By Shayna Mace, Jessica Steinhoff, Katie Vaughn and Candice Wagener | Top photo by Hillary Schave
In honor of Native American Heritage Month, six Native women share how their culture, traditions and elders have influenced who they are today.
Nowhere but Madison feels like home to Arvina Martin. She logged a year in Arizona, spent part of middle school in Washington, D.C. and attended Dartmouth. College in New Hampshire, but they couldn’t compete.
“I’m Ho-Chunk, so Madison has been my ancestors’ home for time immemorial,” says the mom, roller-derby champ and executive director of Emerge Wisconsin, an organization that helps Democratic women run for public office. “It’s where I’m supposed to be.”
Family has always kept Kyla Beard grounded and F connected to her Native American roots. Her dad is 100% Ho-Chunk and her mom is a descendant of the Puerto Rican Taíno, an Indigenous tribe that was scattered throughout the Caribbean. (The Taíno people were who Christopher Columbus encountered when he reached the New World in 1492.)
Her family originally settled in the tiny town of Cornell, Wis., (pop. 1,467) about 30 miles northeast of Chippewa Falls. When she was a sophomore in high school, the family moved to Portage.
Carla Vigue attended a very memorable birthday party last summer. It was for 88-year-old Ada Deer, who led the Bureau of Indian Affairs from 1993 to 1997. (Deer has since passed, in August 2023.)
“It’s your turn to lead,” said the Menominee scholar and activist, grabbing Vigue’s hand and looking her in the eye. Vigue does just that as UW-Madison’s director of tribal relations, a role she assumed in January 2023. She has been leading for years — at the National Council of Urban Indian Health, the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs and more — but a Native elder had passed her the baton. She was floored.
Samantha Skenandore loved her first job out of college. Based in Black River Falls, she was a tribal archivist for the Ho-Chunk Nation, which she’s enrolled in as a citizen. Skenandore digitized tribal records; interviewed elders about sacred sites, traditions and customs; recorded oral histories; and collected donations of artifacts. It was a fascinating job, she says.
Transportation equity is always on Kristie GoForth’s mind. As executive director of Free Bikes 4Kidz Madison (FB4K) and a member of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians, GoForth is committed to providing access to the bicycling community for everyone.
Since taking the helm in April 2020, GoForth has transitioned FB4K into a year-round operation to amp up its visibility and worked to increase the sustainability of the organization.
For Dakota Mace, art is inherently connected to history, to family and to the land where she was raised.
Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Mace is a Diné (also called Navajo) artist whose work is based in photography and also features media inspired by family members who excelled in weaving, beading and silversmithing.