A longtime Yakama Nation educator and activist for missing and murdered indigenous women and girls was honored earlier this month in Seattle.
Patricia “Patsy” Whitefoot of White Swan was one of three people recognized at the 10th annual Adeline Garcia Community Service Awards luncheon held by the Seattle Indian Health Board. The event in Seattle on March 15 highlighted leaders in the region for their contributions toward Native issues.
“Patsy Whitefoot has been instrumental in addressing the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls crisis, both here in Washington state and nationally,” said Abigail Echo-Hawk, chief research officer of the Seattle Indian Health Board, which provides health and human services and specializes in the care of Native people.
“Her commitment to this work has empowered many of us to fight for the safety of Native women everywhere.”
Echo-Hawk is also the director of Seattle Indian Health Board’s research division, the Urban Indian Health Institute, which released a report in November that highlights the crisis in urban areas across the country.
Also honored at the March 15 event were Richard Peterson (Tlingit), president of the Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska; and Debora Juarez (Blackfeet), a member of the Seattle City Council.
Whitefoot (Yakama/Diné) was born and raised in the homelands of the Yakama Nation. For 47 years, she has worked primarily in managing and teaching in Indian education, including serving on the Yakama Tribal Council, a news release noted. She has served as the education chair of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians for 30 years.
She is one of the founders of the Yakama Nation’s Iksiks Washanal’a (“The Little Swans”) dance group, a collective of girls brought together by the culture of their tribe through oral interpretations of dance. Group members wear red to honor missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and perform locally, throughout the state and have traveled nationally.
On Jan. 19, the Swans helped lead the Women’s March on Yakima and danced at a gathering after the walk from the Unitarian Universalist Church to Millennium Plaza.
“With our culture of our people, of the Yakama Nation, culture is important. Culture is prevention. Culture is education for us,” Whitefoot said during the gathering.
She spoke of her youngest sister, who has been missing for more than 30 years.
“I knew she loved this land. I know she loves this land. She loved the river; she loved being in the mountains. She herself was a food gatherer just like our young women are here. She was also a hunter and a fisherwoman on the Columbia River,” Whitefoot said.
“And so I want you ... to take that into your heart and offer prayers for the family members that currently have loved ones missing because this doesn’t go away overnight, no matter how old you get. We have family members who have gone on who are no longer are with us, who went to their graves not knowing what had happened to their family member.”