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  • Debbie Maier Jacknin

She Persists - Women in Power

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

"The most esteemed of their women do sometimes speak in council..."Queen Aliquippa, a Native American, "was an empress; and they gave much heed to what she said among them," wrote T. Chalke in 1706.1

Let this sink in for a minute, while European women were not able to vote or own property, the Native woman was often the leader in her community and held in high esteem!

This piece called She Persists: Women in Power is the third in the She Persists series. The first two in the series show a woman trying to shatter a glass ceiling as a metaphor for women breaking societal boundaries. I left the ceiling out of this piece. The woman in this piece didn't have a glass ceiling - she is already a leader. "Indigenous women have had a political voice in their nation long before white settlers arrived."2

My children's father had a grandmother, Yuma Collier, who we were told was a Cherokee and this sparked my interest in the Indigenous culture. A few years ago, I became good friends with Kelli Booher who is Khoyie goo & Chahta (Kiowa & Choctaw). She is a citizen of the Kiowa Tribe. I thought I was enlightened about the past of Native Americans until I talked to Kelli and realized how little I actually knew.

For example, growing up, I learned how Europeans gave Native Americans blankets filled with smallpox. What I did not know was that was just the beginning of many different attempts to wipe out the native community.

Beginning in the late 19th century, the American government forced Native American children from their reservation and sent them to boarding schools. They were not allowed to speak their native language and their hair was cut short so they would look less Indian. They were taught that their culture was inferior. The last residential school didn't close until as late as 1973. Their children were not protected from forced removal of their homes until 1978.

Native Americans were not granted US citizenship until 1924 and not all could vote until 1957. Relocation and termination acts were enacted upon by the government up until the late 1960s and they were not granted freedom of religion until 1978.


In the beginning of 2019, I attended an artist guild meeting where I saw the artwork of several esteemed male artists whose paintings often depicted male Native Americans in a pre-1900 context. I thought of my conversations with Kelli and I wanted to put women into the narrative.

I’ve always liked impressionism and have been intrigued with the idea of using that style to represent the difference of women’s rights then vs. now.

I imagined what Pittsburgh would have looked like when the settlers first arrived in the area where the Monongahela and the Allegheny rivers come together to form the Ohio river. I put my Indigenous woman there. Kelli taught me that many indigenous nations honor seven generations. Counting their own generation, they are likely to know three generations before and three generations after. They are accountable to all seven of them. I put seven mirrors in the Monongahela/Ohio rivers and seven mirrors in the Allegheny/Ohio rivers. I imagine she is looking at us and telling us what our world would be if we all reflected upon the past and planned not just for our future, but for the future of our generation.

Kelli told me she is part of a generation that was not supposed to be here. In my work called, "She Persists: Women in Power", I imagine the woman in my piece knows there are many strong women in leadership positions today, like my friend Kelli.

She Persists is available in shirts, onesies, bibs, coasters and masks available at and Songbird Artistry. 436 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224.

1. The Untold Story of Queen Aliquippa,by Dr. Bobbi Toth Sources CitedThe Untold Story of Queen Aliquippa,by Dr. Bobbi Toth

2. Indian Country Today

3. This image appears in John N. Choate’s Souvenir of the Carlisle Indian School (Carlisle, PA: J. N. Choate, 1902). Photo from Indian Country Today, Copyright ©, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2017, all rights reserved.

Additional sources:

Kelli Booher

Washington Post - (here is an excellent article about the leadership roles of Indigenous women)

Wood frame by the very talented Bobby Zugec of B.Z, Wood Craft 412-760-4980 or

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