Tekatsi:tsia’kwa Katsi Cook
Katsi is a member of the St.Regis Mohawk Tribe. She was born and grew up on the territory of Akwesasne along the shores of the Saint Lawrence River. Her Mohawk name, Tekatsi:tsia’kwa, means “she’s picking up flowers”, a good name for an Indigenous midwife to carry.
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, imparting her knowledge of Indigenous communities and decades of culture-based program design, direction and implementation. As executive director, she maintains an Advisory Committee and focuses on increasing the representational range of Spirit Aligned by sharing her time, energy, and elder wisdom throughout Indian Country. 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 and continues her activism in advancing the aims of Indigenous midwifery.
Prior to leading this new work to support the wellbeing and thriving lives of Indigenous women Elders, Katsi’s work has spanned many worlds and disciplines, and demonstrates a life-long career of advancing the superlatives of Indigenous Knowledge. She 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. She has based previous work in the First Environment Collaborative, working at the intersections of environmental health and justice and reproductive health and justice research and policy. Her groundbreaking environmental research of Mohawk mothers’ milk revealed the harmful generational impact of toxic pollutants within the St. Lawrence River. Katsi continues to serve her community as a director of the Akwesasne Health Care Foundation, Inc. that works to restore the Akwesasne environment.
As a professional member of the Interim Regulatory Council of the College of Midwives of Ontario in 1991, Katsi worked with colleagues to implement the exemption for Aboriginal Midwives and Healers in the 1991 Midwifery Act and the Regulated Health Professions Act in 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. Its practices are grounded in the concept of the Haudenosaunee Creation story.
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.” She 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 country’s largest coal strip-mines and power plants surrounded the Northern Cheyenne. Gail has had a pivotal role in the protection of the Cheyenne homeland.
Head Chief Woman has dedicated her professional career to advancing the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. She has served her Cheyenne people in the following leadership roles: elected representative on the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council from the Lame Deer District, and the elected Board Chair of Chief Dull Knife College. Twelve years on the Northern Cheyenne Natural Resource Committee; six years on the Northern Cheyenne Coal Bed 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 pertaining to tribal sovereignty, Indian voting rights, banking discrimination, Indian education, and environmental protection.
Gail’s expansive career includes teaching at public and private schools on the Reservation, in tribal colleges, and at the university level. She has 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.
Linda J. Parker, MBA
Sisterhood Resource Manager
Linda J. Parker is a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and grew up in the Kirby-Busby District of the Northern Cheyenne reservation. Linda grew up with a strong grandmother, who lived off the land growing her family’s food in what today is often called “indigenous food sovereignty”. Linda says that many elderly Cheyenne women would come to visit her grandmother and they would be laughing and talking Cheyenne. Later in her life, Linda understood that this circle of sisterhood was how these women kept the Tribe going. Her grandmother encouraged Linda to go to college and invited her into her “give away room” to pick an item when Linda was going to college.
Coming into her new role as Sisterhood Resource Manager, Linda feels she is coming full-circle. She looks forward to partnering with the legacy leaders and managing the transfer of programmatic supplemental resources to realize their dream projects. This included managing supplemental funds and intersectional support for the total program.
Linda’s career has taken her to many Indian Reservations over the years. She worked for the Fort Peck Tribal College early in her career and enjoyed living on the homeland of her husband. She served over nine years as a Self Determination Specialist working with Tribes and Tribal Organizations in the administration of P.L. 93-638 government-to-government contracts to get clean water into tribal communities. In this role, Linda worked as a team member to facilitate contract and budget negotiations, review of management systems, and to provide technical assistance to tribal communities.
Linda enjoyed fifteen years with a non-profit organization that provided culturally sensitive therapeutic foster care services to Native American youth and families. Linda was initially responsible for the overall financial management of the organization but also served as the Acting Executive Director, Satellite Office Supervisor, Treatment Manager, and Youth Group Coordinator. She had the responsibility to work with native youth and families throughout a broad region and was often on the road. The organization’s philosophy was based on a holistic model with the ultimate goal of reuniting youth with family.
Linda and her husband Leonard Smith, Jr., Assiniboine/Sioux, make their home in Billings, Montana where Leonard founded and continues to grow the Native American Development Corporation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the empowerment of Indian communities toward economic and social stability. Linda is a graduate of Gonzaga University with an MBA in American Indian Entrepreneurship. They have one son, Jason, who is a remarkable young leader who serves as the Director of Indian Affairs for the State of Montana.
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, Montana office. In this role, she provides administrative support for Spirit Aligned Leadership Program, and maintains connections with SALP offices in Akwesasne, New York and Bozeman, Montana.
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. She also currently serves as a board member for Indigenous Peoples Day MT, and the Montana Racial Equity Project. She has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies from Montana State-University. Francesca is working on a master’s degree in Public Administration.
Francesca and her husband Joaquin together raise a daughter, Sonaa. Her family loves to hike the trails around the Gallatin Valley, partake in amateur field ornithology, view Indigenous artworks around the area, and attend college football games.
