Voting: Why It Matters Kickoff Brings Crowd of Engaged Participants to Discussion of Powerful Indigenous Women

Nearly 100 Participants Join Zoom Meeting

SDHC drew a large, enthusiastic virtual crowd for the first "Voting: Why It Matters" statewide discussion on the importance of civic participation.

Nearly 100 participants joined the Dec. 15 Zoom screening and discussion of the short film "Without a Whisper/Konnon:Kwe" – the untold story of the proud influence of Indigenous women on the beginning of the United States women's rights movement .

Following the screening, Professor Sally Roesch Wagner, Mohawk Bear Clan Mother Louise Herne (both featured in the film), and filmmaker Katsitsionni Fox fielded numerous questions from attendees who were fascinated by the film and its societal implications.

"We were so pleased with how many highly-engaged participants tuned in for this kickoff event," said organizer Jennifer Widman, director of the South Dakota Humanities Council's statewide Festival of Books. "We're excited to engage more people with upcoming events featuring Louise Erdrich, Gloria Steinem and others. Topically, this program is so important right now."

'Why Voting Matters' a National Initiative

The Mellon Foundation awarded $1.96 million to the Federation of State Humanities Councils to support a new national initiative, "Why It Matters: Civic and Electoral Participation," which explores civic participation as it relates to electoral engagement in a multivocal democracy.

South Dakota is one of 43 U.S. states and territories selected to participate in the initiative, which begins this month and will run through spring 2021.

A Powerful Society of Tribal Women

The subject of the Dec. 15 discussion, "Without a Whisper/Konnon:Kwe" explores the Haudenosaunee, a matriarchal society of tribal women (Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and Tuscarora) that is still active today. The women controlled land and dictated the laws of their society. In marriage, men moved into the woman's home and could be removed for being abusive.

SDHC received rave reviews during and after the program, including the below comments from audience evaluations:

  • "I enjoyed this program very much; the film was great and the discussion was brilliant and informative."
  • "So enlightening. As a colonial settler white woman, I was learning about the matriarchy of the tribes. The beginnings of democracy that I had not heard before. Thank you. I'm interested in making amends and empowering all women but also in restoring the Native women to original role of caring and leading."
  • "I am so happy I attended this event. The documentary was so good and the women on the panel provided a great deal of wisdom. I learned a lot."

Kelly Kirk, a member of the SDHC board of directors, said programs like "Voting: Why It Matters" have made a tremendous impact in South Dakota during the coronavirus pandemic.

"While I know programming has changed dramatically this year, I have to say, these virtual events have allowed me to surprise family and friends with tickets, enabling them to participate in events they might not have been able to attend in person," she said. "We are all grateful to the Humanities Council for such unique and incredible opportunities."

The screening is the first of a series of programs that will include guests such as Gloria Steinem, Louise Erdrich, Thomas E. Patterson and Robert V. Burns, as well as additional regional experts on voting access and engagement, particularly among Native Americans. All events are free.

Attend More 'Voting' Events

Information about additional events, including signup information, will be distributed via SDHC's monthly e-newsletter. Sign up for the e-newsletter at


  • Gloria Steinem in conversation with Sally Roesch Wagner via Zoom Webinar at 7 p.m. CT on Thursday, Feb. 18
  • Thomas E. Patterson in conversation with Robert V. Burns, date and time TBA.
  • Louise Erdrich in a panel discussion centered on voting issues, date and time TBA.

Additional Resources