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June 30, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Taté Walker

Kate Hart
headshot of Taté Walker
After a short health-related hiatus, the Badass Ladies series is back! Today I am thrilled to bring you a profile of Taté Walker: Lakota storyteller, activist, social services professional, and, among much more, the editor of Native Peoples magazine. Her life and career path have given her a unique and valuable perspective on feminism and creating change, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to share it with you.

Native Peoples letter from
the editor, 2016

Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Taté: I'm the editor of Native Peoples magazine. I've always been a storyteller, though it's only recently I've truly embraced the role thoroughly. I often describe myself as a journalist, because that's what I studied as an undergrad and it's what I've done for a living on and off (mostly on) the last 13 years. But I think 'storyteller' gets to the heart of all of what I do in a way that's both accurate and representative of my entire Lakota identity; after all, storytelling kept our culture alive and vibrant for tens of thousands of years without any need for writing utensils (interesting how that happens when values and beliefs aren't set in stone). Most people understand what a 'journalist' does, but not everyone can grasp storytelling. Everything I do, from being a mother to taking photos to editing a magazine, is a story. And if I can go about my life in such a way as to continually tell stories that educate, empower, and uplift, then I consider that a good life.

Current projects include producing a bimonthly magazine trying to reinvent itself in a transitioning era of print publishing. Additionally, I'm writing my first novel from the perspective of a 1960s boarding school student. I also write and speak several times a year for Everyday Feminism. In my spare time (ha!), I volunteer with the Indigenous Peoples Day Arizona campaign and serve as a board advisor for the American Humanist Association's Feminist Humanist Alliance. And I'm in the process of applying to Arizona State University's doctoral program in communications. Jesus - gimme a second to go cry in a corner.

Getting to this point in life is a bit complicated to answer - there's been a lot of plot twists in my life. The short story is I reconnected with my Lakota foundations after royally fucking up in high school (we're talking drugs, alcohol, grand theft auto, juvenile detention, rape, pregnancy - you name it I probably did it). While a ward of the state of North Dakota, I began to commit myself to family (my Lakota mother, from whom I had been estranged for many years) and learning and practicing as much of the Lakota culture and spirituality as possible, which completely changed my life for the better. Lakota living demands an 'others first' approach, which ultimately means caring for yourself so that you can adequately care for others. As I continue to grow culturally within the limitations of geography (my people are of the Great Plains and I live in the desert), I find more and more makes sense (outside US and global politics, of course), but that could also be due to this awesome thing called aging (read: life experience). So, really, I owe everything to being Lakota. And my mom.

Great Race art exhibit at
Journey Museum in South Dakota
Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)?

Taté: For all that social media gets a bad rap, it's a creative outlet on my schedule. As noted above, I write (a lot), but sometimes I just need a good Twitter rant to get my juices flowing. Most of my paid writing topics are triggered by what happens on social media (i.e. Red Twitter) and I appreciate the outlet to discuss with both like minds and folks who need a bit more hand-holding. I also journal to my daughter and consume an ungodly amount of media (most of which I critique) in the form of books and streaming TV shows.

My family also loves to hike ('love' might be a strong word for my daughter, who abhors bugs) - we do it as much as possible outside of the 120-degree heat we've been having here lately in Phoenix. Thankfully, Arizona is full of an amazing variety of climates, so just an hour northeast/west of us lies outdoor bliss, which we take advantage of several times per month. Hiking lets me reconnect with the land and be creative through photography; I'm generally lugging around 20 pounds of camera gear, including my Sony a77 and GoPro, on our adventures. Nature photography allows me a lot of imaginative freedoms and gives me the opportunity to practice my technical skills for paid publication work.

Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Taté: Myself. I create a lot of my own challenges - and don't we all, really? I mean, I give white feminists and racists and mansplainers their due when needed, but in general I'm my own worst enemy when it comes to imposter syndrome or taking on too many projects or feeling like I'm the world's worst mother/partner. A lot of these feelings of adult ineptitude are a holdover from my teenage perceptions of self-inadequacy and trying to live up to insurmountable expectations of perfection. And, of course, when we dissect these feels we come up with a lot of academic speak for what society ingrains in women and oppressed people, which, of course, is totally legit. But at the end of the day all I have are those I care for - including myself - and I often have to reevaluate my goals and expectations or risk drowning in them.

Talking with NPM fans at
Gathering of Nations Powwow 2016
Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Taté: Ha! I feel like I fail every day. And while learning from failure is important, so too is recognizing success, and I feel like we women don't often allow space to recognize daily achievements. Sometimes getting out of bed, taking a shower, and putting on pants (maybe all three in one day!) is accomplishment enough worth celebrating. As a new mother, I kept feeling like I wasn't doing enough. "My kid is 5 months old and hasn't learned to read or plot math charts yet - OMG I'M A FAILURE!" My mom told me then (and continues to remind me when I need it now) that if at the end of the day my kid was alive and loved I did my job. All the rest is just details. The point is: Do the best you can with what you have. And I try to remember that every day.

That said, I spent most of 2014 unemployed. Eight months, to be exact --- and for someone who had been worked like a horse since age 14, these were some hard months. I woke up each morning feeling like a failure for not providing for my family and that mindset followed me throughout the day. That was the first month or two of unemployment. I was able to bounce back through my writing. In January of that year, my friend Mary asked me to start freelancing for her magazine-that would be Native Peoples magazine, mind you-and I said yes. I had been writing for Everyday Feminism, Indian Country Today Media Network, and other publications, but something about this magazine resonated. I was able to go in-depth into positive Indigenous storytelling. They also published (and paid for) my photography and videos. I felt not only accomplished, but valued. I've been freelancing since 2008, but this felt good. Interesting that I'd be editor of this same magazine a year later. Talk about a bounce back, eh?

