CH'ÍHOOTSOOÍ, DINÉTAH, WINDOW ROCK, NAVAJO NATION - In a breakout session titled “Native Women Lead: Women Innovating in Business and Beyond” held during the 2022 Reservation Economic Summit (RES), Tsé Bii’ Ndzisgai Community Center (TBNCC) Director Shandiin Herrera said she developed leadership skills by showing up for her community during the pandemic.
At the time, Herrera was a Hometown Fellow with Lead for America and was working with the Navajo Nation Oljato Chapter Government. “Right then, the pandemic started and I saw anxiety and frustration throughout my community,” she said. “I had to think outside the box to figure out how I could help my people.” By seeking out like-minded women who were also trying to protect their communities, Herrera helped cofound the Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund. “Through the Relief Fund, we’ve raised over $18M and provided relief to families in Navajo and Hopi communities,” she said. “We thought down the road because we didn’t want our communities to remain in these vulnerable states forever. We needed to bring long term solutions to help provide access to resources for our people.” One solution that she led was establishing a community center that provided educational and business resources to students and entrepreneurs in her home community of Monument Valley. The TBNCC was launched in August 2021 and to date has hosted over 1300 visitations and 510 unique visitors. The Center provides community members with access to computers, printers, Wi-Fi, shared workspace, a conference room, and a library. Herrera said she was able to affect change by investing her time and energy into rebuilding her community during the pandemic. She had to build trust with her elder community members to earn their respect. “I tell young people that they are needed here and together we can redefine what success looks like,” she said. “I encourage folks to think about this and how we can foster leadership in our youth.” The panel took place on Tuesday, May 24 at RES 2022, which was held at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, Nev. Herrera’s co-panelists were Mille Lacs Band Chairwoman Melanie Benjamin, Cook Inlet Tribal Council President and CEO Gloria O’Neill, and CEO of Tinhorn Consulting April Tinhorn.