Native American Women Warriors (NAWW) offered an inspirational message and worked with students in small groups at Wyoming Indian High School on Thursday.
NAWW founder, Mitchelene BigMan, a member of the Crow tribe from Montana, spoke with fellow members Inez Rajo, a member of the Northern Arapaho tribe and a 1999 Wyoming Indian High School graduate, and Josie Passes, also a member of the Crow Tribe from Hardin, Montana.
“If we can do it, you can do so much more,” Rajo said to a group of Wyoming Indian juniors. “I joined in 2002, the year after 9/11. It inspired me. During that time the country came together.”
Rising to the rank of Logistics Specialist Chief in the United States Navy, Rajo completed a Bachelor of Science in Business Management in 2009, and three masters degrees, the first in Logistic and Supply Chain Management, another in Management with a concentration in leadership, and a third degree in leadership last year from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
She retired earlier this year after 20 years of service.
Rajo served onboard the USS Peleliu and was deployed to Guam, Hawaii, Australia, Dubai, and Singapore during Operation Enduring Freedom. She also served in Gulfport, Mississippi, and onboard the USS Iwo Jima.
BigMan also earned degrees during a 20-year career in the United States Army. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Management and a Master of Science in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix.
She founded the NAWW to bring insight, resources, advocacy, and education to Native women veterans.
As a Native American woman in the military, she experienced firsthand many forms of racism, sexism, PTSD, and Military Sexual Trauma. (MST)
BigMan felt there needed to be a trusted voice for those coming before and after her.
“You do more by nine o’clock in the morning than most people do all day in combat areas,” BigMan said. “I’ve been in Korea, Europe twice, Georgia and Iraq. When I joined and went to basic training, they were yelling at me, calling me names, calling my mom names.”
One night on a convoy, she was in charge of protecting a group of colonels, captains, and senior non-commissioned officers.
“My commander took off and left us, he always did that. It was dark, too dark to find landmarks, but I’m from the reservation. We know how to read bushes, how to use the stars, and the shadows. I learned it from my grandparents and my cousins. We found our way back to the main group,” she said.
In 2014, in recognition of her work in forming the NWAA, she received the White House Champion of Change Award.
She served 22 years in the Army, joining in 1987 and retiring in 2019.
Passes joined the United States Navy in 2008 after graduating from Hardin High School. She worked in security at Lackland Air Force Base, and at the Trident Submarine Facility in Washington where she provided security guarding nuclear weapons and nuclear submarines. She used the skills learned in Naval security in her future career.
In 2011 she was honorably discharged and moved to North Carolina where she attended Homeland Security School and earned her degree in 2015.
She returned to Montana in 2016 where she worked on the Crow Indian Reservation as a Tribal Police Officer. In 2017 she became a Bureau of Indian Affairs Police Officer.
All three women related how their experience in the military changed their lives, and provided opportunities they may not have found elsewhere.
As members of the NWAA they are committed to helping other Native Americans, and specifically Native American Women in having careers in the U.S Military, while retaining their group as an advocate if things don’t go right.