Letting their lights shine

  They have stayed quietly in the background for decades, watching as their men vainly tried to pound the round peg of European governmental tradition into the square hole of tribal culture. But no longer: The women of Indian Country are speaking up, taking charge, and making things happen, according to a recent series by Montana's Missoulian.

Michael Jamison's series of eight articles, titled "Northern Lights," didn't begin as an overview of the revolution that is taking place on reservations across the West. Jamison originally planned to profile seven women who head tribal business development centers in Montana. But as he dug deeper, he "kept finding new women doing new things."

One was Wilma Mankiller, the first woman to become principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. During her first tribal meeting as chief, Mankiller was constantly interrupted by a male council member. Before the second meeting, she had all the microphone controls rerouted to a master switch at her seat. The next time he interrupted, she shut off his microphone.

Each of the women profiled has her own unique story, but a common purpose drives them all. As Sue Masten, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said: "We've started to look around and we're saying, 'We're not surviving, our children are at risk and we have to act now.' "

You can read the series at www.missoulian.com/specials/northernlights/.

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