If you’ve ever visited the Kansas Capitol building, you might have assumed the adolescents you encountered were taking a field trip or paging for a state legislator. Georgia Blackwood, a Lawrence High School junior, crushes that presumption.
Since middle school, she’s presented legislative testimony and lobbied for causes on behalf of Indigenous people. Most recently her efforts helped pass the Missing Murdered and Indigenous Persons bill, known as MMIP. As The Lawrence Times previously reported, the law gives the Kansas attorney general authority to coordinate training of law enforcement at various levels and work with Kansas tribes in addressing the high rates of violence plaguing Native American communities.
The law takes effect July 1 and passed both legislative chambers unanimously. It was co-sponsored by Native American state legislators Rep. Dr. Ponka-We Victors, of Wichita, and Rep. Christina Haswood, who represents Baldwin City and part of Lawrence. Both are democrats.
Sometimes referred to as an “unspoken crisis” by advocates, the MMIP issue reflects alarming numbers in testimony by Victors on Feb. 19, 2020.
“On some reservations, Native American women are murdered at more than 10 times the national average,” Victors wrote.
A self-described “introvert,” Georgia talks eagerly about the journey to get the MMIP law passed and her passion for other causes related to Indigenous people. She gave testimony on the bill in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic stalled its efforts.
Georgia, 17, sees the law’s long-awaited passage as an important step in addressing the problem of missing and murdered people, and you get the impression she’s just getting started.
“I want to be a leader and a teacher because women are supposed to be one of the most important aspects of our life,” Georgia said. “We come from women. They’re supposed to teach you and guide you, and they should be leaders. I don’t think they should be subservient at all. They need a voice … and should be in more leading roles.”
In a Zoom interview with the Times, Georgia sat next to her mom, Carole-Cadue Blackwood, a member of the Lawrence school board and an advocate for women and Indigenous people. They are enrolled members of the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas and affiliated with the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe in Kansas.
Appointed by Gov. Laura Kelly to the Kansas Advisory Group on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in 2020, Cadue-Blackwood said the collection and coordination of data remains a challenge for the MMIP issue.
“There’s little or no data collected,” Cadue-Blackwood said. “Nobody knows how many are missing. Nobody knows how many are murdered. There are so many unsolved murders.”
Cadue-Blackwood, a case worker for the Kansas City Indian Center who holds a master’s degree in social work, said whether collecting statistics on juveniles or adults, it’s important to identify every individual as well as any marginalized groups that have been impacted and learn where systems missed an opportunity to intervene and prevent tragic outcomes.
Although she feels inspired by her mom for her passion and making “it look easy,” Georgia said a career in social work probably isn’t the direction she’s headed. She’s already been approached by legislators about the possibility of internships during college.
“I definitely want to do more of the lobbyism aspect,” she said. “I want to work for (the government) so I can better understand it and try to reform it, restore justice.”
Cadue-Blackwood said Georgia was named after her “Papa George” from her father’s side of the family. Her name translates into “First in Flight” and she is of the Warrior Clan.
Georgia is the youngest of three children of Cadue-Blackwood and Dennis Blackwood, high school sweethearts who met while attending LHS. Georgia and her siblings have attended Lawrence public schools throughout their K-12 educations.
A distance learner through LHS this academic year, Georgia enjoys classic literature and calls the science fiction novel “The Lost World” by Arthur Conan Doyle one of her favorite books.
Georgia smiles a lot. She loves history, and this semester, Cultural Narrative Studies is her favorite subject.
“I think it’s fun. I’ve always loved reading mythology and folklore. I love learning things about new cultures,” she said.
At the start of the pandemic, Georgia took up a new hobby — embroidering.
“I really like all the detailing and how steady and slow you have to be with it,” she said. “I think it’s very beautiful, very calming.”
In the fall, Georgia hopes to return to the LHS campus, find a part-time job and continue on the bowling team, which placed seventh in the girls 6A competition at the 2021 KSHSAA State Bowling Tournament in March. She plans to earn a bachelor’s degree at Haskell Indian Nations University.
“I think it’s a wonderful college, and it’s a wonderful environment,” she said. “I’m excited to be around a lot of other Indigenous people and Indigenous culture, but I don’t know my major.”
In 2020, Georgia testified on a bill that proposed charging resident tuition and fees at public postsecondary schools for members and citizens of the four federally recognized tribes in Kansas who live outside the state’s boundaries. The measure passed as part of another bill and allows “any member of the Kickapoo Tribe, Potawatomi Nation, Iowa Tribe, or Sac and Fox Nation to be declared a resident of the state for the purpose of tuition and fees” at a Kansas public university, municipal university, community college or technical college.
While an eighth-grader in 2018, Georgia gave legislative testimony in support of a bill that prevents governmental entities from banning tribal regalia in Kansas. The bill passed both chambers unanimously. Cadue-Blackwood emphasized the law’s necessity and cited instances where graduates in other states have been prohibited from wearing items sacred to their culture — such as eagle feathers and beadwork — to graduation ceremonies.
As a young person, Georgia said, she’s eager to help with issues like the regalia bill, but she wishes it weren’t necessary. In the three years since her testimony, she said, things have gotten “a little bit better” but there’s “still a lot of prejudice against Native American culture,” especially with traditional clothing and regalia being “mocked and characterized,” often in the form of mascots.
Cadue-Blackwood refers to Georgia and people like her as “young warriors.”
“ … I think of myself as an elder already,” the mother said. “I feel better seeing Georgia and others are going to continue to fight for us.”