This is an excerpt of Native Girls Rise, a special report by Global Citizen examining a new wave of activism among the poorest ethnic group in the United States and its connections to the global struggle for indigenous rights.
Chapter 1: Hope
The neighborhood was known in Albuquerque as the “War Zone,” and the squat concrete building at the end of the road, its paint peeling in the New Mexico sun, didn’t do much to try and dispel the nickname.
But back then, the building was the only homeless shelter in the area that would take kids without a parent’s signature, so it was the only place she could go in order to stop sleeping out on park benches or inside the slide at the school playground. Then she could focus on her future, her schoolwork, her 4.2 GPA, her college applications. She could stop running for a change — from her violent mom, her mom’s creepy, addict boyfriend, their drug-filled, filth-ridden home, and an existence that had, for her entire life, been one of rootlessness, homelessness.
The War Zone could actually be the way forward.
It seems almost too perfect, now, that her name was Hope.
“I was really surprised I made it this far. I didn’t think I was going to make it to 16 because of the circumstances,” she says now, looking up at the building through its chain-link fence.
Hope Alvarado is 21 now and standing in front of the shelter for the first time since she left it five years ago. Just before coming back to the shelter she was the current version of Hope — poised, assured, eloquent — confidently striding across the University of New Mexico’s campus, decrying the racism of the administration and its decision to host Milo Yiannopoulos on campus, rhapsodizing over the next event the Native student group KIVA has planned for indigenous pride on campus. She showed off a pile of donated goods for the water protectors at Standing Rock — she’s been four times since the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline began — and even introduced herself in her native language, Navajo.
“We introduce ourselves not only as a person but who we are as a community and where we’re from,” she says. “That’s how we greet each other.”
But back at the shelter, as Hope nervously approaches the gate, turning her face to avoid being recognized by the property manager, the two disparate versions of her begin to form into a whole. The activism, the passion, the march across campus: they are fueled with this fire, the memories of what happened in this building and before it — the violence of her childhood, the homelessness and poverty. Hope’s identity as young Navajo activist is tied up in the trauma of growing up Native in the US today, with all of the systemic challenges and inequities that brings.
At the Oceti Sakowin camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation last year, Hope stood with thousands of others just like her.
Hope is part of a new generation of young Native American women who, by being at the frontlines of the activists’ movement unified in standing up for their rights, are overcoming the systemic challenges of poverty, substance abuse, mental health challenges, domestic and sexual violence, health and educational inequities, marginalization and racism.
Together, they are standing together with a message that Native people deserve to be heard.
And for a change, the world finally seems to be hearing them. See the full project here: