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Charon Asetoyer papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00677

Scope and Contents

The Charon Asetoyer Papers consist of 3.75 linear ft. and are related to her professional and public life. The bulk of the papers date from 1990 to 2005 and focus on Asetoyer's activism on indigenous rights, women's health, and reproductive justice issues on the local, national, and international level. Major topics include Fetal Alcohol Syndrome; HIV/AIDS and Native Americans; economic development; health care for rural and underserved populations; links between the environment and health; and indigenous women's activism and leadership. Types of materials include correspondence, speeches, press releases, reports, journal and newspaper articles, transcripts of interviews, writings, and memorabilia.

The bulk of the papers date from 1990 to 2005 and focus on Asetoyer's activism in indigenous rights, women's health, and reproductive justice issues on the local, national, and international level.

Major topics include Fetal Alcohol Syndrome; HIV/AIDS and Native Americans; economic development; health care for rural and underserved populations; links between the environment and health; and indigenous women's activism and leadership.

Files in Series II. Conferences, Consultations, and Meetings document Asetoyer's active involvement in a wide variety of important gatherings all over the world. Her commitment, expertise, and experience make her an in-demand speaker and participant.

Series III. Organizations contains materials about Asetoyer's membership on Boards and committees, such as Honor the Earth, the Indigenous Women's Network, the National Minority AIDS Council, and the National Women's Health Network. Other organization files provide extensive evidence of work on these issues in coalition with individual women and women's organizations around the world

Copies of Asetoyer's writings and some speech texts can be found in Series IV. Speeches and Writings. A few speech texts are in Series II. Conference, Consultations, and Meetings.

While the papers do not include much information about Asetoyer's family and personal life, Series I. Biographical Materials contains some interviews and newspaper clippings as well as "Grey Mountain's Story," about her Comanche ancestors.

NOTE: Original audio-visual materials are closed to research. Researchers interested in accessing audio-visual materials for which there is no extant use copy should contact the Sophia Smith Collection to discuss options.

Researchers should also consult the Records of the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1985-2008


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

The Sophia Smith Collection owns copyright to Charon Asetoyer's unpublished works; however, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For instances which may regard materials in the collection not created by Charon Asetoyer, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

Charon Virginia Asetoyer was born Charon Virginia Huber on March 24, 1951, in San Jose, California, to Virginia Asetoyer and Charles Eugene Huber. Virginia Asetoyer was Comanche from Oklahoma and Charles Huber of German and Irish descent. Charon was the younger of two daughters born to Virginia and Charles. The family also included a son from Charles's first marriage and daughter from Virginia's first marriage.

Charon's business acumen developed early, in part through helping out in her father's printing company. At age 16, she started her own dress design enterprise, Charon of California, wholesaling to dress shops in San Francisco. She became immersed in the cultural life of Haight-Ashbury and dropped out of high school. "I just couldn't see staying in school, because I was getting so much more...from what was going on in the coffee shops and out on the street and just a whole different philosophy. And I was ready... I was independent and creative, an entrepreneur. And so I got an apartment in San Francisco, with the blessings of my parents." (Voices of Feminism oral history, 2006 p. 20) In 1968, Asetoyer opened a boutique on Haight Street called Orpheus, but eventually decided to return to school, closing the shop and entering San Francisco City College in 1971.

Already an activist from her high school days, the social and political ferment of the late 1960s-early 1970s San Francisco " really opened my mind up to a whole lot of things that I never thought existed." (VOF p 20) She got involved with the American Indian Movement during the 1969-71 occupation of Alcatraz Island.

Asetoyer married a jazz musician Dennis Duncan in 1972, dropped out of college and went to work in the financial district. In 1975 a friend urged her to join the staff of the Urban Indian Health Clinic where she worked until 1977 as a Nutritional Counselor and WIC (Women Infants and Children Program) Specialist.

Asetoyer described her 10-year relationship with Duncan as "extremely abusive." After years of back and forth with him, she decided a final break required distance and in 1977 she moved to South Dakota where she returned to college, earning a BA in Criminal Justice from the University of South Dakota in 1981. While in school, Asetoyer served on the Board of Directors of Native American Inmates Legal Services in Sioux Falls (1978-79) and was active in the Tiyospaye Council the Native American Student Association. Asetoyer began using her mother's family name after her divorce from Duncan.

In 1981, she and her second husband, Clarence Rockboy, moved to Brattleboro, Vermont, where Asetoyer earned a double Master's degree in 1983 in International Administration and Intercultural Management at the School for International Training (SIT). Her son, Chaska, was born there in 1982. The couple also adopted Rockboy's orphaned nephew Reynolds James Bruguier. After the death of Rockboy's father in 1982, the family moved to the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota to fulfill Rockboy's four-year cultural and religious memorial commitment. Initially, they intended to stay only four years, but found "there was all this work that had to be done." (VOF p 24)

In South Dakota, Asetoyer created and briefly directed a health program for Women of All Red Nations (WARN) as part of her SIT internship requirements. The program worked to address fetal alcohol syndrome and the many related issues on three South Dakota reservations. Not entirely happy with the administration of the WARN program, Asetoyer left and with, Rockboy, Everdale Song Hawk, Jackie Rouse, and Lorenzo Dion founded the Native American Community Board (NACB) in their town, Lake Andes, in 1985. "I wanted to get serious about this work. I felt that it was an issue that was plaguing our communities and that we really needed to get a handle on it." (VOF p 27) The Board was at first run out of an office in the basement of Asetoyer and Rockboy's home.

