Jessica Cejnar / Friday, Aug. 9 @ 12:32 p.m. / Community
Former Yurok Chairwoman Receives National Award
A national native woman’s organization gave former Yurok leader Susan Masten its lifetime achievement award last week.
Masten, who has served in a variety of roles since the tribe was
established, said she received the award at a Women Empowering Women for Indigenous Nations’ 2019 National Conference in Alpine, California, on July 30.
“It’s very humbling,” Masten said of the award. “In the line of work, there isn’t a lot of thank yous or appreciations because it’s a political role, and you don’t ever expect to get an award for your work. You do the work because you love it and you want to create change that’s positive and healthy for the community and your family.”
Masten served on the transition team appointed by the Secretary of the Interior to create the Yurok Tribe’s base roll and to determine its resources and facilities. She was also elected the tribe’s interim council. Ninety-nine people ran for five positions on the interim council, Masten said. She said she was the only one from the transition team who was elected.
According to Masten, she left tribal politics for about three years when she was defeated for a position on the permanent Council. She returned to politics when she led a successful campaign for tribal chair and served for two terms.
During her tenure as Yurok Tribal Chair, Masten said, she ran for president of the National Congress of American Indians, the largest organization representing tribal governments in the U.S.
“I was elected president by tribes across the country,” she said, adding that this was in 2000. “And I was only the second woman ever to hold that position since it was created in the 50s. (The organization) has been around for 100 years. The other woman who held that office was in the 70s.”
Masten has also worked in a variety of positions in the private and nonprofit sectors including vice president in Union Bank of California’s native markets and director of the American Heart Association.
While native women have played significant roles in tribal communities, serving as medicine women or heads of clans, you didn’t often see them as chiefs or tribal chairmen, Masten said. She said there weren’t many women serving on the Tribal Council during her tenure in politics, but today it’s different.
“There are a lot of women who are serving on tribal councils and serving as the chair or the president or the chief,” Masten said. “We’re the peacemakers in our families and we’re used to multi-tasking and also love and support and nurturing and finding common ground. Those are all traits that women carry being mothers and grandmothers and aunties.”