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This Two-Spirited Activist Is Fighting for Visibility and Justice

Jen Deerinwater

In the state of Oklahoma, one disabled Native American is screaming louder than the rest. 

As a young girl, Jen Deerinwater just wanted to sing.

"I joined the school choir in middle school and soon had a love for music," the Oklahoma activist says. "I went on to study voice and had planned for a career in the music industry, but I ultimately chose a different path due to the extreme misogyny I encountered."

That different path has led her to the front lines of the resistance in multiple theaters of battle. Deerinwater identifies as a bisexual, multiply-disabled, mixed race Tsalagi, two spirit, hard femme citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. After her experiences as an undergrad at the University of Southern California in the early 2000s, she began organizing on campus and continued her activism post-college.

She was a proud water protector at Standing Rock and is the founder and Executive Director of Crushing Colonialism, an international Indigenous multi-media collective that seeks to provide greater visibility and opportunity to traditionally oppressed Indigenous peoples.

"While we're not exclusively a LGBTQIA2S+ organization," Deerinwater explains. "We represent the rich history and vast experiences of Indigenous people and that includes our queer relatives."

Deerinwater understands the importance of finding common ground among the varied communities impacted by colonialism, patriarchy, and a white power structure, and using this intersectionality to help shape their goals and paths to change.

"As a journalist and public speaker I make sure that I am always representing my communities and our intersectionality regardless of what topics I'm writing or speaking on."

Oklahoma still suffers from the history of colonial oppression against the Indigenous peoples. Many of Deerinwater's ancestors were forcibly removed from their lands at gunpoint and then marched to the state on what became known as the Trail of Tears. Thousands died during the forced migration and the lands they ultimately received were poorly suited for farming or grazing. As a result, they were among the hardest hit during the Dust Bowl.

Now the state must contend with increased seismic activity resulting from fracking the land for oil. While these all may seem disconnected to the issues of the LGBTQ communities, Deerinwater sees the commonalities and intersectionality of peoples and groups in need.

"I look at the degradation of my home from its inception," Deerinwater explains. "And I'm sadly not surprised that LGBTQIA2S+ people aren't respected and valued. Oklahoma sadly doesn't have much value for most of its residents."

Despite it all, though, Deerinwater remains focused and optimistic about making her state a better and more inclusive place for current and future generations.

"I don't want community members and the seven generations to come to have to continue to fight for dignity and the right to not merely survive, but to thrive," she declares. "This is what gets me out of bed every day.

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