“Yenabah” is a Navajo name meaning “Warrior woman who wanders the mountains.” This is the Navajo name of Jaylyn Gough, founder and executive director of Native Women’s Wilderness. True to her name, Jaylyn founded Native Women’s Wilderness to get Native women outside and break assumptions about who is and who deserves to be outside.
We sat down with Jaylyn to learn more about her motivations for creating this meaningful organization.
HOKA: What is the mission of Native Women’s Wilderness?
Jaylyn: To inspire and raise the voices of Native Women in the outdoor realm. To encourage a healthy lifestyle grounded in the wilderness. To educate Natives and non-Natives on the rich beauty and heritage of the Ancestral Lands beneath our feet.
HOKA: Why is it important to you to encourage connection with Ancestral Lands?
Jaylyn: The land our ancestors walked on is the land that gives us strength. It gives us an opportunity to see who we are, but also who we could be. We receive healing from the land. There’s the Trail of Tears, there’s the Long Walk, and there are so many places where I can feel the strength of my ancestors as I walk. If they were able to get through the Long Walk, I can overcome the challenges of my life.
Our history may be broken. Too many spirits, hearts and lives are broken. The land is crying. But I believe that the only way to reimagine what can be, the only way to heal, is to revisit and connect with the land that connects us all. I think many people who have that connection to the land feel that strength, and honor the land, and honor our ancestors because it’s who we are. It’s engrained in us. To be in the land is to live and breathe for me. I don’t have to think about it. It’s how I get through life.
HOKA: Through your life, has your personal relationship with being in the outside ever gone through a change?
Jaylyn: As a child living on the reservation, everyone looked like me. Everyone had the same black hair. We would play outside and we would flick baby rattlesnakes at each other, or boys would put black widows in my hair. I think once I realized that not everyone looks the same in the “real world” it became a huge injustice to me that not all people were represented. Why is it that only white CIS gender people are allowed and are represented outside? Why can’t my people be represented outside? Why are we not given the same opportunities when, actually, this is our land and it’s through broken treaties and pushing our people off into the reservation that we have lost this? We know the land better than anyone else.
So that has really propelled me to figure out, how do I make it? How do I get a little girl to look up and see someone that looks like her outside, and give her that opportunity to do amazing things? I want her to know that she can be a mountaineer and go climb Fourteeners or even Mount Everest.
Meet Jaylyn and Native Women’s Wilderness in HOKA ONE ONE: Time to Reconnect.