I follow the Indigenous Goddess Gang (IGG) on Instagram. When I started my own account, I searched other feminist pages hoping to curate a feed of intersectionality and strong voices championing equality. Theirs was an easy follow. Having amassed a following of over 135k followers and growing, their daily posts resonate with so many as they tackle topics like injustices all marginalized groups face every day, reminders to practice selfcare, current events, but most important are the Native American stories and voices that have been long ignored by mainstream social culture.
I sent them an email and waited to hear back, and waited a little more until I found in my inbox, a message from Kim Smith. Kim is the founding member of the Indigenous Goddess Gang. With the idea to start an online magazine, Kim began IGG as a hobby to show off Indigenous art. It quickly morphed into something much bigger. In addition to creating a place for indigenous woman to share art, medicine, literature, and even fashion this collective has taken on another duty online. These women are using their influence to teach others. I wanted to learn more about Kim and the gang, what drives them and what makes Kim the amazingly down to earth, approachable activist that she is.
- Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Kim Smith. I am Bitterwater clan born for Black Streaked wood people. I am currently working on my Diné homelands around the closure of a 50 year old coal fired powerplant in Northern New Mexico. As the Four Corners powerplant closes the goal is to ensure that corporations and ratepayers are accountable for the toxification of our homelands for 50 years. This is also the perfect opportunity for a just transition from fossil fuels. Through a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) we are engaging Diné community members on the impacts they see San Juan Coal plant has had on their health, livelihoods, culture, and environment. Most importantly their vision for the future. This work will then inform legal work on PNM’s (Public Service of New Mexico, the sole owner of the powerplant) abandonment case. After 50+ years of mining and burning coal they plan to abandon the mine and powerplant, no clean up.
My partner and I travel to Diné villages within the 100 mile radius of the plant and present in our language and inform communities of the plans for the closure and abandonment and gather data for our Health Impact Assessment. We also have a food truck that serves ancestral indigenous foods. If we're not presenting at village meetings we park our food truck in the middle of town. If you fill out an HIA you eat for free. We nourish our community with ancestral food and knowledge.
My life’s work is fighting for indigenous human rights, water & land at a local, national and international level. In my Diné community, my work includes advocacy work in environmental justice, food sovereignty, art & indigenous based knowledge. Knowing the injustices that plague my community I strive to create change in my community. I also curate a national traveling exhibition called, “The Art of Indigenous Resistance” which highlights graffiti and indigenous art as a platform to raise awareness about indigenous resistance and environmental justice issues. It is important to me to engage and travel to indigenous resistance communities around the world to reconnect intertribal relationships and build solidarity. I am also the founder for the online collective indigenous feminist magazine, "Indigenous Goddess Gang". I am considered an expert on Climate Change for the United Nations and am registered International Front Line Defender.
- Who were your female role models growing up?
My role models have been matriarchs in my life, my great grandmothers, grandmothers, mother, aunts, sisters. They are my foundation.
- What childhood memory stands out from the rest?
Spending time with my grandparents, whether on my mom or dad’s side. Those memories are the ones I hold onto. All of my grandparents have passed.
- How did the IGG start?
Since I was in college I’ve wanted to do a digital magazine. It was always in the back of my mind. Honestly, I didn’t know where to start nor did I have the experience or knowledge that I have now. I reached out to folx that I know doing good work and mastering their crafts, folx that I admire and learn from. The idea of a space to share our knowledge became our digital magazine Indigenous Goddess Gang. IGG was supposed to be a “hobby” for us to write and share our art. It has blossomed into what it is today.
- Do you feel that indigenous feminists have a place in the larger feminist community?
No, we are always an afterthought or we are seen as angry or bitter, or too political. Our very existence has been politicized. Our trauma and feelings are valid and we cant suppress them to spare white guilt. We must heal. When we look at things from an indigenous lens, we are often challenged or silenced. We need the white feminist community to dismantle the systems of oppression that built by their ancestors that they maintain and benefit from.
- How does indigenous feminism diverge from postcolonial feminism?
Postcolonial Feminism doesn’t wanna check its privilege. For instance, checking energy privileges, when you turn on the light switch or turn on the stove, where is that energy coming from? Chances are they come from a displaced indigenous community. My homelands have been or continue to be mined for oil, gas, uranium, coal, water. The community I live in doesn't have clean water, healthy soil to plant, it has become a toxic wasteland so that folks the metropolitan areas of the southwest and California can have energy. Postcolonial feminism promotes capitalism. Capitalism has a major carbon footprint that leads back to a displaced indigenous community. Feminism is colonial and matriarchy is indigenous.
- How can white feminism be more inclusive?
Stop telling us how to feel, what to think, or putting white guilt and tears before us. We get a lot of care bears telling us not to be angry and “that love will heal all”. Yeah sure but first let’s talk about dehumanization of indigenous peoples, white supremacy and hetero-patriarchy across Turtle island (South and Central America, the U.S. and Canada). We have the highest rates of poverty, suicide rates, being killed by the cops. Native women more likely to be assaulted or murdered but white feminism still doesn't recognize the discrimination against us.
- Native American women and girls are facing an epidemic of violence that is hiding in plain sight. They are being killed or trafficked at rates far higher than the rest of the U.S. population. What can we do to hold the government and the people accountable for finding a solution?
It’s actually not hiding in plain sight. Violence on the land and our womxn is deeply embedded in the history of the United States. So much so, that the violence is normalized. From “Pocahontas” to the term “squaw” to Halloween costumes, we’ve been saying stop!! The numbers are only reflecting how much we’ve been ignored and for how long.
We can call for tribal jurisdiction over non natives. 80% of sex crimes that happen on a reservation are done by non native men. We should also call for more investigation of missing relatives. Most of the missing persons fliers are done by family members. Police seem to only do the report but don’t investigate.
- It's my understanding that women had authority and respect in Native American nations prior to colonization. I wonder if early feminists saw this and realized their place of subjugation was man-made. Do you think it was a catalyst for early movements?
First of all, all tribes are different. Some are matrilineal and some are not. Some still have clan mothers. With colonization came hetero-patriarchy and religion. That’s a huge shift that I see in my community, which is a matrilineal society, my inherit clans come from matriarchs before me and ones before them. Through ceremony and community I’ve learned to take up space and unapologetically embrace our responsibilities, positions and duties. I was raised to not question the women before me and for good reason. They oozed strength, perseverance, resilience but most, they embodied the wisdom of the matriarchs before them.
Since the establishment of Diné (Navajo) government our communities leadership is comprised of cis men who are rooted in Christianity and cowboy culture. These societies enable gender roles. Women in the kitchen and cleaning men outside working. The subjugation came from being forcibly removed from our homelands, boarding schools and churches.
- How do you try to maintain traditional values in your daily life?
Blood memory <3
- What inspires your collective to keep going?
The work that each of us does is our life’s work. We know the things are communities lack so we do the work to make those things happen. We are filling and expanding the spaces that the matriarchs before us have created and sustained. There is so much power and responsibility with that. It’s an honor to carry this work forward.
- What is next for the IGG? Is there any special project or causes that you are working on right now that we need to know about? Please include any links.
It has taken us a lil time to figure that out to be honest. IGG started as a “hobby” and each of us is so engrossed in our work. The love and support for IGG has been tremendous. Folx are hungry for the knowledge we are sharing.
We have been working on a printed version of our magazine. We would also like to host a conference, music festival but more importantly grow and be able to compensate our contributors, we all volunteer to do this work.
Photo Credit: Alana Bluebird
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