Shirley Montoya, program coordinator for the Healing Circle Drop-In Center, is spearheading a movement to rally women together to tackle some of the hard-hitting issues that plague the reservation, such as domestic violence, sexual assault and other women's health concerns.
The group, dubbed "Sisters in Circle" hosted a conference in November, a gathering that attracted nearly 300 mothers, grandmothers and daughters. From that start, a wave of interest has formed in finding solutions to some of the big problems, Montoya said.
"The ball started rolling," she said. "Our focus is to develop leadership, to revive skills, to dig deep inside women and empower them."
The group organizes conferences for women, held twice during the year. It also meets regularly to serve as an outlet for women who otherwise may not have a support group, Montoya said.
The group aims to teach women creative arts, both to have homemade items in their homes and to learn to creatively express themselves.
"We, as Navajo women, sometimes are too busy making fry bread, or doing other things we think are important," Montoya said. "This, hopefully, will help them unleash their creativity."
The group has garnered support from area artists, such as Gloria Emerson, a noted painter and poet. These women can help others find creative outlets, something that can be an important part of feeling whole, Montoya said.
"A lot of women are looking for some type of employment, education," she said. "A lot of them have no transportation, no support, no one to help take care of the kids. A lot are living in abusive situations."
Domestic violence runs rampant on the reservation, Montoya said. Although the group likely won't change some of the dire statistics, it can help women find support from their peers.
"For a few hours, they can enjoy hearing stories or making something they can take home," Montoya said. "Just give yourself permission to be free of all the struggles around you, to see other sisters, to get acquainted with new sisters."
Emerson, who attends the meetings to connect with her "sisters," is advocating for more support. Organizers of the group hope to someday incorporate as a nonprofit.
The group attracts women who have made a profession out of social services as well as those who just need someone to talk to, Emerson said.
"These are women who are deeply involved in serious social issues," she said. "I am impressed with the quality and positivism."
As the group picks up momentum, Montoya hopes to form small support circles across the reservation.
"Sisters can do it," she said. "I've seen them come in and embrace this."
Two groups of women meet in Shiprock. Both are open to new attendees.
A group meets from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. every Wednesday at the Healing Circle Drop-In Center. A second group meets from 9 a.m. to noon the first Wednesday of every month at the Navajo Nation Family Violence Prevention Office. That office is located behind the Wells Fargo bank in Shiprock.
For more information, call Shirley Montoya at (505) 215-0814.