Taté protesting Columbus Day with
her daughter
Kate: What's the best compliment you've ever gotten?

Taté: "You're a great mom." It's one thing to hear this from other adults (and I do hear this often), but it's entirely another to hear it from your own kid. Granted, she's 7 and I've got a good tally going of all the things she'll resent me for when she's a teen, but right now I'm living up the love. Also, I have boxes full of notes from my daughter detailing all the ways she loves me. Of all the accolades I've been given, hers are always the most meaningful.

Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work?

Taté: I don't remember a single moment, per se, but as I continue to grow in my Lakota identity, I find example after example of how feminism is intricately tied with many Indigenous teachings. Our (unconscious) feminism takes shape as language revitalization, land protection, bodily autonomy, child rearing, justice reform, and more. I went to meet and hear Winona LaDuke speak last year and that was a real turning point for me. I wrote about it for Everyday Feminism - here's the excerpt:

I'm featuring the Anishinaabe activist because my family and I met her in person in April, when she was in Colorado Springs to discuss divestment, explain why defeating oil pipelines today can mean a better quality of life generations down the road, and encourage folks to produce and cook (not just heat up) their own food.

It was with this last topic LaDuke said something about feminism I think is important for everyone to consider, because it highlights a very real issue many women of color have with feminism in that it dismisses many of the values WOC hold dear.

LaDuke said feminism took women away from cooking, when in the mid-to-late 20th century it encouraged them to stop slaving away in the kitchen and instead enjoy restaurants and meal delivery.

She also said feminism helped to create a society that saw soil as dirty and not worth an enlightened mind's time.
I know these sentiments may rankle feminists for being a super-simplistic way to explain a movement that encouraged women to choose their own adventure, including the option to step away from cooking and house work as roles demanded of them by the men in their life.

But I totally get how LaDuke and others would think feminism is anti-cooking and anti-dirt, especially in how it's presented by white, middle class women .

I've often had other feminists scoff at my dedication to children, family, and caregiving. For them, feminism is about independence, and they don't realize their statements of "Oh, I could never be tied to a kid or family" are hurtful and ignore many of the issues Native communities face.

But I'm hoping LaDuke will reconsider the many ways intersectional feminism can uplift and enhance the causes she champions.

Because there is room in feminism for dirt, diapers, and cooking, just as there is room for childless singletons who enjoy condo-living and takeout.

I think before that time I knew many women of color had issues with feminism, but I'd never before been faced with legit feminist criticism by someone I admire and I guess sort of assumed was feminist by default, given all the amazing things LaDuke is involved with. It was a turning point because I knew I had big work to do in terms of decolonizing feminism. Indeed, first-wave feminism began well before the (white) suffragists.

Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?
Taté with sign: "Women Who Inspire
Me..." and her answer, "Hard to choose!
I'm surrounded by amazing women
(identifying) (and soon to be women)"

Taté: Wow, what a big question. I think there are an unlimited number of ways and examples to support those who identify as women (so perhaps the first step would be to recognize that "woman" takes shape as trans, queer, nonconforming, disabled, poor, depressed, felon, fat, Black, Native, etc.). Obviously, in this capitalist society we live in, money talks, so supporting the projects of women financially is a nice way to show you care about the many varied ways our labors take shape. We raise and teach your kids, we start and run your social movements, we bruise and die at the hands of Justice, we run your board meetings, we consume your sexist media, we retweet your message, we do all kinds of invaluable things for which we'll never see a paid invoice. Until such a time as money is no longer the driver of all things survival and success, the best way to support women is to pay up, even when we don't ask for the money (remember: for many communities of color, money isn't valued and so asking for money isn't a skillset; consider supporting women-led ventures in this case). When that's not something you can do financially, share the fuck out of their projects and encourage those who can to pay. Shares and retweets are often what stands between women and their ability to pay the bills.

Also, you know, vote. Vote for politicians and policies with the best intersectionally-progressive interests in mind. As I live in Arizona-a state that seems to despise women and people of color-I definitely have my work cut out for me.

Front Page for Juvenile
Justice Reform 2013
Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Taté: Be your authentic self. Do your best at whatever level you're at with whatever resources you have. It's so easy in this age of over-sharing to want to be everything for everyone. I think women, especially women of color, get caught up in this trap that we aren't enough (we aren't pretty enough, skinny enough, rich enough, white enough). Believe that you are enough and surround yourself with others who believe you are enough.

And vote.


THREE lucky readers will win a free copy of Native Peoples magazine's latest issue!
[this giveaway is now closed]


Taté Walker is a Lakota storyteller, feminist activist, blogger, photographer, and social services professional who promotes cultural competency and inclusion for all spaces. Her experience includes more than 12 years as a professional multimedia journalist. She is the editor of Native Peoples magazine, which provides an international audience with fair and accurate representations of Indigenous perspectives and experiences in ways that educate, entertain, and empower through journalistic storytelling. She also spent eight years within the social services sector in the fields of juvenile justice, civil rights, and youth and family advocacy. She and her husband, Dalton (also a journalist), leveled-up in life after the birth of their now 7-year-old daughter, Kimimila.

website  //  blog  //  twitter  //  tumblr  //  everyday feminism

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