Six Divine Matriarchs Who Are Living Our Indigenous Dreams 

Indigenous women have long held up our communities and brought us into the future. And yet, due to colonization, the value and contributions of our Indigenous matriarchs have also gone vastly unacknowledged though our excellence and necessity to our people and our nations is undeniable. 

Women are protectors. Women are creatives. Women are leaders. We always have been. 

Today, we have the honor of being in the presence of incredible matriarchs who are making enormous strides for our communities, while carrying with them the generational strength of countless Indigenous women whose knowledge and tenacity keep us all moving forward.

At NDN Collective,  we have the privilege of working with and among many Indigenous matriarchs who bring their fierceness, their passion, and their knowledge to build a better world for all people and Mother Earth. In honor of International Women’s Day, we spoke with six of these grantees, fellows and changemakers who are recipients of NDN Collective grants. They are fighting to protect and steward their lands, protecting seeds, reclaiming and exercising ancestral knowledge, doing decolonial birthwork, and so much more. 

Akwesasne Mohawk

2023-24 Changemaker Fellow

Rowen White is a Seed Keeper/farmer and author from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne and a passionate activist for Indigenous seed and food sovereignty.  She is the Creative Director of Sierra Seeds, an innovative Indigenous seed bank and land-based educational organization located in North San Juan, CA. Rowen is the founder of the Indigenous Seedkeepers Network, which is committed to restoring the Indigenous Seed Commons, and currently serves as a Cooperative Seed Hub Coordinator.  

She facilitates creative hands-on workshops and strategic conversations in communities around seed/food security around the country within tribal and small farming communities. She weaves stories of seeds, food, culture, and sacred Earth stewardship on her blog, SeedSongs, and other distinguished publications.


2020 Radical Imagination Artist

Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu is Kanaka, Portuguese, English and Chinese from Hawaiʻi. She is a graduate of the Kamehameha School Kapalama Campus and a twice graduate of The University of Hawaiʻi Manoa campus. She is known by many as Kumu Hina (Kumu = teacher/source) and works to preserve and uplift Hawaiian language, culture, and history. Hina has worked with members of her community across generations including elders, youth, incarcerated men as well as Native Hawaiian trans women. 

She is the co-founder of Kulia Na Mamo, an organization dedicated to serving Mahu (Native Hawaiian people of dual male and female spirit) and other underserved people of color. Hina was recognized by the 2020 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards as the Composer of the Year and awarded Best Song of the Year for her composition of “Ku Haaheo E Kuu Hawaii” an anthem of cultural pride and resilience that was regarded as the song of protection of Mauna Kea and other Aloha ʻĀina related advocacy.

Hina proudly carries the role of the Cultural Ambassador for the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, received the National Education Association Ellison Onizuka Human Rights Award (2016), Native Hawaiian Educator of the Year (2018) and White House Champion of Change (2020) for the groundbreaking impact campaigns associated with her film work along with her advocacy and teaching.

Alwesasne Mohawk

2021 Changemaker Fellow

“Akwekon tekwanonweratens, Konwanahktotha ionkiats, Kanienkehaka nikiatothen tanon Wakenesi:io tsi niwakitaroten, (I am sending all of you greetings from my heart.)”

Alvera is Snipe Clan of the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne, a mother of two, and grandmother to four amazing grandchildren. 

She has worked with the Akwesasne Freedom School (AFS), one of the oldest Indigenous language schools in North America, since 1997 in various capacities until 2007. She became an advocate for the school as a community project for one of her university scholarships. Her focus for her project included language, the environment, and “a place that needed help.” 

“My hope for our tribal community at large is that more of our people come back to our traditional space,” Alvera said. “I am grateful that our time has come as Indigenous people are being recognized for their traditional knowledge systems. The community is recognizing that Indigenous people do have the wisdom of our ancestors to share which help in all areas of our society.” 

Alvera is currently the Executive Director of the Friends of the Akwesasne Freedom School, a non-profit organization that raises funds to support the growing school. Alvera has dedicated her career to  revitalizing Kanienkeha (Mohawk) language and culture, while ensuring a prosperous future for the students of the AFS.

The Friends of the Akwesasne Freedom School staff are currently overseeing a new 15,000 sq. ft. building for the students and staff of the AFS. The opening is tentatively scheduled for September 2024.

Yaqui & Tlamanalcah

Tucson Abortion Support Collective

2023-24 Changemaker Fellow

Dora is a proud Indigena from Yaqui and Tlamanalcah communities. She is a birth keeper, cultural worker, and community (re)organizer based in Tohono O’odham and Yaqui territory.  She is a mother of 6 children, including one earthside, Cehualli. All 6 children have guided this journey and now her life’s work.

She began her organizing journey by fighting against legislation in Arizona that directly impacted her community. Dora also committed to learning more about her ceremonies and the identities that made her, she joined a group of organizers to share meals, sweat, garden, make art, and watch movies. This turned into building gardens at each other’s homes, completing more than a dozen gardens in less than two months! They called themselves, the Flowers and Bullets Collective. Together, they shared foods and community saberes, creating a safe space to share their experiences and fears. 

It was with this community that Dora first talked about her abortion or pregnancy release. In 2013, she was pregnant and living out of her car. Knowing she had options she reached out to her community and realized how deeply rooted abortion stigma really was.

“Our demands for sovereignty are not limited to our relationship to the land but expands to the relationship with our bodies, the seasons, the elements, our medicines, our ceremonies.”

– Dora Martinez

Dora went on to host community conversations about her experience navigating her release in Southern Arizona and invited people to learn about the abortion landscape locally, watched films on related topics, and organized listening sessions with local experts. These led to real shifts in her community including the development of abortion doulas in Tucson, building relationships with local providers, shifting the narrative around abortion, and ultimately the formation of the Tucson Abortion Support Collective (TASC) which Dora is the co-founder of. 

