Charon Asetoyer, Native American Community Board
Charon Asetoyer learned the power of collective organizing on her lunch break. In high school, she transferred to a school with no cafeteria. The only option for buying lunch was a vending machine that sometimes dispensed food with strands of hair or pieces of broken glass. Fed up, she led a school-wide sit-in and called the local news stations to spread the word. By the end of the week, her school had a hot-lunch program.
Charon is the rare leader that can explain the intersection of reproductive justice, environmental justice and Native American rights while working to effect changes at all levels. The Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center (NAWHERC), a Ms. grantee founded by Charon in 1988, runs a domestic violence shelter and maintains a wide range of programs for cultural preservation, AIDS prevention, environmental action, fetal alcohol syndrome, nutrition, health and reproductive rights.Reflecting on the sit-in, Charon said, “It didn’t take us long to figure out that through organizing collectively, working together, that we could move little mountains.” She has been organizing collectively across issues and movements ever since.
In addition, the Center is noted for its community-based research and publications on the health needs of indigenous women, which have influenced policies and practices of public agencies. Most recently, the organization won a change in Indian Health Service (IHS) policy, ensuring access to emergency contraceptives over the counter for all Native American women served by HIS.
Charon has also influenced political change at the federal level. President Clinton appointed her to serve on the National Advisory Council for Health and Human Services (HHS), and she has served on the National Environmental Justice Advisory Committee of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The Ms. Foundation began funding Charon’s work in 1979 and has recognized Charon as an activist who reflects our commitment to reproductive justice beyond defending Roe v. Wade.