Ingrid Washinawatok El-Issa Still Inspires

Cliff Matias / Noeli Pocaterra and Dr. Waldaba H Stewart, recipients of this year's Flying Eagle Woman Fund award to honor the work of slain activist Washinawatok El-Issa.

Remembering Ingrid Washinawatok El-Issa, O’Peqtaw-Metamoh, at the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples.

The Flying Eagle Woman Fund for Peace, Justice and Sovereignty hosted its 16th annual event honoring the memory of Ingrid Washinawatok El-Issa (O’Peqtaw-Metamoh). Ingrid was a member of the Menominee Nation and was among the most promising Native leaders of her generation. Writer, spokeswoman, educator, philanthropist and activist, she devoted her life to the cause of Indigenous Peoples around the world. In 1999 on a trip to Colombia to work with members of the U’wa Indigenous Community, she and two companions were murdered by members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Their blindfolded, bound and bullet-ridden bodies were found in a pasture on March 4 that year, a week after they’d been kidnapped.

Cliff Matias / Each year an altar is placed for guests to write mementos to Ingrid Washinawatok El-Issa.

Eighteen years ago the Flying Eagle Woman Fund was created to commemorate and further Washinawatok El-Issa’s work. This year, on Friday April 28, the fund honored two community leaders: Noeli Pocaterra, who served as the first keynote speaker at the United Nations representing Indigenous Peoples, and Dr. Waldaba H. Stewart, a former New York State Senator who during his tenure was instrumental in spearheading the effort to form the Caribbean Action Lobby.

In 2002, six FARC members were indicted by a federal grand jury in Colombia for the murders of Washinawatok El-Issa, Native Hawaiian activist Lahe’ena’e Gay and environmentalist Terrence Freitas. The U’wa people still remember the three heroes with gratitude. The evening honoring the fallen activist hosted food, music and short videos of the honorees’ work, inspiring those who attended.

Cliff Matias / Guests watched videos of Ingrid Washinawatok El-Issa, slain in 1999 by Colombia guerrillas.

“I am too young to have met Ingrid, but the mission of her work continues today,” said Valerie Rivera, a 22-year-old Taino Native attending the event.

“I have attended this event for 16 years,” said New York City resident Claudia Velandia, founder of the International Native Tradition Interchange. “I feel it is so important to remember the legacy of Ingrid Washinawatok and the ultimate sacrifice she made for indigenous rights.”

Cliff Matias / Left to right, Ingrid Washinawatok El-Issa’s son Machki El-Issa, honoree Noeli Pocaterra, and Ingrid’s husband Al El-Issa.