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June 1, 2017

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Tanaya Winder

Kate Hart
Imagine spending all of your work days supporting and empowering teens, using your MFA to teach creative writing, and organizing awareness-raising exhibits like Sing Our Rivers Red, then going home and thinking, "You know, I should be doing more. Lots more." That's exactly why Tanaya Winder is this week's Badass Lady: her day job alone makes her a badass, but she also dedicates her free time not just to her own art, but to making sure fellow indigenous artists can also access the field. From poetry to music, motivational speaking to motivating students, Tanaya's life and career are nonstop inspiration to others -- which is probably why she's one of NCAIED's 2016 "40 Under 40" Emerging American Indian Leaders.

It's an honor to profile her here, and be sure to scroll down -- she's also giving away copies of her books!


cover of WORDS LIKE LOVE by Tanaya Winder
Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Tanaya: I’m in the practice of heartwork. I’m blessed to live a life doing what I love serving people I love. I’ve managed to carve a space in the world where I can have a career doing what I’m passionate about. My day job is serving as the Director of a youth program where I get to work with high school students to help them in their secondary and postsecondary success. I love helping them find, see, and embrace their potential. I also try my best to “walk my talk.” If I tell the youth I work with to pursue their passions and walk in this world with a good heart and good intentions, I do my best to exemplify just that. So in addition to Director life, I also travel the country as a performance poet and motivational speaker. I’m a published poet and learning how to navigate those spaces (given my administrative experience as a director) I decided to create an Indigenous artists management company and collective where I can help other talented Indigenous artists navigate those spaces as well. We support and uplift each other and also encourage others to find their passion and use their gifts to help build a better world. Sometimes I get to travel with them and open their music sets with my spoken word and singing.

My current project is working on a Dream Warriors Artist showcase this fall where all of the artists I manage and work with can come together to debut some new music and collaborations. We have a dream to one-day help start an endowment for Indigenous communities to pursue art projects.

Finally, I’m currently finishing up my first chapbook Why Storms are Named After People and Bullets Remain Nameless, which should be available for purchase by the end of May. Then, I go to work on my second full-length poetry collection.

Given all those things, my life may seem like a bunch of random pieces but really they fit together in a beautiful mosaic where each piece relates to and feeds into the other. I love it.

black and white image of Tanaya with sunburst
Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)? 

Tanaya: Aside from writing I also sing. I’ve been taking vocal lessons for a little over a year now and it’s like therapy to me. I love learning new techniques and how something small like simply changing the shape of your mouth can affect the sound in big ways. I honestly think singing (and working on that craft) makes me a better performer. I incorporate singing into some of my poems, but I also think it helps with stage presence, feeling comfortable in my body, and finding other ways to connect with the audience. Out of all art mediums, music is the one that can heal across timelines. Learning how to practice that kind of healing makes me a better Director, writer, youth worker, and heartworker.

Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Tanaya: Time! There never seems to be enough time to do all the things I want to do. I have so many ideas and I get so excited by them that I’ll try to do everything and sometimes (more often than not) I end up taking on more than I can manage. So then, learning how to maintain balance is my biggest challenge, but I’m getting there.

Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Tanaya: I don’t believe that anything in life should be named a “failure.” I think if you learned something from the experience then it wasn’t a failure, but rather a lesson in learning how to stretch more in the direction of compassion, acceptance, and love. For me, one of these moments that forced me to stretch into a bigger, more loving, more compassionate, more forgiving version of myself was after one of my best friends committed suicide. I felt like I failed by not being there, by not knowing, by not stopping it. It took me years to forgive and let go. And in that period of forgiving and letting go I made a lot of mistakes and inevitably, unintentionally hurt some people I love. But, I learned empathy. I learned to accept (and give) forgiveness and ultimately, I became a person dedicated to love and helping people I cross paths with see all their beauty, wonder, and magic. I try my best to be a mirror, reflecting all of the light one might not always be able to see.

group of Tanaya's students holding her book and an eagle star quilt
Kate: Tell us something that makes you proud.

Tanaya: Seeing my students succeed makes me proud. I love seeing them continue on with their lives, accomplishing their goals, and pursuing their dreams. Seeing them shine makes me happy. I especially love it when a student may have been shy at first…like let’s say in a writing workshop I was leading, but then by the end of it they’re standing at the front, or even sitting in their chair sharing a piece of their heart with the entire class. That takes bravery! I suppose I’m proud knowing I played even a small role in helping them like I was able to be one thread in the fabric of their lives.

