Montana’s Ronnie Jo Horse makes First Nations voices heard and builds future leaders
Ronnie Jo Horse is one of USA TODAY’s Women of the Year, a recognition for women who have made a significant impact in their communities and across the country. The program launched in 2022 as a follow-up to Women of the Century, which commemorated the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Meet this year’s honorees at womenoftheyear.usatoday.com.
Western Native Voice Executive Director Ronnie Jo Horse was born in Rapid City, South Dakota and went to Montana for a family reunion, and her parents decided to stay. Raised in the quiet town of Ashland on the northern Cheyenne Reservation in southeast Montana, Ronnie Jo Horse says she spent her childhood swimming in the local river with friends and family.
As a young woman, the member of the Ogala Lakota Nation always had an interest in politics and law, but did not expect to break into leadership of non-profit organizations. “I didn’t think I would write laws and shape politics,” she said.
Ronnie Jo Horse works with Aboriginal communities on and off Montana’s seven reservations Build political power and leadership, and shape policies and laws that impact Indigenous communities. From registering voters to managing the crisis of missing Indigenous women, training future community leaders to advocating for Native representation in policy-making, Horse’s leadership at Western Native Voice has helped the organization continue to advocate for the rights of the fight native people.
Ronnie Jo Horse is USA TODAY’s Woman of the Year for the state of Montana.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Who paved the way for you?
My parents, elders and ancestors paved the way for me. I paved the way for my younger siblings, nieces, nephews and future generations.
What was your proudest moment? what was your lowest
High School and Graduate School – I am a first generation student. And then the proudest moment of my career was finding a permanent home for Western Native Voice.
My deepest moment was the loss of my father – he didn’t die until January.
What is your definition of courage?
Courage is the will to keep going despite fear or when the odds are against you.
Is there a guiding principle or mantra that you tell yourself?
I like to say to myself when things get tough, “If the Creator didn’t think you were strong enough to handle this, they wouldn’t have put it in your way.”
Who is your role model?
I had many mentors along the way. I look up to everyone, but I really look up to my mother. I didn’t realize how hard she worked to get my siblings to where we are now until I got older. Become aware of the responsibility as an adult and make conscious decisions for your children so that they can lead a good life.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would say to myself, “If it doesn’t matter in five years, don’t spend more than five minutes on it.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ronnie Jo Horse is USA TODAY’s Woman of the Year for Montana