Badass Ladies You Should Know: Johnnie Jae
Over the past three years, I've had the honor of sharing 65 profiles of amazing ladies with you, and while I'm sad to be putting the project on indefinite hiatus for health reasons, I couldn't be more pleased to be ending the series with a bang -- or, more accurately, a Brown Ball of Fury. Johnnie Jae is an Indigenerd force of nature, bringing Native people, projects, and issues to national attention. From geek and pop culture to suicide prevention and political advocacy, Johnnie is an incredibly badass lady, and I'm thrilled she's capping off the Badass Ladies You Should Know project.
Thank you for all your support!
Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?
Johnnie: As Indigenous people, we are around 2% of the entire U.S population and the hypervisibility of mascots, stereotypes and whitewashed history has rendered us invisible in our own lands. This has impacted the way that non-native society views and interacts with us and it also impacts the way we view and value ourselves.
I believe that representation matters and the more voices we have speaking up, the harder it is for our struggles, achievements and humanity to be ignored. So, all of the work that I do is centered around creating platforms that encourage and empower us to reclaim our narratives, tell our own stories and challenge the rampant misrepresentation.
I’m the founder and CEO of A Tribe Called Geek, a multimedia company dedicated to showcasing and encouraging Indigenous contributions to geek & pop culture as well as STEM fields. Being a lifelong Indigenerd, I felt that it was important to create a platform that would allow us to celebrate our existence and contributions within these spaces, while also allowing us to create a community…..the league of Indigenerds, if you will.
This is really where my focus has been over the last few years because as with any other facet of society, we are severely underrepresented and misrepresented as Indigenous people within Geek culture and STEM. But the most important part of my work through A Tribe Called Geek is #Indigenerds4Hope, which is our suicide awareness & prevention initiative. Through #Indigenerds4Hope, I host workshops for our native youth that address suicide and mental illness in age appropriate manners, but the ultimate goal is to create a STEM camp to help further engage and encourage their involvement in STEM.
Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)?
Johnnie: I have quite a few creative outlets. I love to doodle and color because it helps me to manage my stress and anxiety. I love doing graphic & web design, photography, sock puppeting, and I love to sing….badly and as loud as possible. I also have a bad habit of doing some pretty ridonkulous and random videos on both instagram and youtube. I wouldn’t say my creative outlets influence my work, but being able to do photography, graphic & web design saves money because we can do everything in-house.
Kate: What's your biggest challenge?
Johnnie: My health and inability to accept that there are limits to what I can do. I was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus when I was 9 years old. Every single day, I fight against pain, sickness and the way I feel about myself when my face is rashy and poofy. I fight against every limit, even when it hurts and even when I know it will just makes things worse. I spend every day fighting just to have some semblance of a normal life and it’s absolutely exhausting. I’m like a human mogwai with all the rules that need to be followed for my care, even more so when you take into account that I’m photosensitive.
Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.
Johnnie: I am always bouncing back from failure thanks to youtube beauty tutorials. But seriously, failure is inevitable and a matter of perspective. While I am not always proud of my failures, I am grateful for them because they give me the opportunity to grow, to do and be better.
Kate: Tell us something that makes you proud.
Johnnie: Nothing makes me prouder than seeing our Native people rise! To see us achieving and thriving despite all the struggles and obstacles that we face, to see us creating opportunity and miracles from little to nothing. The love, laughter and survival of our communities is what makes me so incredibly proud and hopeful.
Lightning round: Tell us what you’re…
reading: In the Light of Justice: The Rise of Human Rights in Native America and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
listening to: Paramore “Hard Times”
wearing: no pants cuz this is how I do 99.8% of all my interviews
wishing for: the day when our native nations are no longer living in survival mode and fighting tooth and nail to keep our languages, traditions, water, lands and people from being destroyed.
wanting: a new computer and lifetime supply of BLK water.
loving: the growing resistance against hate and oppression.
Kate: Who are some other badass ladies we need to know & why?
Johnnie: Well, I definitely think Jack Malstrom aka Jack the Pima is definitely a badass woman that people need to know. Aside from being my co-host for the ATCG podcast, she’s a two-spirit advocate who does amazing work regarding the Indian Child Welfare Act. You can find her on twitter at @jackthepima.
There’s also Maggie Hundley, who is the chicken soup to my soul. She’s one of our co-founding board members for Not Your Mascots and host for the commUNITY Talks podcast. She has one of the most compassionate voices when it comes to understanding and discussing black/native identities as well as the importance of solidarity and community building.
Patricia Gordon and her granddaughter Prairie Gordon, who run the Indian Youth of America Summer Camps. This is a camp that for 41 years now has been providing such a wonderful service to our native youth. indianyouthofamerica.org
Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?
Johnnie: Uplift, empower, and invest in each other. We need to support and encourage each other because as women we often prioritize the needs and well-being of our loved ones and our communities over our own. So, we need to look out for each, check in and make sure that we are taking care of ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually. We need to help each other heal and empower each other to reclaim our power. We need to be invested in each other’s growth and success because as we often say in our native communities, when one rises, we all rise.
Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?
Johnnie: You have to live with a purpose beyond just surviving the day in front of you. You must always consider the extraordinary measures that you are willing to take or withhold in order to be well, to be happy; to not just survive, but thrive. We are our ancestors’ wildest dream, we owe it to them, to our future generations and to ourselves to live extraordinary, purpose driven lives.
Known as the Brown Ball of Fury, Johnnie Jae is a profoundly driven and unstoppable Indigenerd from the Otoe-Missouria and Choctaw tribes of Oklahoma. She is a writer, speaker, technologist, advocate, community builder and entrepreneur that loves empowering others to follow their passions and create for healing and positive change in the world.
Currently, she is the founder and CEO of A Tribe Called Geek, an emerging multimedia company that is dedicated to showcasing and encouraging Indigenous contributions to geek & pop culture as well as STEM fields. Jae, also, co-hosts the ATCG name sake podcast with Jackie Malstrom aka Jack the Pima, where they often discuss native representation or the lack thereof in mainstream geekery with fellow Indigenerds from across Turtle Island.
Jae has also contributed her skills Native Max Magazine, Native News Online, Complex, Good Men Project and the Success Native Style Radio Network.
In addition to her entrepreneurial pursuits, Jae is an advocate for many Indigenous and human rights issues, mainly focusing on youth empowerment, suicide prevention, gender & racial equity, violence towards Indigenous people, human trafficking, police brutality, reconciliation & solidarity, and Indigenous representation in the media.
She is a Founding Board Member of Not Your Mascots and LiveIndigenousOK. She is also a member of the Women Warriors Work Collective and served as co-chair for the March for Racial Justice.
Her ability to seamlessly shift from humor and pop culture to advocacy and business has made her a much-sought after speaker, panelist, and commentator. She has taught numerous workshops that address suicide awareness & prevention, mascots & stereotypes, digital activism, Indigenous journalism & media, and the utilization of social & digital media for business and activism. Her work has been discussed in many media outlets, such as Indian Country Today, ATPN, CBC, USA Today, Women’s E-News, Takepart.com and Upworthy. She has been a guest on several radio shows and podcasts, including Native America Calling, Native Trailblazers, Black Girl Nerds, BBC World Have Your Say and ICI Radio.
Facebook: /johnniejae & /tribecalledgeek
Twitter: @johnniejae & @tribecalledgeek
Instagram: @johnniejae & @atribecalledgeek
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