoiaʻiʻo, have that spirit of truth because this is what people feel and come to know as truth.


We each have stories of aloha and how someone or someplace made us feel. Just like how what we say and do should align, the same can be said about how we say and what we say need to align with pure intent. Aloha is a pathway to perpetual healing; it is the medicine that we have always had.