Tag Archives: Native American women

Giving Back for Native American Heritage Month

Paint It RedMost people in the United States automatically equate November with Pilgrims & “Indians” and Thanksgiving, and while the tide of cognizant adults is turning, there are still millions of people in the USA who do not acknowledge our country’s horrific, genocidal, colonial history. I’ve written about Native American women’s activism in the States before, but today I want to bring your attention to Native American Heritage Month, and a few things you can do to help improve the lives of Native Americans still reeling from centuries of slaughter, forced migration, forced assimilation, and modern political policies like forced sterilization that deepen the mistrust indigenous folks have against white colonizers. While we all might not be able to give back the land our ancestors stole, there are a number of other things we can do to support our Original American neighbors. Today is also the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the kickoff of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.

Thankskilling

While the sentimentality of a holiday to show gratitude for what we have is nice, we can’t deny the roots of Thanksgiving, which is why many Native American families and activists see the holiday as anything but something to be thankful for. The most important thing you as an individual can do to combat the mistruths we’re taught in school is to educate yourself and others as to the realities facing Native communities on a daily basis. It’s also important to be honest with children of all colors and races about the origins of our country and our holidays. One way to show your support for indigenous communities is to wear red on Friday, November 27th, and use the hashtags #NativeLivesMatter and #IdleNoMore on social media.

Day of Mourning

Native children, as they have under the Bureau of Indian Affairs for decades, also face incredible obstacles in achieving an education. Suicide rates amongst Native youth are astronomical, but all young people of color are much less hopeful to live to age 35 than their white peers. With South Dakota frequently taking Native American children from their families to place them in foster care (because the state earns money for every child under state care) the Lakota People’s Law Project is demanding that President Obama take action. You can sign their petition here.

Refugees_

Another petition you should sign is this one to stop the flooding of Winnemem Wintu’s last sacred location. While Obama has been lauded by many as a leader on environmental issues for not allowing the Keystone XL pipeline project to be built, there’s always room for improvement, and a delegation of more than 45 indigenous leaders from across the continent are making their way to Paris for the UN Climate Talks. Environmental issues are a major factor impacting the health, sovereignty and survivability of many Native American tribes. The President is also the target of demonstrations this weekend to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier, an American Indian Movement (AIM) activist charged with the murders of two FBI agents and the fierce AIM activist Anna Mae Aquash.

Kahnawake

Unfortunately, despite an incredible history of strong, warrior women and equality for all sexes/genders in many Native cultures throughout the continent, murders of Native American and First Nations women are still rampant and sex trafficking regularly occurs with impunity. Follow the controversy with #MMIW which stands for missing and murdered Indigenous women. Native American women also deal with domestic violence and sexual assault at astounding rates. No better example of “the personal is political” exists than that of environmental degradation of fracking in North Dakota and its impact on the levels of violence against women and girls in the area. But Native women definitely aren’t giving up; they’re fighting back by creating safe spaces like Tewa Women United, the Four Directions Clinic on the infamous Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and the first-ever Native American birthing center, planned to open in New Mexico within three years. With only 14 Native American certified midwives throughout the entirety of the US, you can see why such a project is necessary–donate to it here.

Tweet TruthI owe my initial understanding and appreciation of other cultures to an elementary school classmate’s family. They are Me-wuk, and in my small public school in Northern California, took every opportunity they could to educate our class and our school. Native dancers came and performed for us and we took field trips to learn about them. Officially replacing the derogatory name “Digger Indians” placed on them by the invading gold miners, Miwok became the tribe’s official name in 1924. Although I have written before about how language shapes our realities, and I talk a lot about the importance of naming, labels and respecting identities, many readers may not know that I have a degree in Linguistics. I’ve studied 7 languages, including two indigenous languages, Nahuatl–the language of the Aztecs, and Miwok. Studying indigenous languages is a revolutionary act, especially because of the abhorrent relationship between Native Americans and their languages that white colonizers perpetuate to this day.

