Female Tribal Leader Champions Unique Approach to Power in Establishment of National Monument

April 26, 2023 : The designation of Avi Kwa Ame as a national monument in the Mojave Desert of Nevada is being celebrated as a victory for land conservation and preservation, as well as for the centuries-long efforts to rebuild tribal nations. The coalition that helped achieve this victory, built in large part by tribal and women leaders, reflects an important disruption of power, including who holds it, how it is exercised, and even how it is defined. Ashley Hemmers, the tribal administrator for the Fort Mojave Tribe, is among the leaders critical to this federal designation.

The natural landscape spanning 500,000 acres in the Mojave desert is home to Spirit Mountain, recognized by 10 Yuman-speaking tribes, as well as the Hopi and Southern Paiute, as a sacred spiritual site central to the origins of multiple tribal nations.

Hemmers, who was instrumental in the coalition, spoke about the communal approach to power that was central to the efforts to designate Avi Kwa Ame as a national monument. The coalition included tribal leaders, conservationists, local and federal elected leaders, and veterans, among others.

Hemmers do not view this communal approach to power as distinctly gendered, though existing research on leadership does find women often more likely to embrace it. Instead, she notes its roots in the culture of her own tribe, the Fort Mojave Tribe, which believes in a balance and a need for people to work together to survive.

Her description reflects more of a “power with” versus “power over” approach to leadership, advocacy, and policymaking. It is one that is less paternalistic and patriarchal than that which has characterized many political institutions. It offers great potential for empowering individuals and groups that have been marginalized by white- and male-dominated institutions.

The success of preserving Avi Kwa Ame is also a step toward rebuilding nations, a project central to indigenous communities across the U.S. Hemmers described the “era of self-determination” evident among tribal nations today as only possible when the weight of oppression eases.

Through victories like that won at Avi Kwa Ame, Hemmers and her coalition partners challenge rhetoric and tactics that perpetuate divisiveness and exclusion in U.S. institutions, proving the benefit of an alternative, inclusive approach to power.