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Arts & Life

Female Community Leaders And Mentors Recognized

chynna lockett

March is time to celebrate the accomplishments of women in the past and present. The Buffalo Gals kicked off Women’s History Month by recognizing those that are paving the way for change. 

Women share their experiences from years of community work during the three day Women’s Conference in Rapid City. Each story fit in with the event’s title Living Our Legacy.

Amanda Stadel’s focus is sex trafficking. She is on the Board of Directors for HEAL International and a volunteer Program Coordinator at the Of My Own in Arizona.

“I run sexual health and empowerment education for girls that have either been sex trafficked or are at risk for being sex trafficked.”

The girls are between the ages of 11 and 17. Stadel says many at risk girls have been sexualized by rape or sexual assault. She says the mission of the organization is to give children access to healing.

“And for these girls it’s so that they have power. So they get to be just like me and you or they get to have lives, where they’re not stuck in this recurring cycle.”

She says they do activities like simulating issues in life to prepare the girls for real encounters. Some of these moments stick out to Stadel.

She says during a game some girls were asked to say how they would react in a situation. Stadel thought she’d never be able to connect with one girl until she started to answer the questions.

“As I was listening to her I realized she has such a big heart and she doesn’t see that. And she was caring and really wanted to protect her friends and family. Like that meant so much to her. And so I said wow I see that. You have such a big heart and your family means so much to you and you really care. And at that moment she like paused and her shoulders like kind of relaxed and this like whole sense of ease came over her. And she got to be present to who she was. And that’s what we’re creating and that’s what we want all these girls to have, to see their own greatness. ”

Stadel says she tries to live by the rules she teaches and applies them to all of her relationships. 

Another presenter is Nishanthi Perera. The South Dakota School of Mines and Technology senior mentors incoming students. She says she fell in love with science when she was 4 years old.

“We had a big 6.8 earthquake at our house and my floor has wood paneling so I got to see the earthquake make the waves on the floor paneling in my house.”

Now Perera’s major is geological engineering. She volunteers as a student mentor in the Women in Science and engineering or WiSE program at the School of Mines. The program was created to raise the retention rate of female students in the predominantly male school. Perera says she joined WiSE because she wanted to help other women feel included in science fields. 

“Because we don’t see other females in those roles, it’s really hard to be the first one. It’s never any fun being the only woman on a project or the only woman using the woman’s bathroom. Just even the little things that can kind of get discouraging.”

Perera says she thinks the lack of women in math and science fields discourages others from perusing an education in them. But she says it doesn’t take much to get young girls interested.

“It takes one person to encourage somebody else to do it. So if you have a nephew or a niece, granddaughter, if you have somebody in your life that just needs an extra word of encouragement, definitely be that person to tell them you’re good at math, you can do this. I know this class is hard, but you can get through it. You can be whatever you want.”

Perera says women can do anything with a little determination and hard work.

This is the first year Buffalo Gals chose Community Appreciation Recipients. They recognized some women for years of work like Dorothy Rowdy Brewick.

“And in my professional life I was a teacher so I was Mrs. Brewick.”

She’s taught middle school, high school and was the advanced placing testing coordinator for the school district.

“So I was in school for 41 years.”          

Now that Brewick is retired, she works as an organizer.

“I belong to Democracy in Action which is a nonpartisan women’s political group. We are progressives and really do support a progressive agenda here in South Dakota.”

She was the Chairwoman for the Women’s March on Washington in Rapid City in January. The event brought nearly a thousand people downtown.

“It was wonderful to see that many people willing to walk down the street for the causes that they are passionate about. And there were many, many causes. It was very positive. And it was a proclamation that we’re here, we’re paying attention and we’re not going away.”

Brewick says organizing the event took effort from women across the community. She has also worked with other groups including women’s empowerment circles at the jail.

“It’s so rewarding and you know, people say well you are so busy and you work so hard. But in the end I receive so much more than I give.” 

Brewick dedicated her award to all women that work to promote human rights and women’s rights.

Another woman focuses on bettering cross cultural communications. Karin Mortimer is on the South Dakota Public Broadcasting Board of Directors.

“I’m the director of the Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors.” 

The group addresses the broken or nonexistent relationships between Natives and non-Natives. Mortimer says they bring community leaders of different races together. They work off the acronym beam.

“B E A M and it stands for bridging cultures, educating ourselves and others, advocating and modeling respectful behaviors.”

She says it has been helpful to champion events in the community that non-Natives don’t attend.

“Such as the Black Hills Wacipi (or) Black Hills Powwow or the Lakota Nations Invitational. This year we worked collaboratively with the Conventions Visitors Bureau and the Mayor and the Police Chief and came up with this amazing welcome to all the players that came to the LNI.”

The program started with a Bush Community Innovation grant and is now funded by a John T. Vucurevich Foundation grant. Mortimer says the group is successful because the people involved collaborate with each other.

“When I see the relationship between a Native and non-Native leader be able to change a policy or to shift thinking on both a grassroots and a governmental level, I know that this is the right thing to do.”

Mortimer says this work taught her how little she knew about Native American culture and has changed her perspective.

Paula Long Fox is another member of the Ambassadors. She was recognized for her work with kids. She says she was a middle school counselor for almost 36 years.

“It’s exciting because the kids morph into totally different human being physically, emotionally, and mentally. They just grow so fast between 6th grade and 8th grade.”

Now she works in high schools with the drug and alcohol prevention program Lifeways.

“We teach the kids that their brains aren’t fully developed until they’re 26 and that when you start using chemicals to get your dopamine flowing, your body or your mind forgets how to do it naturally. So you can become really addicted in a very short period of time during your adolescence.” 

Long Fox acts as a counselor in high schools. She runs a student group called youth to youth that promotes a healthy lifestyle to their peers.

“I feel like it’s been so lucky because kids keep you real, and they challenge you. And I feel like I’ve become a better person because anytime if I ever, which was seldom, but give advice, I would have to follow it myself. Otherwise I felt like a hypocrite.” 

Long Fox says she her job made her life better, easier and happier. The Buffalo Gals host monthly meetings in the Black Hills that are open to the public.