Map

Studying a new language can give us a totally new understanding, by making us view the world through a different lens. In the course where I studied Miwok, other students were studying other languages, and I learned that many Indigenous languages group nouns based on shape–round, flat, long, etc. It’s also important to consider that many Native cultures understand their actions as affecting Seven Generations, and thus feel personally and politically obligated to take both their ancestors’ accomplishments and their offsprings’ futures into account. One way to ensure that Native Americans in our communities are not “in the past tense” is to do whatever we can to keep their unique languages from dying.

Marie's Dictionary

Marie Wilcox (right), the last fluent speaker of Wukchumni

National Geographic’s Enduring Voices Project shows that two areas of the United States are currently suffering from high to severe threat levels for the extinction of unique Indigenous languages, although even languages like Lakota with 6,000 speakers are still not safe. The Pacific Northwest is home to 54 Native languages, but many of them are on the verge of dying out completely. A Canadian project working to combat this is First Voices, which maps and archives Indigenous languages with soundbites and written dictionaries. Further down the coast the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival work with UC Berkeley to document languages, and also created an incredible Master Apprentice Program for individuals to learn directly from speakers of Native languages. The other area of the United States where Indigenous languages are threatened with extinction is the Oklahoma-Southwest region, home to 43 different languages, including Euchee, a language isolate, meaning it doesn’t belong to any language family. Euchee only has five remaining speakers–to donate to the Euchee Language Project consider a recurring gift to Cultural Survival.

 

Cartoon

I know I’ve included a lot of plugs for donations in this post, but really it’s the least you could do. The Dolores Project homeless shelter could use your help as well. If giving money is totally not an option at this point though, supporting Indigenous artists in all media is a good place to start. You can play the unique Never Alone, the first Alaska Native videogame, buy fashions from these Native designers instead of appropriating their themes from big box stores, listen to these seven rising Native American musicians, learn from this intrepid mapmaker and his incredible work, and support Matika Wilbur’s photography with Project 562. If you’re in Santa Fe in mid-August, be sure to check out the Indigenous Fine Arts Market. There are also tons of Native American authors you can read and learn from. Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach was really poignant for me. If you’d rather watch your storytelling, here is a list of 84 films by and about women of color, and if you’re branching further south, 4 documentaries about indigenous Mexicans. Now go forth, and dismantle colonialism!

Wilbur_SelfPort_ Tulalip News

Photographer Matika Wilbur (c) Tulalip News

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February: the Pinnacle of Intersectionality

For being the shortest month of the year February certainly packs a lot into its 28 days. I apologize in advance if some of this is discombobulated. Of course February is Black History Month, and it’s also Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and a time for LBGTQAI+ visibility. So how do all of these factors interact? I’m glad you asked! Unfortunately the data on dating abuse amongst black queer youth is practically non-existent, so that’s something to get on before next February rolls around. Here’s a quick primer on why feminists need to talk about race (as if Black Feminists haven’t been), and a good list of books covering race, gender, sexuality, class and culture. Don’t tell me you’re colorblind either.

health relationshipsFebruary started off with 68 survivors of human trafficking being rescued before the Super Bowl, including sixteen teens between ages 13-17, with epic timing the nation’s first home for sex trafficked boys also broke ground this month. Of young Queer people who have sex for survival a startling 89% identify as people of color, with homelessness amongst Queer youth being a leading cause of needing to trade sex for food or shelter. Transwomen are especially likely to be targeted in prostitution stings, even if they are not actually sex workers. Even though transgender folks can safely use long-term hormones and can no longer be discriminated against in receiving help from federally funded shelters, the Ali Forney Center in NYC for homeless LGBT youth remains a rare safe haven.

Additionally rates of abuse and domestic violence in Queer relationships have increased, but help for Queer folks seeking shelter hasn’t. Here you can check out some things that make abuse and domestic violence invisible in the Queer community. And while reporting of sexual assault and domestic violence is low in most communities the fear of reporting is confounded by systems of racial and class bias, making Asian-Americans are very unlikely to report either. Luckily the newest (and second in history) Asian-American TV comedy Fresh Off the Boat has already tackled how to teach consent, and it was funny! In other domestic violence news NASCAR has suspended Kurt Busch indefinitely for violence he allegedly committed against his girlfriend in September. Abusers who strangle their partners are twice as likely to kill them, so to see NASCAR react in such a responsible way is refreshing.

