Windwalker: Medicine woman, musician, LGBTQ youth advocateEntertainment News, Feature Story, Section 4A Thursday, September 1st, 2016
Her charisma was irresistible. I wanted to know her the moment I saw her.
We met at last year’s historic North Island Naval Air Station LGBTQ Pride event; I was there to cover the news and she was there to sing the National Anthem. She wore a fringed doe skin dress embellished with sea shells beneath a cloak of dark feathers. Her long feather headdress was adorned with red ribbons and intricate beadwork. She carried a ceremonial fan of feathers and soft fur.
Her eyes sparkled when I introduced myself. She said her name was Windwalker and the abundance of feathers suddenly made sense.
The second time we met was at her comfortable home nestled among Cottonwood trees in the San Diego River valley near Lakeside. I had been invited to attend a drum circle and meet some of her family and friends. We sang traditional songs beside a crackling fire beneath a star-filled sky.
We sat on the couch in her cozy living room with a digital voice recorder between us the third time we met. She had a story with a message for LGBTQ youth and agreed to an interview. Midday sunlight streamed through the windows. Birds chirped in the yard while wind chimes jangled in the gentle breeze.
Windwalker, so named by her grandmother, is a third generation medicine woman. Born on a small island, she traces her ancestry to three nations – Mi’kmaq, Cherokee and Lenape. She knew from an early age that she was “chosen”; that it was her duty and honor to preserve the “Native ways and traditions”. One such tradition is the reverence for “two-spirited” people.
“People in the LGBTQ community – the two-spirited people, whether woman or man, possess both male and female medicine,” Windwalker explained. “Powerful medicine. They are the shamans, the healers.”
Native American traditions practically disappeared after Europeans arrived. The new Euro-centric sense of morality defined LGBTQ individuals as perverts. Deviants. Abominations. To this day Native people, especially youth, struggle with self-worth and finding their place in a seemingly hostile society. According to the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute, alcohol mortality rates for the American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) population are 514 times greater than the general population; there are more than 1.1 million AI/AN people under the age of 24; a third of the under-18 population lives in poverty; violence, including homicide and suicide, account for 75 percent of deaths for AI/AN youth age 12-20.
“75 percent of our children are lost to suicide, drugs, alcohol,” Windwalker lamented. “They are lost with no hope. They have no hope because they feel the world is against them and they’re judged. The two-spirited children out there need to understand they have always been here, that they have value, and their being shunned is shameful. My goal is to stop this somehow and help these children.”
And help them, she does.
“World Suicide Prevention Day is Sept. 10 and I’m on a suicide hotline so my phone is on 24/7. I’m a counselor. I try to guide kids along a different path. I also work with the nonprofit Art Institute for Children*. We just recently sent art supplies to schools in India, it’s amazing … those children … their smiles are incredible. I’ve also started to work with the Monarch School** for homeless kids, many of whom are LGBTQ.”
Windwalker is also a musician. Her discography includes Ancient Winds and DRUM: Do Respect Universal Music recorded with Wind Spirit Drum, and most recently, Generations with Windwalker and the MCW (Multi Cultural Women). The music is a collection of traditional Native American songs celebrating ancestral heritage and the power of drumming. She’s garnered Native American Music Awards and was nominated earlier this year for a Grammy Award. Her music is readily available on sites such as iTunes and Amazon.
“Some children have talent as singers and song writers and with their musical talent – any kind of talent – stick around long enough and I’ll put you on a CD. Some nights we’d go out and get instruments for the kids so they can begin to tell their own stories. I want to help them find their voice. I promised my grandmother I would always look after the children and that’s what my music does. All the proceeds from my CD sales go to benefit children all over the world. Wherever help is needed.”
“It’s heartbreaking to see the faces of the two-spirited children and to hear them say they don’t feel accepted,” she continued. “I strive to help them understand that they have to accept themselves first. Once they do that then they have their own space, their own place in the world. A place that no one can take away.”
“I won’t see them for a while and often wonder how they’re doing. A few months ago I got a knock on the door and there stands one of the kids and I hadn’t seen him in about two years. He just stopped by to tell me he’s doing great, everything is wonderful, and he came back to thank me. I thanked him, I thanked my ancestors, and then I fed him. Then two weeks later another young man came by who I hadn’t seen in a long time – they always come back – you don’t realize how much a person can change until they come back. I can see how well they’ve done and know they did it on their own. Sometimes they just need a jump start.”
I asked Windwalker how people can help. In addition to purchasing her music or donating to the Art Institute for Children or the Monarch School, she said “people can help by going to and reaching out to local places, the shelters for homeless kids. They can assist veterans and the elderly. People can help by simply paying it forward. Find out what people need and do whatever you can to alleviate the need.”
I thanked Windwalker for her time and asked if she had any final thoughts.
“Have you ever seen a small bird chase a hawk away?” she queried. “That bird doesn’t know it’s smaller but that little bird respects and honors its smallness – embraces it’s true self. It’s that respect and honor that gives the small bird the power to take on a much larger hawk. And like that small bird, we need to let these kids know its OK to be who you are. It’s fantastic. You’re chosen.”
She walked me to the car and gave me a long hug. Windwalker stepped away then pointed to a Red Tailed Hawk screeching and wheeling high above us. “We’re being blessed,” she said with a smile.
Powerful medicine, indeed.
*The Art Institute for Children’s mission is to provide free art education, encourage creativity and end child labor. www.ArtInstituteforChildren.org
**San Diego’s Monarch School (http://monarchschools.org) is a public K-12 school for students who are homeless or impacted by homelessness – the only such school in the United States. Approximately 350 students ranging in age from 4 to 19 are enrolled.
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