Written by NICOA
Beverly F. Owens was the oldest of four children born in Anchorage, Alaska to Karen Rae Hopkins. For over 20 years, she has worked for the Nisqually Indian Tribe as the executive secretary of the Public Works Department.
She graduated from West High School in 1984 and business school in 1987. She has continued her education, not only to improve upon her skills, but to role model the importance of learning to her three sons. She enjoys learning new things and teaching people and children the skills she knows.
She moved to Washington 28 years ago and now lives in Onalaska with her husband and youngest son. She also has a beautiful 1-year-old grandson, who is her pride and joy. Watching her three boys grow into honorable men has been her greatest source of satisfaction.
She has taught her children the very same tribal traditions that she learned from her grandmother. Read about Beverly’s journey, the skills and wisdom her grandmother imparted, and the importance of standing up for your rights as Native people:
“Every day is a new day and we as a united gathering need to move forward to improve opportunities for Native peoples. We need to push for better schooling, housing, and medical care, as well as any other issues that may arise.
We must strive to stay informed about Native issues happening throughout the country because they affect us all. What happens in Indian Country has an impact on all Native communities. We will only have a promising tomorrow for our Tribal people if we work together as a whole. Without our unity, strength and wisdom, there will be no tomorrow for us as a people.
We need to look back at our ancestors and thank them for their hard fight. Because of them, we exist as a people today! I never forget to tell my sons where they come from, what they are, and how proud we are of their heritage.
Our families are warriors and survivors. We are an honorable people. As the saying goes, ‘We are the First People of the land. We as a people have to set an example not only for our children, grandchildren, and future generations to come, but we need to show all people that we are warriors and survivors for today and tomorrow.’
I am proud to be an honorable, strong, traditional Native woman succeeding in a modern world. I have instilled that pride in each of my sons, and we are now imparting that pride and tradition to my firstborn grandchild. My sons and I participate in Native song and dance every summer during Tribal Journeys here in Washington State.
I have taught them how to hunt, gather, grow, prepare and store foods. I have taught them how to tan hides, sew, and weave. These skills were passed on to me by my ancestors and I am passing them on to my children, grandchildren, and members of the Native community.
I hope to show others that our traditional teachings and skills are not lost. I hope to inspire others to learn and continue sharing the survival skills and strength we have inherited. Because of the skills learned from our ancestors, we stand tall as warriors, survivors, and teachers with honor, pride, and integrity.
My grandmother was my greatest inspiration. She was a very strong Native elder. She stood up to everyone and everything and she always told me ‘Nobody owes you anything in life but yourself! You have to work for what you get in life! So, work hard and be proud of what you do in your life, because only you know your true struggles and life challenges that got you to where you are today!’ I have always lived by those words to this day because of her.
She is the one who taught me how to work hard every summer once school was out. I would go and stay with her for the whole summer. I miss those times so much! She taught me how to cook, gather wild herbs and vegetables, sew and make traditional regalia.
When it was gathering season, she would wake me up in the early morning and we would gather roots, plants and berries and she would tell me traditional stories as well as stories about her life. The time I spent with her was magical. I learned so much from her and will always cherish those memories. She told me culture is taught from the heart and from family, and to always learn as much as you can.
She was also a strong believer in Native rights. The neighborhood that she lived in it was low-income housing, but it was home and I always felt safe. Once, when I was 12 years old, while my grandmother was out on her doorstep fixing a bird cage with a hammer, police officers showed up and started asking questions. At first she complied but when the officer wanted to go into her home and look around, she told them they had to first get a warrant to enter her home.
I think the officer thought she just an old Native woman who didn’t understand her rights. As an officer tried to enter my grandmother’s home anyway, she again stated that he needed a warrant. When he proceeded anyway, my grandmother hit his foot with the hammer!
She stood up and said, ‘get a warrant and then you are more than welcome in my home’ and slammed the door on him. I never saw anything like that! I was scared they were going to arrest my grandmother, but she told me that he had violated her rights by entering her home without a warrant. She even got his badge number.
Thankfully, he never came back. She told me to always stand up for my rights. Even though the police are the law it still does not make them right. I have never forgotten that.