Serving as an ambassador to the landscape of Indigenous women and girls leadership circles, Katsi holds the values, vision, and purpose of the Spirit Aligned Leadership Program over its entire arc, imparting her knowledge of Indigenous communities and decades of culture-based program design, direction, and implementation expertise.
Katsi is an advocate of Indigenous women’s health across the lifecycle, drawing from a longhouse traditionalist perspective the idea of Woman as the First Environment. For the past 25 years, Katsi has based her work in the First Environment Collaborative, working at the intersections of environmental health and justice and reproductive health and justice research and policy. Katsi is a founding member of the National Aboriginal Council of Midwives, a researcher and a lecturer on Indigenous environmental reproductive health.
Prior to leading this new work to support the wellbeing and thriving lives of Indigenous Elder women, Katsi worked with groundbreaking midwifery colleagues to implement the exemption for Aboriginal Midwives and Healers in the1994 Midwifery Act and the Regulated Health Professions Act in the Province of Ontario, Canada. In 1992, Katsi became the founding Aboriginal midwife of the Six Nations Birthing Centre, the first and only freestanding birth centre in Canada at that time, grounded in the concept of the Creation story.
“As Indigenous midwives, we stand at the door of transformation, pulling new life out of the water, out of the earth,” Katsi believes that authority must be used, “to move from a world of domination and exploitation to a world of partnership and collaboration.”
As Director of the Spirit Aligned Leadership Program, Katsi partners with the Elders Council of the Indigenous Justice Division of Ontario, in response to the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
In her home community of Akwesasne, a border territory along the shores of the St. Lawrence River near Cornwall, Ontario, Katsi is a founding member of Konon:kwe Council. Konon:kwe, meaning “all women” in Mohawk, is a group that holds Kahnistensera, “Mother Law,” as its foundational principle. Konon:kwe Council exists to reconstruct the power of our Haudenosaunee origins. Katsi writes curriculum for the development of the Oherokon Rites of Passage at Akwesasne. Katsi and Jose Barreiro, her life’s companion and husband of over forty years, have 6 children and 11 grandchildren.
Gail Small, J. D.
Gail Small is a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and grew up on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Lame Deer, Montana. Her Cheyenne name is Vehon-naut, “Head Chief Woman.” Head Chief Woman comes from the extended families of Woodenlegs, Spotted Elks, Small, Rondeau, and High Back Wolf.
Gail was born and raised among her extended families on Lame Deer Creek, where she and her husband of 32 years built their ranch and continue to live today. She believes that her family and homeland have always nourished her and given her strength. She grew up in the tumultuous time of energy exploitation when the Cheyenne homeland became surrounded by the country’s largest coal strip-mine and power plant complex. Beneath the Northern Cheyenne Reservation lies so much coal that every Cheyenne could have become a millionaire had they chosen coal development. Every coal mining proposal pushed by energy corporations and/or the federal government was voted down by either the Cheyenne people or their Tribal Council over the past fifty years. Gail has played a pivotal role in Cheyenne resistance to energy exploitation and the protection of the Cheyenne homeland.
Gail has dedicated her professional career to advancing the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. She has served her Cheyenne people in the following capacities: fours years as an elected representative on the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council from the Lame Deer District; four years as the elected Board Chairperson of Chief Dull Knife College; twelve years on the Northern Cheyenne Natural Resource Committee; six years on the Northern Cheyenne Coalbed Methane Committee; ten years on the Northern Cheyenne Water Rights Negotiating Committee; four years on the Northern Cheyenne Law and Justice Commission; and four years on the Northern Cheyenne Constitutional Revision Commission. In 1990, she founded Native Action, one of the first non-profit organizations established on an Indian reservation. She served as the Executive Director of Native Action for over twenty years successfully achieving numerous national precedents in Indian voting rights, fiscal equity, Indian education, and environmental protection. Her career has revolved around giving back to her community by providing leadership and coalition building to address the varied priorities of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.
Gail’s expansive career includes teaching at public and private schools on the Reservation, in tribal colleges, and at the university level. She has served on numerous federal advisory committees and has testified before various Congressional Committees, particularly on important issues to the large-land based tribes of the Rocky Mountain West. Her early career included working on Indigenous fishing rights and sacred sites as a Reginald Heber Smith Fellow at Californian Indian Legal Services. She has also traveled and lectured internationally as a leadership fellow from the WK Kellogg, Rockefeller, and Leopold International Leadership Programs.
Gail graduated from the University of Oregon School of Law and the University of Montana. She credits her greatest education to her life growing up on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation amongst a family of matriarchs and warrior women. She is the mother of four and grandmother of a growing herd of young members of the Tsistsistas and Suhtaio Nation. Head Chief Woman epitomizes contemporary Indigenous leadership and responsibility as a citizen leader.
Crow / Northern Cheyenne
Francesca Pine-Rodriguez is a member of the Crow and Northern Cheyenne nations. She grew up on both reservations, and in Billings, Montana. She proudly serves as Program Associate for Spirit Aligned Leadership program at its Bozeman office. In this role, she provides administrative support for Program Director Gail Small and maintains connections with SAL offices in Akwesasne and Washington, DC.
In previous roles, Francesca has worked for the Montana Office of Public Instruction and Little Big Horn Tribal College. Before joining Spirit Aligned, she was a program manager for American Indian/Alaska Native Student Success Services at Montana State University-Bozeman.
Francesca and husband Joaquin together raise a daughter, Sonaa. Her family loves to hike the trails around the Gallatin Valley and partake in amateur field ornithology. Francesca’s grandmother, Evelyn Hogan-Bearground, is her inspiration and honors her grandmother’s legacy through her work with Spirit Aligned.