TASC is a Tucson-based collective providing informational material, emotional, and logistical support to people seeking abortion care in Arizona. During the pandemic, TASC became one of the largest abortion funds in Arizona with 100% volunteer labor and 100% of the proceeds going to support clients directly with their abortion needs.

“These practices have been passed down through our grandmothers since time immemorial. For as long as we’ve had the wise capacity to get pregnant/give birth, we have been choosing how to manage our fertility, and that includes abortion,” she said.

These days Dora continues to make space for folks looking to release their pregnancy outside the clinical setting and working to reclaim ten acres of land back to Indigenous stewardship. In 2018, Dora founded Liminal Tides, a 5-year study project that included the development of a network that aims to bring Indigenous healers, providers and cultural workers together to share and develop better support practices for abortion seekers of the global majority.

“My hope is that just like our tribal communities have collectively embraced the return to the land #landback, that we could also collectively embrace the return to our bodies #landback, as they are one in the same,” she said. “The land wants us back, she remembers the relationship we have with her. Our bodies want us back too, she remembers this deep relationship we have with her too.” 


2023-25 Community Self-Determination Grantee

Margo comes from the traditional Yurok village of Morek, and is an enrolled member of the Yurok Tribe. She is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Cultural Fire Management Council, co-lead of the Indigenous People’s Burn Network, board member for the Indigenous Stewardship Network, a mom and a grandma. 

The Cultural Fire Management Council facilitates the traditional and culturally-centered burning practices on Yurok lands. These burning practices create a regenerative environment for plants, waterways, and wildlife to thrive after a fire. 

Margo entered this work because of her art: traditional basket weaving. Some of the materials needed for her weaving are fire dependent but due to restrictions and the criminalization of burning, those who burned fires faced legal consequences and even prison. During this time, Margo was about to become a grandmother. She wanted her grandchildren to be carried in traditional woven baby baskets, so she along with others in her community set out to research the authorities and qualifications needed for fire burning. 

“We faced a lot of challenges as we tried to figure out a way to bring fire back to our homelands. We were just a small group of community members with no money and no political clout,” Margo said.

“We were meant to use fire to keep the land healthy and in balance, fire is in our blood, written in our DNA.”

– Margo Robbins

Margo and the Cultural Fire Council are decolonizing the approach to wildfire burns and making big strides to protect their lands from the impacts of climate change. Looking toward the future, she is glad to see Traditional Ecological Knowledge being recognized as science equal to western science and believes together, the two can move communities toward more sustainable ways of living. 

“It is my hope that young Indigenous women and girls will not be afraid to pursue their dreams and stand their ground for what they know is right and good. There is not always a clear path to achieve your goals, but there is always a way,” she said. “There have been many times when it seemed like the odds were stacked against us, we faced what seemed like insurmountable obstacles, but we just kept moving forward, turning the dream into reality. If you believe in what you are doing and are willing to do what it takes to make it happen, then nothing is impossible.” 


2022 Changemaker Fellow

Moñeka De Oro is a proud Indigenous Chamorro/CHamoru daughter (Jeje, Lazaru and Calvo clans) of the Mariana Islands. As a mother, organizer and educator she is motivated to protect all that is sacred from unsustainable development and militarization for future generations. Her work has been uplifted through fellowships and leadership development programs with Women Earth Alliance, Climate Justice Alliance, NDN Collective, MIT Solve and the New School’s Tishman Center. De Oro is a co-founder and co-executive director of Micronesia Climate Change Alliance.

The Micronesia Climate Change Alliance is a young Indigenous Pacific Islander led grassroots nonprofit organization that aims to bring communities of the Pacific Islands together and prepare them for climate change. The Alliance does this by centering healing, bolstering indigenous wisdom and  collaborating to build a regenerative , resilient model for addressing the multiple impacts of a changing planet on the islands. 

She has always held deep care for her homelands, the Mariana Islands, and their history but when Moñeka became a mother, she became hyper-concerned about the future not just of her beloved islands but the planet as whole. She decided to get involved but carrying the responsibility of motherhood, academic endeavors , and community organizing was a lot.

“While the work to revitalize traditional medicine, protect the environment and end colonial oppression is so meaningful, it drained me,” she said. “I experienced a lot of stress and economic insecurity, which led to lots of strained relationships and multiple bouts of burnout, anxiety, and depression.”

Despite these heavy weights, Moñeka said she was provided multiple opportunities and blessings that helped her not only carry on this important work but also take better care of herself and her family. 

“One such blessing was being an NDN Collective Change Maker Fellow in 2022,” she said. “This program really elevated  me, in that it really emphasized the need to prioritize yourself and be unapologetic about using time and resources for self-care.” 

Moñeka hopes that Indigenous women and girls remember to take care of themselves and when feeling stressed or overwhelmed, she encourages them to turn back to the tools provided by our ancestors.

“Call upon the divine matriarchs and healed ancestors for wisdom, protection, and guidance.” 

– Moñeka De Oro


Today, we hold space to honor women and femmes all over the world and applaud their accomplishments. But everyday, we must give thanks, support, and uplift the women in each of our lives whether that’s friends, sisters, mothers, partners, grandmothers, aunties, and all femme relatives. We are all here because of the hard work and sacrifice of the women who came before us. 

At NDN Collective, we look forward to continuing to support and uplift the work of our matriarchs because we know that without them, we would not be where we are today. From all of us, we thank all our Indigenous matriarchs for your sacrifices, for your protection, and your love for our people. We stand with you in gratitude for all that you do.