#BlackLivesMatter, a movement that started more than three years ago with the murder of Trayvon Martin and was fueled by Ferguson, churns forward with San Francisco’s Queer #BlackLivesMatter Action today in the Castro, and Americans across the nation waking up to realize the Prison-Industrial Complex is a terrible idea. While the police in this country are killing more people than ever–unidentified womenveterans, Queer Latina girls, black boys, Native Americans, black women–Trayvon Martin’s murderer (like so many other killers who start with violence against the women in their lives) seems invincible.

Zimmerman Always Arrested AliveWhile trans visibility is becoming more of a reality and some women’s colleges are adjusting their admitting policies, the sickening rate of murder of trans women this year has been overwhelming. You can donate here to Sumaya Dalmar’s legacy. And while young people are more likely to see gender as a spectrum rather than a binary, trans kids are apparently ruining the bathroom situation for everyone else *massive eye roll* and high schoolsuniversities, and Indiana are still discriminating against the LGBTQ community. Kids throughout the Queer community are also committing suicide at alarming rates, which is one reason visibility matters. Hopefully something from the 2015 Rainbow List of books for Queer young people will help, and efforts like Transforming Gender and these photo essays on transgender elders can show young people that life after 25 is possible, for some.

leelah-alcorn-suicide noteNative American children have also been committing suicide at terrifying rates, and were showered in racial slurs and beer at a hockey game this month too. But Native American Queers are reclaiming history in pushing for marriage equality, and Native American women are reclaiming history in A Thousand VoicesDiane Humetewa made history this month as the first Native American woman appointed as a federal judge and other Native Americans are fighting back against assimilation in their own ways, quietly, everyday.

Black women in both the anti-racism movement and the unfortunately often separate white feminist movement are doing amazing things this year, like creating #WeAreBlackHistory, running companies in corporate America, sharing thoughts on being black women writers, launching the “Because of Them We Can” photo essay, examining the state of black girls in education and juvenile justice systems, spearheading the Manhood Development Program for black boys, defending their hair and their culture with nothing but class, dropping the mic on rape culture, and superimposing bell hooks quotes over 90s pictures. Check out a discussion on wage equality, glass ceilings and interracial dating here.

Here are some of the black feminist authors and Queer Black Women you should know, and here is an A-Z children’s book of Radical American Women, and a short history of four Queer African BAMFs. Here is an amazing Black woman scientist. Black girls are making history too, in sports, and in education. And an African-American military history museum in Mississippi is honoring women veterans through March in honor of both Black History and Women’s History months. Here you can take a look at what has and hasn’t changed for African Americans since segregation was law.

Catwoman-bi.0

Catwoman, like these badasses, is a bisexual woman of color now! And everyone is talking about her. High school girls are also talking about the subject of slut-shaming, and even though ridiculous violations of girls’ privacy are apparently legal and politicians don’t seem to understand sexual assault girls understand #TheresNoPerfectVictim. Twitter admits that they “suck at dealing with abuse” but the social media giant can do good, with #50ShadesOfAbuse spurring a movement to give to local domestic violence agencies.

President Obama’s immigration reform actions, expansion of FMLA, and creation of a Special Envoy for LGBT Human Rights have been good, but not enough. Freeing transwomen–hell, all women–from immigration detention centers, and granting amnesty to the women and girls fleeing violence, child marriage and abuse around the world is the right thing to do. New York is also finally doing the right thing by putting a stop to asking about students’ immigration status in admittance paperwork.

Although science has made massive leaps in reproductive technologies which benefit everyone, including the Queer community, Latinas are still dying from breast cancer at an alarming rate. Some thoughts on being Afro-latin@ address intersectionality in race and class that can compound discrimination in healthcare. Here are a few Latinas making history today.

10616064_812322468823418_3635888886299626207_nOne hand washes the other as some politicians are pushing for college campuses to take action against sexual violence while students are lobbying for a bill which would educate young people about sexual violence. Indiana is also in the news this month for punishing a(nother!) Asian-American woman for having a miscarriage. Want to hear black voices in the Reproductive Justice Movement? They’ve always been here, it’s time we stop silencing them.

