November is federally recognized as National Native American Heritage Month to honor and celebrate the rich cultures, traditions, history, and societal contributions of American Indian and Alaska Natives. This lends us the opportunity to become more educated about Native Americans and increase our knowledge of unique challenges faced by this population, including health inequities. Breast cancer does not affect all women the same and at Susan G. Komen, we believe these inequities must end. We’re striving to make this the moment that changes everything.
We connected with 12-time 3-Day walker Tweet B., a Dine’ woman from the Navajo Nation who walks on Mother Earth. Her heritage, culture, beliefs, and language are core to who she is both on and off the 3-Day route. Throughout all avenues of her life, Tweet has learned to live in two worlds; the Dine’ world, and the “white man” world. From her job to her family, and her friends to her faith, she carries aspects of both worlds in all her thoughts and all that she does. “I was Dine’ (Navajo) before I became American,” she shared.
At the 2023 Denver 3-Day, Tweet shared her reason for walking with a speech at the Opening Ceremony. She began by speaking her native Navajo language, which caused the room to fall silent as she honored her ancestors in such a powerful way. She shared her story as to why she walks in honor of her grandmother, BFF, and “sole” sister who have all lost their lives to cancer. Her commitment to finding the cures began in 1995 when her beloved grandmother Jean passed away, and was amplified when her BFF, Kathleen, passed in 2006. Most recently, a fellow 3-Day walker and “sole” sister died, hitting her hard and deeply.
For all 12 3-Day walks that she’s participated in, Tweet’s immediate family and friends have supported her either in person or through generous donations. She loves seeing her personal cheerleaders along the trail, including her husband and two sons who have grown to love the color pink. However, her biggest source of inspiration at each walk is her 84-year-old mother, MaryAnn, who keeps Grandma Jean’s memory alive. We met with Tweet’s mother on the route this year who spoke to us about the importance of their culture. As we parted ways, MaryAnn bid us Hágoónee, a Navajo farewell which roughly translates to “see you later” since they believe that we will all meet again.
Tweet tries to make trips back to the motherland whenever possible in order to smell the inside of a hogan (a traditional Navajo home), see the landscape, eat the food, hear the language, and get whisked away by the music. “I wish the world would understand our existence in the world,” she opened up to us. “We have always been here, we never left. The indigenous people are more than the history books and what Hollywood portrays us to be. We are people who live simply yet are abundant with culture. We have heroes, we have goals, we have dreams.”
In all her experience on 12 3-Days, Tweet can only remember seeing two other Native women on the pink trail. One was a walker who she never had the opportunity to meet and the other was a survivor, cheering on the walkers. “I often wonder why there are not more Native women on these walks,” she shared with us.
Tweet went on to share that many Dine’ who are diagnosed with breast cancer are usually in the later stages of the disease, likely because they are less educated about the signs of early detection. In fact, in 2021 (most recent data available, though data were limited), American Indian women and Alaska Native women had lower rates of breast cancer screening compared to other women . Tweet also noticed that many people from her culture must travel far distances to medical centers which are located off the reservation, therefore, time and money are obstacles to screening and treatment.
Susan G. Komen found that among women ages 50–74, only 59% of American Indian and Alaska Native women had a mammogram in the past two years compared to 82% of Black women and 76% of white women . One reason for these differences in screening rates may be access to care. American Indian and Alaska Native women tend to live in areas that require traveling a long distance to get health care, including screening mammography . “I would love to see an SGK mammogram trailer on the reservation somewhere, scheduling appointments for free. Early detection can save lives!” Tweet shared.
Since breast cancer is the most common cancer among American Indian and Alaska Native women , Tweet hopes to pass on her teachings, her culture, her being, and her strength to her two sons and to increase care to those in her community. She hopes that her legacy is strong and pink.
“I am a Dine’ woman who walks on Mother Earth. I will honor my ancestors who walked before me. I will continue to learn, to teach, to speak, to listen, to grow, to give and to love. My grandmother’s legacy lives within me. She is why I am a pink warrior.” —Tweet B.
To learn more about the racial and ethnic disparities in breast cancer outcomes and Susan G. Komen’s mission to lessen the gaps, visit https://www.komen.org/about-komen/our-impact/breast-cancer/health-equities-initiative/