By Miranda Vega Rector of the CUJ
Tears filled their eyes as the panelists spoke with pride honoring the women who shaped them as adults.
Recalling their grandmothers, mothers, friends, and community members, panelists including Corinne Sams, Board of Trustees member for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and Katherine “KJ” Quaid, Communications and Outreach Coordinator of WeCan International, told stories of the matriarchs in their family and how their lives have impacted who they are today. It was an unexpected outcome that did justice to the International Women’s Day “Honoring Our Matriarchs” online event.
“I chose to participate in the panel because I believe in the empowerment of women,” said Sams.
“I was honored to participate and sit alongside such wonderful women who are doing the work to uplift our communities, restore healing and justice, and build the future we all know is possible for our future generations,” said Quaid.
The panel was hosted through Zoom and Facebook Live by sisters Jillisa and Jaylyn Suppah, who work for the Papalaxsimisha Program of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. The online event captured the attention of 55 Zoom participants and Facebook reached an audience of 1,426, although the live views steadied at 16 during the two and a half hour session.
Other panel participants included the Executive Director of the Native Wellness Institute Jillene Joseph and Executive Director of McKenzie River Gathering Foundation Se-ah-dom Edmo.
During the session, panel members were asked a series of questions, one in particular that focused on women who were influential in their lives brought the most emotion out of the women.
“My entire life I have been loved by women who are passing on the tools I need to be a good matriarch, whether that’s through different skillsets like beading and weaving, or life lessons on how to deal with trauma,” said Quaid. “My number one matriarch would be my mom, Julie (Quaid), she’s so strong and takes care of our whole family … that’s who inspires me every day to do my work.”
Sams started by reading the definition of what a matriarch is – a woman who is the head of a family or tribe or an older woman who is powerful within a family or organization. She said that the first woman who came to mind was her grandma Ruby Sams. “It’s been three years since she died, she was 92. She was a person in my life who was always patient, always kind, always had time for our community …”
She went on to explain that her grandmother’s passion and involvement in the community was an influence to her even in her current career. “Being on the BOT and Tribal Council, I’ve heard many women say, ‘You know how many times I’ve been at a table telling my truth but it wasn’t accepted until a man said it?’ …Well, my family gifted me with the courage to sit at a table and say my truth even with my voice shaking.”
The women paid homage to other members of their family as well, Quaid mentioned her aunt Celeste Whitewolf who has passed down seven generations of family history as well as her great grandma Jean Halfmoon who made recordings in their Nez Perce language. Sams called fellow CTUIR member Julie Taylor, Director of the Department of Child and Family Services, a mentor and said she is someone to whom she credits for helping find her passion for working with youth.
“I was in my early twenties wandering around my reservation trying to find a purpose. Julie Taylor offered me a job as the Title VI Indian Education Coordinator at Sunridge Middle School … I became addicted to working with the youth, it was very humbling.”
The Suppah sisters have been hosting online events, webinars, and fitness classes through the program since the beginning of the COVID shut down. To view more of their content visit www.facebook.com/Papalaxsimisha. The meaning of Papalaxsimisha is unity.