NACB's first project, "Women and Children in Alcohol" aimed to address, in Asetoyer's words, "fetal alcohol syndrome and all of the residual issues related to it, because you get into children's issues, you get into education, you get into women's issues and needs. And you get into how women were treated who were chemically dependent and how their rights were being violated." (VOF 27)

Through this project, NACB realized the scope of unmet needs in their community, particularly those related to women and health. At the time the unemployment rate on the reservation was eighty-five per cent, seventy per cent of adults over age forty suffered from diabetes, the infant mortality rate was five times the national average, and life expectancy on the reservation was just forty five years.

Asetoyer began speaking and writing about fetal alcohol syndrome and NACB's program. Conferences and meetings presented invaluable opportunities to meet and build relationships with other women working on related issues. As with the FAS project, Asetoyer worked to expand and reframe the reproductive health agenda beyond simply preventing pregnancy and into "domestic violence,...the right to parent your children in a nonviolent home; the right to live as a woman in a nonviolent environment; the right to food, to be able to feed your family, to be able to feed yourself; the right to health care; the right to be able to have as many children as you wanted - or not." (VOF 39)

Inspired by a visit to the National Black Women's Health Project in Atlanta, Georgia, Asetoyer began to imagine a similar facility in Lake Andes that was more of a center than an office. In 1988 the NACB purchased a house across the street from Asetoyer and Rockboy's home and established the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center (NAWHERC).

NAWHERC assists women and their families through direct services, public policy advocacy, and coalition building with Indigenous women around the world. The Center is noted for its community-based research and publications, which have influenced policies and practices of the Indian Health Service and other agencies. [See finding aid for the Records of the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center for more].

In addition to her role as Executive Director of the Resource Center, Asetoyer continues to travel extensively, speaking, and serving on committees, boards, and advisory councils around the world. She has participated in many international conferences including the Fourth World Conference on Women in Nairobi, Kenya in 1995, the Second International Conference of AIDS-Related Non-Governmental Organizations in Paris, France in 1990; the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, Austria in 1994; the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, Egypt in 1994; and the Reproductive Health and Justice International Women's Health Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1994.

She has been involved in the Working Group on Indigenous Populations at the United Nations from its early stages and was one of the founding co-chairs of the Working Group's Committee on Health. Asetoyer was a delegate to the First People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in October 1991 and was on the drafting committee for the Principles of Environmental Justice. She is an enrolled member of the Comanche Tribe of Oklahoma.

She has served on the boards of the American Indian Center (San Francisco), the National Women's Health Network, the Indigenous Women's Network, the National Environmental Justice Advisory Committee (NEJAC) of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Honor the Earth. During the Clinton Administration she was appointed to one of the National Advisory Councils for Health and Human Services.

Asetoyer ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of Lake Andes in 2005. Highly restrictive anti-abortion measures voted into law in South Dakota in February of 2006 prompted Asetoyer to run for state senate as a pro-choice, pro-women's health Democrat in 2006 and again in 2008. Both of these efforts were unsuccessful.

Clarence Rockboy died on December 24, 2006.

Awards and honors include the United Nations Distinguished Service Award (1985); the Mother Jones magazine Heroes and Heroines Honor Role (1990); the Gloria Steinem Women of Vision Award of the Ms. Foundation for Women (1991); the Jessie Bernard Wise Women Award from the Center for Women Policy Studies (2001); and in 2005 Women's eNews named her one of its 21 Leaders for the 21st Century. Asetoyer's work was featured in the book 250 Ways to Make America Better by the editors of George magazine and in a profile in Glamor in August 2008.


3.292 linear feet (8 containers)


Abortion rights advocate, women's health activist, indigenous rights activist. Papers document Asetoyer's professional and public life, focusing on her activism in indigenous rights, women's health, and reproductive justice issues on the local, national, and international level. Major topics include Fetal Alcohol Syndrome; HIV/AIDS and Native Americans; economic development; health care for rural and underserved populations; links between the environment and health; and indigenous women's activism and leadership.


This collection is organized into five series:


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Charon Asetoyer began donating her Papers along with the Records of the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center (NAWHERC) to the Sophia Smith Collection in 2006.

Related Materials

Related materials can be found in the following collections: The Records of the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center, the Black Women's Health Imperative (formerly National Black Women's Health Project), the National Women's Health Network, and the Undivided Rights Book Project.

See also the personal papers of Byllye Avery, Luz Alvarez Martinez, Katsi Cook.

A 2006 interview with Charon Asetoyer is part of the SSC's Voices of Feminism Oral History Project. View the full transcript online.


COIH = Committee on Indigenous Health of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations

doCIP = Indigenous Peoples' Centre for Documentation

FAS = Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

ICPD= International Conference on Population and Development

IWN = Indigenous Women's Network

IWWG = Indigenous Women's Working Group

NACB = Native American Community Board

NAWHERC = Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center

NWHN = National Women's Health Network

WEDO = Women's Environment and Development Organization

WGIP = Working Group on Indigenous Populations, World Health Organization

Processing Information

Processed by Maida Goodwin, 2011

Charon Asetoyer papers
Finding Aid
Finding aid prepared by Maida Goodwin.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Processing of the Charon Asetoyer Papers was made possible by the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Peck Stacpoole Foundation

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:21-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063