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Ingrid Washinawatok

1957-1999

By Gloria La Riva

Over 1,000 people gathered to honor Ingrid Washinawatok El-Issa at her funeral and memorial in Kenesha, Menominee Nation, Wis., on March 13.

Representatives of Indigenous communities from throughout the United States and the Americas, as well as people from Africa and Europe, paid tribute to her life as a woman warrior of the Menominee Nation. Rigoberto Menchu Tum flew in from Guatemala and gave a warm tribute to their friendship.

Ingrid Washinawatok, O'Peqtaw-Metamoh--Flying Eagle Woman--was born July 31, 1957, on the Menominee Indian Reservation. Her people were struggling to reverse the genocidal federal Menominee Termination Act of 1954, which abolished all U.S. treaty obligations and tried to eradicate their rights as a nation.

Through the heroic and sustained efforts of Menominee women and men like Ingrid's father, James Washinawatok, Menominee national rights were won back in the Menominee Restoration Act of 1972.

From her people's experience and her family's involvement, Ingrid learned a deep sense of sovereignty and self-determination. This guided her lifelong work in support of other Indigenous peoples and all oppressed people.

In 1999 she wrote in the magazine Indigenous Woman: "Sovereignty is that wafting thread securing the components that make a society. Without that wafting thread, you cannot make a rug. Without that wafting thread, all you have are unjoined, isolated components of a society.

"Sovereignty runs through the vertical strands and secures the entire pattern. That is the fabric of Native Society."

The 1970s was a decade of great resurgence of Native struggles in the United States and the formation of the American Indian Movement. She became active in AIM as a youth. Wherever the young warriors of AIM were mobilized against racism and for Native sovereignty, she was there.

Mary Jane Wilson, Anishinabe, one of the founders of AIM, said at the memorial: "Ingrid was a daughter of AIM. She loved AIM. It was seeds of hope and knowledge that she learned in AIM to spread all over the world. The whole world became her reservation."

Ingrid later became a leader and co-chair of the Indigenous Women's Network, which was established to help guide young Indigenous women and preserve their history. She was on the executive board of the International Indian Treaty Council.

She was also a strong believer in solidarity with international struggles of oppressed people throughout the world. She traveled to Cuba twice in the late 1970s, including the World Festival of Youth and Students in 1978. She was in Africa for a period of time in agricultural missions there.

In 1992, after the Gulf War, she was a jurist on the international panel indicting the U.S. government for its atrocities against the Iraqi people at the International War Crimes Tribunal in New York.

When the All-Peoples Congress, International Indian Treaty Council and American Indian Movement organized a national campaign for political prisoners Leonard Peltier and Nelson Mandela in 1985, Ingrid was one of the key speakers. She played a very helpful role in keeping the large touring group together from city to city.

Ingrid's work on behalf of Indigenous peoples in the Americas was recognized by many organizations. In 1998 she was named New York's Indian Woman of the Year. She was current chairperson for the United Nations International Decade of the Indigenous Peoples of the World. As executive director of the Fund for Four Directions in New York, her latest project was to help revitalize Indigenous languages.

She was helping the U'wa people of Colombia fight the depredations of Occidental Petroleum when she and two others were killed in a tragic incident flowing out of the revolutionary war going on there.

Many of her friends and colleagues say they remember Ingrid for her warmth, skills and calm self-confidence that made people look to her as a leader. She had a wonderful sense of humor and would lighten any gathering with her laughter. As Lakota Harden of Intertribal Friendship House said in a March 11 memorial in Oakland, Calif.: "She loved to make jokes. She always had us laughing."

Ingrid is survived by her husband of 17 years, Ali El-Issa; her 14-year-old son, Maeh-kiw-kasie of Brooklyn; her mother, Gwendolyn Washinawatok; her sister Gina, and many aunts and uncles.

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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