Ya’at’eeh! Adrian Manygoats is a Women & Gender Studies major at Northern Arizona University, with a minor in Applied Indigenous Studies. Her personal mission is to empower indigenous women to ‘lead by example’ and do meaningful work that will benefit future generations. She is Naakaii Dine’é, born for Naasht’ezhí Tábaahí and was born and raised on the Navajo Nation. She intends to continue to work there to create opportunities for others and to be a good role model for those who are following in her footsteps.
Q: Your personal mission is to empower indigenous women to ‘lead by example’ and do meaningful work that will benefit future generations. How do you do that?
AM: My approach has been to give women a voice through the Navajo Women’s Energy Project. I encourage women to speak up about the issues on the Navajo Nation that concern them, and I do it in a way that is in line with Navajo culture. I remind people that, traditionally, women have always had a voice in things that directly affect their families and communities. Therefore, it’s not radical or out-of-line to join the conversation about energy disparity and negligence. As a group, we work to find creative solutions that will not just affect us in our lifetime, but solutions that will expand into the future so our children and grandchildren will benefit. As for ‘leading by example,’ that methodology is something that can start at home with women making efforts to teach their children about culture, history and social responsibility. To lead by example is to show those around you what is possible without having to say a word. It’s a way of carrying oneself through the world, and that’s something that speaks volumes across all boundaries.
Q: How has being a member of the Navajo Nation shaped your life? What do you feel in your bones that you are aware that others might not feel?
AM: As a member of the Navajo Nation, I feel that my identity was shaped from a young age to be resilient and accepting to change. The climate is harsh, the people are sometimes harsh, and our history as a people has been harsh. One can either grow to be ashamed and run from the past, or one can make a conscious decision to stand tall and move forward with a sense of pride in being given this life, because the truth is that our people have been a part of an agenda of assimilation and genocide for more than 500 years, so the fact that we are still here with able bodies and able minds is a testament to the strength of our People. I was not spared from discomfort, pain, shame and ridicule through my life. I’ve been through some pretty rough times, and I know I’ve contributed to some of the sharper edges of Rez life, but I haven’t let those experiences take away my optimism or sense of self-respect. Every year that I grow older I learn a new lesson about who I am, and that makes me so grateful to be born Navajo, and to be able to connect with people who come from similar cultures of rich, but tragic history. What I feel in my bones… what I am aware of that others might not feel… is that there is always hope for a better future regardless of how painful the present may be. And, I think, regardless of how ugly and oppressed we may appear to be on statistics sheets and news reports, I still believe that the Navajo people are a great people that have a lot to offer the world.
Q: What brings you the greatest joy? Is there a moment in your life that is a peak moment?
AM: I know this is cliché to say, but what brings me the greatest joy is being presented with a challenge that seems like an impossibility and then plowing through it and watching it become a possibility. I love the feeling of success, especially when the people around me doubted it could ever be. I like showing people what is possible by refusing to give up.
A peak moment in my life has yet to be seen. I don’t think I’ve reached my full potential yet and I’m fine with that. I have a long life ahead of me, so if I can raise my kids to be good, strong people who have a deep love for themselves, their people, the land and their family, maybe then I will feel that I’ve reached the peak of my life. They are just children now though, and they haven’t been tested by Life yet. But, I hope and pray every day that when life slams them down, they will have the power inside them to get back up again and keep moving forward.
Q: What is your message for the world? What does the world need to know?
AM: My message to the world? Wow… that’s heady. I suppose my message to the world is to love the weirdos and misfits in your life because they were created that way for a good reason. Society has created these norms for behavior that aren’t at all extraordinary or game-changing, and it’s unfair to those who cannot conform because they see the world differently and interact with it uniquely. I was fortunate to have a mom and grandma who saw the value of my mind and my spirit to see past my imperfections and strangeness. They never tried to put me in a box and normalize me, instead they showed me love, acceptance and discipline. I think that’s what we need to be teaching all the children of the world. LOVE. ACCEPTANCE. DISCIPLINE. It seems simple, but too many children grown up without those three basic things in their lives and it’s unfortunate because those are the things that form respect, integrity and duty.