Tanaya mid-jump with mountain in background
Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Tanaya: I believe the best ways to support anyone is asking them “what do you need” and “how can I help?” For women specifically, I think showing lateral love is super important and this can come through uplifting and empowering whether that be by offering advice, insight, or a safe harbor for her to just be. Uplifting can come through encouragement but also through sharing space by connecting each other to opportunities and even creating opportunities together. Showing someone that I see you and helping them feel and be seen in the ways they need is absolutely necessary. Everyone is going through their own battles or navigating their own storms and I think each of us has the ability to be a lighthouse for the other, to help guide each other through those dark times. My mother always said, “Be the kind of person who makes everybody feel like somebody.” I take that to heart in supporting other women in their heartwork because it is tough, difficult, and extremely vulnerable to feel, live, and love. When it comes to supporting other women in their emotional bravery, I want to embody revolutionary love by being just as brave.

Kate: Who are some other badass ladies we need to know & why? 

Tanaya: Right now every womxn in this collective I am a part of “Women Warriors Work” is a badass lady everyone needs to know because they are all setting positive examples of being – they are all doing necessary heartwork in the world.

And also these ladies below are doing some great work in the world to make it a better place.
  • Rowie Shebala – amazing poet and fierce performer. Definitely check out her spoken word 
  • Monique Aura and Nancy King - they’re both such dope art educators, muralists, and all around super talented badass artists!
  • Irene Vasquez – she’s the Director of Chicano and Chicana Studies at the University of New Mexico and this amazing lady does so much for her family, department, university, and community. I want to be her when I grown up :) 
  • Sharice Davids – She’s one of the smartest, driven women I know! It’s inspiring to see a young Native woman making a difference as a White House Fellow doing good work to represent Indian Country 

Lightning round: Tell us what you’re…    

reading: The Artist’s Way
watching: Scandal
listening to: Harry Styles
doing: working on the manuscript for my 2nd full length poetry collection
wearing: pajamas
wishing for: more rain
loving: life :)

Tanaya giving thumbs up in running gear and race number
Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Tanaya: Everything happens for a reason. Breaks you thought were heartaches were really the Creator helping you dodge a massive bullet destined for danger, rupture, and the darkness you crawled your way out of long ago. So let go. Let go of anything that didn’t work out the way you wanted because you know this – deep in your heart of hearts you know: you were born from a line of fierce women on fire who shine light in the darkest of places and heal those in need. And if people are afraid of you, let them be afraid – they should be because you are powerful beyond containment, the kind of free people dream of embodying and everything is coming together the way it was always meant to. Because you are destined for greatness. And anything you ever set your mind to, you looked yourself in the mirror and said, “we are going to fucking do this.” And you did. You did do it. So don’t stop now because you are meant to keep all of the promises you ever made to yourself.



Tanaya Winder is a poet, singer, writer, and educator, raised on the Southern Ute reservation in Ignacio, CO. An enrolled member of the Duckwater Shoshone Tribe, her background includes Southern Ute, Pyramid Lake Paiute, Navajo, and Black heritages. Tanaya writes and teaches about different expressions of love (self love, intimate love, social love, community love, and universal love). A winner of the 2010 A Room Of Her Own Foundation’s Orlando prize in poetry, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cutthroat magazine, Superstition ReviewDrunkenboat and Kweli among others. Her poems from her manuscript “Love in a Time of Blood Quantum” were produced and performed by the Poetic Theater Productions Presents Company in NYC. Her debut poetry collection Words Like Love  was published in 2015 by West End Press. Her second collection Why Storms Are Named After People and Bullets Remain Nameless is forthcoming later this year. Tanaya has taught writing courses at Stanford University, UC-Boulder, and the University of New Mexico. She has a BA in English from Stanford University and a MFA in creative writing from UNM. She is a co-founder and editor-in-chief of As/Us: A Space for Women of the World. She guest lectures and teaches creative writing workshops at high schools and universities internationally. Tanaya is the Director of the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Upward Bound Program, which services 103 Native American youth from 8 states, 22 high schools, and 8 reservations across the country. She continues to teach as an adjunct professor at the University of New Mexico. Winder co-founded Sing Our Rivers Red, an earring exhibit with 1,181 single-sided earrings to help raise awareness about the epidemic of murdered and missing Indigenous women and colonial gender based violence in the United States and Canada. Finally, she created Dream Warriors Management, an Indigenous artist management company and collective. Winder is a recipient of the National Center for American Enterprise Development (NCAIED)’s 2016 “40 Under 40” list of emerging American Indian leaders. You can learn more about her at:

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