By Darlene Watchman, Juneau, Alaska.
The women in my family have always been my source for inspiration and strength. In Tlingit society of Southeast Alaska, women transfer leadership strengths, experiences, and political power to their children through matrilineal group descent. I gained my clan membership from a long line of influential women, whose early dedication to social change created a better life for future generations in Alaska.
While growing up in Juneau and Seattle, my mother became the prominent figure in my life after my father was diagnosed with the debilitating disease Multiple Sclerosis. He proudly served in World War I and we believe during that time he was exposed to acrolein, a chemical weapon and a possible factor in the development of Multiple Sclerosis. My mother remained strong, never letting on if she was hurting, and influenced my view of the world and guided my actions.
Tlingit women are traditionally seen as important sources of information and as decision-makers. My mother and her relatives undertook important roles as active agents of change in early territorial Alaska when discrimination was legal and commonplace. Alaska Native women worked with the men to pass the Anti-Discrimination Act in 1945. This was the first anti-discrimination law in the nation, about twenty years before the civil rights movement accomplished the same in the continental U.S.