Native Women Lead: The Movement

Native Women Lead conference, photo by Jonathan Sims - Pyragraph

Attendees at the first Native Women’s Business Summit, 2018. Photo by Jonathan Sims.

As a Native American woman you often find yourself in spaces as the “only.” As in, the only Native American in a classroom, co-working space or even Zumba class. It is exhausting and lonely since so much of your time in these spaces is spent educating non-Native people about your culture.

When I moved to New Mexico from Phoenix, I was making the jump from a career as a museum professional. It was in this transition that I decided I was ready to launch my business, Grownup Navajo full-time. It is often said the journey of entrepreneurship is one of the most isolating. As I braced myself for this reality, I simultaneously began to connect with a local group of women who had created businesses and were eager to carve out more space for others like them.

“Native sisterhood is strong and eager to build up.”

In the summer of 2017, a group of women began to discuss what it would mean to create an event for Native women in business. What resulted after months of discussion was the desire to build the first Native Women’s Business Summit. It was held in April 2018 at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and was a sold-out event. We had over 200 women at all levels of business join us for this inaugural meeting. We convened to learn, to be inspired and to build alongside each other.

One of my favorite moments was during one of our movement breaks. We had scheduled Haley Laughter of Hozho Total Wellness to facilitate yoga for us throughout the day. There was this point where she guided us through a breathing exercise and you could feel the vibration from the collective breath of 200 Native women in sync. It was powerful!

Native Women Lead conference, photo by Jonathan Sims - Pyragraph

The power of 200 Native women breathing in sync. Photo by Jonathan Sims.

This year, we are welcoming 300 Native women and have strategized to further our collective impact by choosing a cause to grow awareness around. We are designating $25 from the sale of each ticket to donate to the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

It is important for us to model how we think society should engage in Native issues. There are many organizations who think Native engagement is solely offering land acknowledgements before their events. Native Women Lead wants to show that while there are many issues facing our communities, they can’t be solved without the insight and tenacity of Native women. Instead of waiting for invitations to task force meetings on these events, we have shown we are willing to not only build our own table, but rather build an entire summit to strategize solutions.

We believe we can leverage our social capital to inspire allies to support our vision for a future where the lives of Native women are no longer at risk and we have no more stolen sisters.

The organizing backbone of Native Women Lead are the co-founders. Here they share their lessons learned and surprises they’ve uncovered on this journey:

“Going into the second year of the Summit it becomes clear that mind, body and soul are very important to keep in mind. With great care and understanding it takes a dedicated circle of women to keep the fire going, even when the wind is against us.”

—Kim Delfina Gleason

“Our hearts and vision are way ahead of our capacity at times and we need to bring more people into our mission and vision. It is incredibly important and challenging to build a movement to see the change you seek. We are all on a unique journey as individuals and as a collective to invest in ourselves as the change-makers because we are dynamic, phenomenal and empowered Indigenous women.”

—Jaime Gloshay

“Native sisterhood is strong and eager to build up.”

—Stephine Poston

“As mothers, daughters, sisters and aunties it is imperative that we invest in ourselves and each other as leaders. There are so many dedicated women with diverse businesses, yet they share similar missions to build a movement built on sisterhood and sharing of knowledge. I am eager to continue to build and grow together!”

—Kalika Davis

“This isn’t just a business summit, this is a convening of minds and hearts that are leading movements and redefining what wealth looks like for our families and communities. This is an intergenerational emergence and convergence space for women, by women, to heal, learn, love, share and prosper together.”

—Alicia Ortega

“When we started this it was because I wanted something to turn to. The biggest lesson is that so many other incredible women were doing something too. That this work isn’t just one group but all of us, it’s a movement.”

—Vanessa Roanhorse

Native Women Lead conference, photo by Jonathan Sims - Pyragraph

Panelists at the Native Women’s Business Summit, 2018. Photo by Jonathan Sims.

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About Jaclyn Roessel

Jaclyn Roessel was born and raised on the Navajo Nation. An alumnus from Arizona State University, she was the inaugural recipient of the Arizona Humanities Rising Star Award in 2013, which is given to young professionals whose work elevates the importance of humanities in the community. She’s been named one of Phoenix 100 Creatives You Should Know.

Working in the museum field for over the past decade, and most recently as the Director of Decolonizing Initiatives at the San Diego Museum of Man, Roessel confirmed her belief in the power of utilizing cultural learning as a tool to engage and build stronger Native communities. She is the president of Grownup Navajo, a company dedicated to sharing how Native American teachings and values are tools to help build greater cultural competency in museums and other nonprofit organizations. Through all her work, Roessel aims to expand her work to further inspire Native people to use their traditional knowledge as a catalyst to create change in our communities today.

Roessel lives with her husband and son in Santa Ana Pueblo.

Profile photo by Hannah Manuelito.


  1. Evaavenue.comEva Avenue on March 23, 2019 at 6:45 pm

    Amazing to see all the goddesses coming together like this – infinite blessings to your next summit <3

  2. Blessing Akajiaku on February 4, 2020 at 3:25 am

    This is a great movement. It is always incredible what we are able to achieve when we hold each other’s hand.

  3. Emmanuel Chibuikem on February 4, 2020 at 3:56 am

    It is awesome seeing women gather for common good. I hope this light never goes off.

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