Indigenous Women’s Day

Today on Indigenous Women’s Day I celebrate my ancestors.

My first knowledge of Miskito Indigenous culture was learned from my ancestors, Rosina Nelson, my great-grandmother who was a midwife; and from my grandmother, Mandy Lee Thompson Nelson, who worked with the Moravian missionaries in Bilwi. 

Both of them were from the indigenous community of Karata located in front of a lagoon by the same name, where you can sit and enjoy drinking and eating coconut as much as you want while talking to the people who are friendly, and tidy in the way they maintain their community clean. Fishing is the community’s main source of economical income. 

Today, I celebrate these two women, who are my role model of indigenous women. They were strong, brave, and never renounced their tasks. I am proud that they are part of my roots.  

I had the opportunity to meet many indigenous women from different countries and backgrounds while working as a journalist in places such as summits, remote places, and during my daily life. They all are full of energy and carefulness.

Since 1983, International Day of Indigenous Women is still celebrated today. It was established in Tihuanacu, Bolivia during the Second Meeting of Organizations and Movements of America. The main objective of this day is to remember all the brave indigenous women who had fought for their families and communities to preserve the experiences, values, languages, and heritage knowledge. 

Bartolina Sisa was an Aymaran woman from Peru, who fougth against the Spanish colony and participated in the siege of La Paz with her partner Túpac Katari, and other natives. She was captured and executed by her enemies on the 5th of September, 1972.

Indigenous women are often discriminated against for their gender, ethnicity, and poor condition. However, countless outstanding indigenous women shaped and are shaping the history of their community and the world. Here, Women Wheel names 5 figures fought or are fighting for native welfare.  

Shirley Colleen Smith ( 1924-1998), was a Wiradjuri woman, activist, and social worker who devoted her time for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in New South Wales. She was the one who created the aboriginal legal, medical, and children services, a housing company and a tent embassy. 

She was known as Mum Shirl, because while visiting her brother in prison she would talk to the other prisoners, so the guards asked what was her relationship with them. She replied, “I am their mum”.

Autumn Peltier (2004-), is a young water activist from Wikwemikong First Nation in northern Ontario, Canada, known as the “water warrior”. For years, she has been advocating for safe drinking water for indigenous people in Canada and other countries.  

In 2018, she spoke at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, USA, where she said: “Our water should not be for sale. We all have a right to this water as we need it”.

Peltier addressing the UN in 2018

Finnish Sami women,  Tiina Sanila-Aikio, Riikka Karppinen, Inka Saara Arttijeff, Anna Morottaja, Petra Laiti, and others are fighting to save their land, water, and animals ( reindeer-herding and fishing) that are threatened by climate change, the construction of an Arctic Railway, forestry, and mining. 

Brazil Indigenous girls and women activists, Rayanne Cristine Maximo Franca, Célia Xakriabá, Sônia Guajajara, and many others are campaigning under the slogan “Our land, our body, our spirit” to save the Amazon rainforest which is called the “lung of the Earth” from deforestation, climate change, and mining. 

My fifth figure of the list, but in no way the least,  is someone I know from my hometown and had the opportunity to work at moments with her. She is Lottie Cunningham Wren, an indigenous lawyer and human rights defender who has been fighting and working efficiently with the Miskitos, Mayangnas, and Afro-descendants communities in Nicaragua for many years. 

Do you know an indigenous woman in your community, who is changing history? Share your story!

Race and gender: Being same -being different

Black women facing racism in two countries across the Atlantic Ocean.

Currently, a lot of discussion and debate are taking place about black matters in  society, on media, social networks, and panels. The varieties of topics go from racisms, discrimination, human rights, movie, music, to fashion. One day for example, I came across with an article that developed how it is being a black woman in a liberal city. While reading it I realized that things described by the writer didn’t suit me but others did. So it was an affirmation that a black woman does live similarities and differences labelling in Africa, America (continent), or Europe. Have you ever stop to think about this? 

People have the perception that Finland being a European Nordic country doesn’t have a black population, but it’s a mistake Finland has a native and immigrants black community that is active in society in different scenarios such as, performance, art, politic, activism, music, etc. 

The Finnish organization Anti-Racism Media activist Alliance (ARMA) is a three years project sponsor by Kone Foundation that combines academic research and activism. It aims that both be an equal tool to discuss racism in Finland thought innovated way in media, arts, and pedagogy. This is done through three pillars: creative publishing, international networking, and knowledge exchange. 

Monica Gathuo works at ARMA along with Leonardo Custódio. She is a native black Finnish woman, student, activist, freelance writer, who has been influenced by her mother regarding topics such as justice and equality witch, are hard-core elements that aligned her daily life and work.

