Indigenous Girls Celebrate SWAN Day in Milwaukee

Valaria Tatera
Valaria Tatera, Visual Artist

Indigenous girls in the innovative Daughters of Tradition program at Milwaukee’s HIR Wellness Institute celebrated their third Support Women Artists Now Day/SWAN Day this year by partnering with visual artist Valaria Tatera, a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

Tatera’s work often explores self- identity and contemporary Indigenous issues such as the environment, sovereignty, and the co-opting of imagery. Tatera uses the symbolism of squash blossoms in many of her art pieces, and she is currently creating 5,000 squash blossoms and ribbons for an art installation honoring Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) across the country.

Clay and tools were delivered to the homes of the girls in the Daughters of Tradition program, and Tatera provided online instruction, guidance, and storytelling as the girls created their own squash blossoms.

Images of Valaria Tatera creating clay squash blossoms.
Valeria Tatera is using clay to make 5,000 squash blossoms honoring missing & murdered Indigenous women.

The Daughters of Tradition program is focused on building community resilience and helping the girls cope with issues that impact Indigenous women and girls. Sadly, homicide is one of those issues. In the U.S. homicide is the third-leading cause of death for young Indigenous women and girls according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On some reservations, federal studies have shown women are killed at more than 10 times the national average.

The girls in the Daughters of Tradition program, who are ages 3 – 18, have participated in other events to raise awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and their SWAN Day art project was designed to help them channel their thoughts, feelings, and prayers into the clay they were working with, and to help them raise public awareness about this critical issue in their lives.

Photo of Daughters of Tradition Girls
Girls in the Daughters of Tradition Program at the HIR Wellness Center in Milwaukee

In addition to working with Valaria Tatera, the Daughters of Tradition girls saw presentations by Indigenous artists on the HIR Wellness Center staff about Native American beading, ribbon skirt making, applique, and hula. A recording of their SWAN Day Zoom session is available on the HIR Wellness Facebook page at:

More on Native American Women and HIR Wellness

Historically, most American Indian tribes were matriarchal, tracing their lineage through the mother. Women held high ranking roles in the society. However, forced relocation, genocide, and assimilation destroyed these cultural mores. European colonizers dismissed women’s roles and demanded that men in the tribes should be the leaders.

HIR Wellness promotes intergeneratlonal healing.

Additionally, American Indian family support systems included an extended network of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other family members. But the forced assimilation of the Boarding School Era (the period from 1860 – 1978 when the federal government could take Native American children from their families and place them in Euro-centric boarding schools away from their reservations) and mass movement from reservations to larger cities caused these extended family ties to weaken.

HIR Wellness addresses that historical trauma and recognizes the roles American Indian women traditionally held, and what these roles mean today. HIR stands for “Healing Intergenerational Roots,” and HIR Wellness is led by women survivors. All of their leadership positions are held by women, and the staff and board are majority women. 

HIR Wellness Center’s Daughters of Tradition program for Indigenous girls is partially facilitated by elder women in the community, who are seen as sources of wisdom, support and guidance for the girls, and the teen girls in the program serve as mentors for the younger girls. This is a space where girls learn leadership, mentorship, healthy coping skills and community healing, all while building a sisterhood with one another.

Among the many cultural teachings that the girls learn and practice together are the Ojibwa Grandfather Seven-Sacred Teachings: Love, Respect, Humility, Honesty, Truth, Wisdom, and Courage. As part of their program journey, they learn to demonstrate and embody these sacred teachings in all areas of their life. 

As the next phase of their leadership development, the Daughters of Tradition teens are planning a trip to Washington, DC in 2022 to meet with national leaders, visionaries, and community organizers. If you would like to sponsor a girl or help in other ways, please reach out to the HIR Wellness staff.