August 27, 2014

Young Cherokee addresses Commission on Status of Women

Panelists, politicians and company representatives from all over the world led discussions and offered insight, shared experiences, and advocated for women and girls to have better lives.

 

FORT GIBSON, Okla. - She’s a good girl who simply can’t stop thinking about bad situations.

“My main issues are that even though we as Native people make up less than 1 percent of the population, we have the highest rate of abuse, suicide, domestic abuse and sexual assault,” Cierra Fields, Cherokee, said. “There’s not many of us, yet we have the worst of it. I’ve always found that ridiculous.”

Recently, her thoughts progressed into action and Fields took her concerns to the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW58) from March 10 to 21, at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. The CSW addresses women’s rights and gender equality concerns. Fields was selected to attend CSW58 as part of the SustainUS delegation, a network of “U.S. Youth for Sustainable Development.”

“I’ve always been bothered by some of the issues that go on with our women, especially Native women,” Fields said. “When I saw the opportunity that I could go to the United Nations … and possibly help our people, I decided why not.”

Her mother, Terri Fields said her daughter is quite strong-willed, a free-thinker with definite views, and was selected amongst students from Harvard, Cornell and Princeton Universities.

“To realize this organization was so impressed by our daughter’s academic resume and her essay about Native women, that she was the No. 1 pick and a 14-year-old, we were very honored and very humbled,” Terri Fields said. 

Panelists, politicians and company representatives from all over the world led discussions and offered insight, shared experiences, and advocated for women and girls to have better lives. Some of the sessions Fields attended concerned human trafficking; reproductive rights; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights; and the charge to get females into the science and medical fields. She learned from speakers representing different countries like Canada, Madagascar, Ecuador, Uganda, and Venezuela.

She was taken aback by a presentation from Jessica Whitbread, a woman who contracted HIV from a former long-term boyfriend. Whitbread spoke about violence against women with HIV and how badly some of them are treated.

“For her to speak up about that topic, which is something that a lot of people don’t like to talk about, it’s pretty amazing,” Fields said.

There are two quotes that not only set the tone for her experience, but those phrases continue to resonate with her. The statements came from two different people, and the first one is, “You can pretty up the word domestic servant as much as you want, but yet it’s still slavery.” The second statement is, “It’s not gay rights, it’s just human rights.”

Fields learned the harsh reality that human trafficking doesn’t just involve sexual exploitation and prostitution, it also grips domestic servants who are taken to foreign countries for work, but end up being raped and controlled by their employer, in addition to being overworked and underpaid.

According to the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women, “American Indians are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault crimes compared to all other races, and one in three Indian women reports having been raped during her lifetime.”

“I learned that, especially for Native women, we need to stop this. We need to get out there and educate ourselves. I know it’s hard, but you really need to try and get out, no matter what,” Fields said. “It’s OK to be scared, but you have to try; for yourself, for your kids. It’s not a safe environment to be in, you need to break away and be safe.”

Prior to going to New York City, Terri Fields had her daughter not only studying, but also reflecting on how Native American women are impacted by inequality issues. Cierra also read a lot about Wilma Mankiller.

“Wilma Mankiller has always been a huge role model for me because she was my tribe’s first female chief,” Cierra Fields said. “She was the one that brought water to Bell, Oklahoma even though she was told so many times that this was a man’s world, you can’t do this or that is something only a man can do, you’re just a woman. Even though she was told so many things like that … she still just said OK, and was kind and courteous and then she did what she wanted to do and she got it done.”

Fields too, is getting things done. The Fort Gibson High School freshman, just received an invitation from the National Congress of American Indians to be a member of their National Native Youth Cabinet. She will serve on the Cabinet until September 2015, and work on issues with higher education, language and culture and anti-bullying.

She also recently helped create Cherokee Nation Leadership Day, which will replace Columbus Day at the Cherokee Nation. She co-authored the legislation that was unanimously passed by the Cherokee Nation Rules Committee last month. She was also awarded the Southwestern Regional Violet Richardson Award last month from the Soroptimist International of the Americas Tahlequah Chapter. That award is for the hundreds of hours she volunteered with the Cherokee Nation Comprehensive Cancer Control Program, Healthy Nation and the American Cancer Society.

Fields is a two-time melanoma cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with melanoma when she was 4, and has become an advocate for skin cancer awareness for Native Americans. She’s the 2013-2014 National Youth Ambassador for the American Indian Health Research and Education Alliance (AIHREA), and she was honored by the Oklahoma State Senate on her 14th birthday for her accomplishments.

She continues to give speeches, visit hospitals and organize coloring book and crayon drives for cancer patients. She said, her mom helps her with speeches, her dad Richard (Rick) is her editor-in-chief, and her sister Cheyanne is her personal cheerleader.

“They’re always there for me and whenever it gets tough or I’m just feeling down that day, they’re always there for me,” she said.

Fields also served as a Little Miss Cherokee Ambassador, established The Charles Head Memorial Native Youth Summit, and received a Prudential Spirit of Community Bronze Award for the State of Oklahoma, and a presidential volunteer service award from President Barack Obama.

Currently, she’s a member of the Cherokee Nation Youth Choir, a 4-H club, and serves on the advisory board for the Center for Native American Youth. She’s also beginning to work with the Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health Services program on public service announcements to bring awareness about sexual assault. The campaign will try to get girls across Cherokee Nation to participate in international Denim Day, which highlights when the Italian Supreme Court overturned a rape conviction because an 18-year-old girl’s jeans were too tight and she had to help her 45-year-old driving instructor remove them. Therefore, the chief judge said it was no longer rape, but consensual sex. The ruling outraged women and girls worldwide, so now jeans are worn one day in April as a sign of protest. April is Sexual Violence Awareness month and April 23 is Denim Day.

It’s these types of circumstances that Cierra learned about as the youngest delegate at CSW58, and it’s reflected in a statement she wrote on the SustainUS website. Her entry begins by stating, “My experience at the UN has been both incredible and humbling. I have met so many amazing world leaders who are doing so much good and are changing their countries. I feel like a shadow on the wall and they are the sun, and they are the driving force of change all around the world. All of these meetings have deeply impacted me and I have been changed for the better.”

Cierra Fields is a two-time melanoma cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with melanoma when she was 4, and has become an advocate for skin cancer awareness for Native Americans. She’s the 2013-2014 National Youth Ambassador for the American Indian Health Research and Education Alliance (AIHREA), and she was honored by the Oklahoma State Senate on her 14th birthday for her accomplishments.

COURTESY PHOTO
 

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