As part of the international exchange programme from ARMA Monica flew to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She admits that it was a great opportunity to learn, debated different topics, had lifestyle experiences in the community, and most importantly she collaborated with their partner organization Criola. 

Months after with the coldness and beauty of Finnish winter Silvana Bahía arrived to Helsinki to have her exchange. She describes herself as a journalist, writer, actress, filmmaker, but most of all a curious person who likes to experiment and learn. 

Silvana’s is delightful to meet people and hear stories. Previously she worked on human rights in one of the biggest favelas in Rio de Janeiro. They are a city by itself stigmatize for its violence, sadness, injustice, lack of basic quality services for the people such as education, health, and opportunities. However, they “are also happiness, live, innovation, and a lot of people are looking for solutions toward problems they are facing day by day” confessed Silvana.

Nowadays, she works at Olabi as project coordinator of Preta Lab witch, works with black and indigenous women base on teaching them technologies and innovative tools such as server security. This lab was created when Silvana’s realized that she was the only woman of race in programming and coding space.

At Preta Lab besides, imparting workshops to women they also have discussions with different actors from the society about new technologies production because it is believed that everyone should acquire knowledge of the new technology. 

Photo: Heljä Franssila/Kone Foundation

The black society in Finland-Brazil 

What have you heard about Brazil or Finland? For sure, that they are spotted in two different continents, thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean. Both are completely diverse in too many elements such as territorial area, population, language, culture, governmental structure, weather, and others. However, they also have far more similarities and differences in the black community. 

In Brazil, the black-skinned people represent more than 50% of the population distributed around the country. On the other hand, in Finland statistic is not defined yet, they are also spread in the different cities.

Silvana and Monica are part of this minorities group that day-by-day live blackness challenges. After sitting, laughing, and chatting about the exchange experience with these two strong women confirmed that there are differences but also likenesses among black persons in both countries.

Monica expressed that the meaning of equality is different “in Brazil is said out loud, there are overt, but in Finland is done in a Nordic way silence and covert”. 

In Finland there a lot of things that are not said regarding the minorities community because most people rather keep their emotions for they self or it is demonstrated by offensive microaggressions by using hateful language, gesture, comments, etc.  

On the other hand, in Brazil people discuss the issue openly even though they know it’s a high risk of being assaulted, threat or dead.  For example, in March 2018 Marielle Franco da Silva who was a political, feminist, and human rights activist was killed in her car on a street in Rio de Janeiro. 

Both Silvana and Monica coincide that black women are more safely in Finland. Walking on the street of Helsinki or Rio de Janeiro is totally not the same for black- skinned women. Being a black woman in Brazil means facing a vulnerable reality of sexual and racial harassments, rape, thread, or to be murder since the social iniquities have colour and gender. 

Is obvious that there is a huge gap in percentage regarding the figures concerning this social problem. According, to a study released in November 2018 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows that 4 women dead for each group of 100 thousand women. 

On the other hand, a resemblance between Finnish and Brazilian black women is that they are “constantly fighting for the rights, there is an inequality no matter where you are whether it is in a Scandinavian country or in Latin-American” said Silvana. 

There are different countries far away yet, it matters that the black women movement and community can find ways that connect them, understand one another, and work toward the unification of a stronger black community.  

In Brazil black women have a history of long slavery struggle, hierarchical, and invisibility.  They had been marginalized by race and gender. They don’t have the same background as white women; they had been working long before. Thus, they have a lot of challenges in reality, such as be recognize as a human being and not being stigmatized like party women and sexual objects. They need to have more opportunities in society. The black feminist looks toward including more women “we need to take care of our self since we always take care of everyone” manifested Silvana. 

Take away

During her visit, Monica was taken away with the black community in Rio de Janeiro. She admitted, “is the first time I feel in the correct place as a black woman. It was funny for me because I never feel that I fit anywhere because of being mix-black. {…} when I go to Kenia witch is my other home country I am white, but in Brazil people think I was from there, they didn’t believe me”. She also added that the warm welcome of people is something she loves. 

On the other behalf, Silvana considers being a privileged woman during her three months stay in Finland by learning a lot of new things. When I ask her what she is taking with her back to Brazil, she laughed and said that is a good question. Silvana said, “is a bigger country than I thought, we need to stop looking at things in a small way there are more possibilities out there”. 

Black-skinned women day by day are looking for stories that match the lifestyle, way to develop their race and gender identify, learn new methods to dismantle perception, and most of all have influencer or heroes examples. 

So when I ask from both women advice for other women Monica said: “take care of your self and support each other”. 

My advice to younger black women is “continue to dream for a better future, dreams make people move and change” expressed Silvana. 

It matters that young black people continue the core and believe that they can create a more fair-minded and humane world.