Francesca’s grandmother, Evelyn Hogan-Bearground, is her inspiration and honors her grandmother’s legacy through her work with Spirit Aligned.
Rita LaFrance, Snipe Clan, is a member of the Mohawk Territory in Akwesasne, New York and also has roots in the Mohawk Territory in Kahnawake, Quebec where her maternal family reside.
Rita proudly serves the Spirit Aligned Leadership Program (SALP) as the Executive Assistant to Executive Director Katsi Cook. Working directly with the Executive Director in collaboration with the SALP team, Rita provides a variety of administrative duties supporting the work of the Executive Director’s office.
With 30+ years as a highly cultivating and passionate leader in health and social services, Rita has served her community and many other Native/First Nation communities in program and public policy; research and consultation; program design and implementation, ensuring Indigenous wisdom and knowledge are supported. Always working within a framework of collaboration, Rita is honored to be part of the SALP team, building those relationships with Indigenous wisdom keepers and the various partners supporting this work.
I am the sum of many stories from many places. My mother was Salish, Nez Perce, Scots, and Irish. My father was Chippewa and French. These different stories and places all occupy memory and space inside of me, but the largest part of my identity is Salish and it is my Salish homeland that holds my affection. It is the land that I know intimately. I am a citizen of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana.
I grew up with this large extended Salish family—aunts and uncles and hundreds of cousins. During my childhood, we had large family dinners at my aunt and uncle’s ranch. Those times are some of my favorite memories. I grew up hearing lively discussions about tribal affairs and many of my relatives were involved in tribal government. There was an unspoken expectation in our family that we had a responsibility as a tribal member—a responsibility to make something of your life that would contribute to your community.
When I completed my teaching program I did not intend to return to the reservation to teach, but I was there for the summer visiting family. It was at this time that my responsibility to my community found me, and I was asked to apply for a local teaching job. Saying yes to that question took me on my journey as an educator, as a student of my own history, as a tribal member, as a human being, and a citizen of the world. Sometimes in life, we are fortunate to find our path—some would say our destiny. I feel that blessing in my life.
I have been able to serve my community as a teacher and school administrator. I’ve worked for my tribe as a curriculum specialist and at our tribal college as adjunct faculty.
Building on the activism and work of generations of Indian people, I have been able to produce tribal history materials in film, text, multimedia, and theatre.
In my personal life, I am a mother and a yaya (grandmother) of three remarkable boys. I have five sisters and still live in the homeland of my Salish relatives and ancestors, in the landscape that has cared for me all my life.
Erika credits the strong women in her life, like her mother, grandmothers, aunties, and sisters, for who she is today. She knows the power of women working together intersectionally through a lifetime of experience. Her mother taught her to be in service of others daily. Her father taught her to never give up. These philosophies guide her work today.
In her role with SALP, she serves as the Virtual Coordinator where she provides virtual event and meeting coordination, meeting analytics, software support, and office support in the Bozeman, MT field office. Erika has been located in the Bozeman area for six years. She has been a student at Montana State University for the past few years, earning a Master’s in Native American Studies (expected Dec ’21), where her thesis has focused on institutional betrayal trauma of Native American students. In allyship, she works to bring awareness to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives’ crisis.
Erika is a non-Native aspiring ally. She calls herself an “aspiring ally” because she believes that allyship is earned from the communities she’s serving, and only the community can decide who is an ally. She was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1988, into a small but strong family. She has one brother and one sister-in-law, who recently blessed the family with baby Miles, making Erika a proud Auntie. She loves living in Montana, though she still calls Oklahoma Home. She’s enjoyed adapting to the outdoor lifestyle Montanans are proud of, adding fishing, kayaking, floating and camping to her hobbies. She’s also an avid crocheter and amateur embroiderer.
2021 Program Intern
Aaniinen & Nakoda
Wozek Chandler is a part of the Aaniinen (White Clay People) and Nakoda tribes and is from the Fort Belknap Reservation. Her parents are Niithouwaak (Two Capture), Sean Chandler, and Biteithaa (Dancing Woman), Lynette Chandler. She is a part of the first graduating cohort of the White Clay Immersion School, an Aaniiih Nakoda College alumni, and a recent undergraduate with her Bachelor of Arts from Montana State University (Spring 2021).
Wozek’s hobbies include Indian dancing and beading. Growing up she traveled the powwow trail with her great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and younger sister as four generations. Recently, her beadwork was featured in Bozeman’s Emerson Center for the Arts & Culture exhibit “We Are Still Here, and This is Our Story,” bringing awareness to the ongoing crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People.
Wozek hopes to pursue her Master’s degree and become a museum curator or archivist. She knows that wherever her education and career path takes her that she will return to Fort Belknap to serve her community promoting higher education, cultural lifeways, and language revitalization. She is thankful and excited for this opportunity to get to know the women and inspirational work they do for Indigenous people at the Spirit Aligned Leadership Program.