By Samara Freemark
NAWW was founded in 2010 by Mitchelene BigMan, a 22-year Army veteran and member of the Crow Nation. She served as a diesel mechanic at bases in Germany and Korea and did two tours in Iraq before retiring as a sergeant first class in 2009.
I called BigMan to ask about her time in the Army, why she founded the Warriors, and to hear what she thinks about the issues facing women and Native Americans in the military.
When I first got in, the Indian thing was hard. Some people must have thought we were extinct. They’d say, “You’re the first Indian I’ve ever met. Do you still live in teepees?” They thought, with us living on the reservation, we’re nomadic or something. They’d raise a right hand and say “How.” I was like, “How what? How I’m going to smack your teeth in because of the fact you’re making fun of me?” I was very defensive about my culture, my race. Still am.
As a female it was kind of a struggle especially since, being a mechanic, I was in a lot of all-male battalions. When I first joined up, the mindset at that time was that it was a man’s army. I ran a mechanics shop in Korea, and I would tell them, “This is the problem with your vehicle,” but they wouldn’t take my word on it. They’d take my private’s word because he was male. I was like, “Wait a minute, I’m in charge!” But they never gave me that sense of belonging.
We hear a lot about sexual harassment in the military. [The Department of Defense estimates that about 19,000 cases of sexual assault had occurred in the military in 2011.] Did you ever experience that yourself?
I experienced a lot of sexual harassment and I was raped. That happened in 1995. I was in officer’s school. I went to borrow a bat from my best friend—well, I thought he was my best friend. We both played on our company’s softball team at the time. When I walked in, the door swung shut; I didn’t catch it in time. But I wasn’t worried; he was my friend.
I didn’t make it out of that room. Well, I eventually did, but not the way I went in.
Comment: For more on Indians in the military, see First Female Native General and Menominee Soldier in VP Debate.
Below: "Native American Women Warriors founder Mitchelene BigMan of Lodge Grass, Mont. (center) joins NAWW officers Sarah Baker of Camp Lejeune, N.C. (left) and Julia Kelly of Billings, Mont., as they prepare to serve as color guard during the White House Tribal Nations Conference in December." (Photo by Getty Images)