Empower Yoself Before You Wreck Yoself

A few years ago I made a new friend named Melanie at work. I had no idea that we would connect on topics as varied as intersectional feminism and kitties. This past month, I talked to Melanie Fey and her best friend since middle school, Amber McCrary, about their Indigenous feminist zine. Together (and 1200 miles apart), they produced Empower Yoself Before You Wreck Yoself, which I interviewed them about.

​​Empower Yoself zine coverAZALEA: Hi Melanie and Amber! I've been a big fan of your zine ever since I saw the prototype a year ago. Why did you create Empower Yoself Before You Wreck Yoself?

MELANIE: Thanks for asking to interview us, Azalea! One day Amber texted me and said let’s make a zine. I said “Okay!” but on a deep-seated level, I think creating a zine like this was a long time in the making. We’ve always idolized anti-status quo female musicians such as Brody Dalle, Kathleen Hanna and Wendy O. Williams. But there’s an obvious lack of diversity in the counterculture scenes these women were affiliated with. So as Native women, we wanted to create a space for ourselves in these environments and continue on the legacy of disrupting the status quo on everything from music, politics, patriarchy, etc. Making these zines was really rather inevitable.

AMBER:  First of all, thank for you the kind words. As for how we created our first zine, I forgot that I randomly texted Melanie a couple of years ago and said we should make a zine. But yes, I think I said something like "Hey! Let's make a zine about Native girls telling their stories." And she said "Okay" or probably "Yes!"

AZALEA: Amber, I really liked your pieces, “Urban Indian Guilt” and “Indigenous Girl in a not so Indigenous World. Pt. 1,” which talk about the dual identity of being both “assimilated” and from the “rez.” For me, it seemed like you were touching on one kind of modern Native American experience. What does it mean to be (or what should people know about being) a contemporary Native American woman? (This is a broad question, apologies!)

AMBER: Thank you! It feels so long ago that I wrote and created those pieces. I can’t necessarily speak on behalf of all modern Native American women as we all have had different journeys.  But speaking from my journey/experiences, I have learned what it means to be a modern contemporary Native American women from the Native women in my life: my mother, grandmother (Grandma Cowboy) and mentors from various jobs. They all contain a quality that Navajos call "hózhó", which means living in a way that focuses on creating and maintaining balance, harmony, beauty and order. As for my mother and grandmother, I am thankful they have been part of every awkward phase of my life and never judged me (especially as a Native Girl growing up in a subculture world) which taught me a lot about self-expression and not to be scared of sharing how I really feel about something.

For me, being a modern contemporary Native American woman is similar to being the Native elder women I look up to, which is finding that balance, which seems universal despite the era. I try to find a balance between living in two worlds (Native and Non-Native, Navajo and mainstream America, past and present). Although I do enjoy things that modern women/people enjoy: I like dresses, French food, traveling, reading weird comic books by Daniel Clowes, laughing at Will Ferrell movies, watching boring artsy movies, learning about different cultures and listening to music from different countries. However, at the end of the day I always remember who I am, where I come from, the struggles my ancestors went through for me to be here and how I as a Native women fit into this world.

AZALEA: Melanie, once, when I talked to you in passing you said you tried to write about difficult concepts such as decolonization in an accessible way. Why is it important to write in easy to understand language?

MELANIE: This is a good question because it’s something I really struggle with every time I’m attempting to write a new piece! I believe it’s really important that our zines to be accessible to everyone from all educational levels and cultural backgrounds. We’re trying to open up discourse between Native women and the general population about serious issues in the Native community such as colonialism, boarding school trauma, substance abuse issues, Native American mascot issues, two-spirit gender identity, etc. Not everyone is going to want to read about this stuff if it sounds like it’s coming out of a college course textbook or if they have to look up every other word in the dictionary. In my opinion, that’s not entirely conducive to creating community. Decolonization (the undoing of colonialism) is already a mouth-full of a word, and I want it to sound more like I’m having an honest conversation than spewing off elitist jargon.

zine authors' photoFinally, I want to congratulate Melanie and Amber on their latest effort, The Nizhoni Beat: Native American Feminist Musings Vol. 1. This zine explores topics such as decolonization, LGBTQ issues, and more.

If you would like to meet Melanie and Amber, they'll be tabling at the Portland Zine Symposium on Saturday, July 18th, and Sunday, July 19th.  You can also check out Melanie’s work in Native American Writings.

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