Reproductive Justice is the term created by black women in 1994 to bridge the gap between reproductive rights and other social justice movements. Reproductive Justice, the human right to not have children, to have children, to parent the children one has in healthy environments and the human right to bodily autonomy and to express one’s sexuality freely, insists that we see abortion and reproductive health in the larger context of the overall health and wellness of women, our families and our communities. – Monica Raye Simpson, SisterSong

Female Genital Mutilation, a clear violation of human rights and good medicine, is a problem that’s not usually discussed in an American context, unfortunately that’s probably because it’s more likely to happen to immigrant women of color. This new law book on reproductive justice is the first of its kind and shockingly a Texan politician is pushing for medically accurate sexual health education in the Lone Star State, because as we learned in Colorado, it works. And we’ve talked about them before, but we really don’t need a reason to push the Native Youth Sexual Health Network‘s awesomeness on you, but Teen DV Awareness Month is a good excuse. Here’s a coming of age film centered on black girls for you and a short film history on Arab feminism, because after reading through all that’s happened this month, you deserve it.


The Republican War on Women

The War on Women being waged in the United States is culminating in the likely closure of the only abortion clinic in the nation’s poorest state, Mississippi. Measures specifically introduced by the state’s legislature to shut down its last remaining abortion provider have been successful so far, with a new law passed requiring abortion providers to have privileges at local hospitals. While the office’s three doctors have all applied for hospital privileges, as of yet they do not have them. It is unknown what will happen to the clinic after the new law takes effect. In Virginia similar measures are being protested that would make it extremely difficult for abortion providers to remain open. This piece explores the painful reality these abortion restrictions inflict on women, an important voice in the conversation when women are not even “sources” for women’s rights issues. It’s high time women were not ashamed to say that they’ve had abortions, and while men’s opinions on everything from menstruation to menopause seem to hold more weight, we in the pro-choice movement would like to hear from more pro-choice men.

The legislative tactics used by Mississippi and Virginia to effectively make abortion illegal, or at least unobtainable, are nothing new. Across the country a terrifying 1,100 pieces of anti-women legislation have been proposed since 2011! You really should check that link out. Add to this the very real violence faced by clinic workers on a daily basis, like death threats, arson and bombings, and it’s no wonder abortion is becoming impossible to obtain safely and legally in the wealthiest country in the world. Republicans are even trying to sneak language about life beginning at conception into completely unrelated bills, like this one extending FEMA’s national flood insurance plan. But disaster-stricken Americans are not the only ones the GOP is alienating. Not only should women have no control over their own sexual and reproductive health, argue elected Republican officials, their work is worth less than men’s. Extending the war on women to their ability to feed themselves, Republican Senators refused to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

From the absurdity of women being excluded from a panel discussing birth control (and the attacks women who wanted to speak endured) to the extremely anti-choice Michigan legislature banning two female representatives for “inappropriate language” i.e.. vagina and vasectomy, during debates about anti-choice legislation, legislators and laws in the US are becoming more and more misogynistic. Beautifully, thousands of protesters took to the… steps with a performance of the timeless Vagina Monologues to demand that freedom of speech extend to female legislators discussing body politics. If you want to send your own message to Michigan legislators sign this petition asking Facebook to allow users to change their middle name to Vagina, then change yours. You might also mention that the double standard– Medicare covers Viagra and penile implants, yet Republicans think birth control should be an out-of-pocket expense– is unacceptable. Thankfully, while the majority of the anti-woman rhetoric in the US is coming from the Christian Rightwing, it’s good to see other religious figures supporting women’s bodily autonomy.

As you can see from the graphic at the top Michigan isn’t the only state waging war on women’s reproductive freedoms. In Ohio alone a staggering 16 pieces of anti-choice legislation were introduced since 2010. North Carolina Republicans are trying to defund Planned Parenthood, again. Texas Republicans are promoting proven-ineffective abstinence-only sexual education courses. Kansas Republicans have introduced a host of Christian-based anti-woman legislation and a doctor there may permanently lose her medical license for refusing to force a ten-year-old to give birth. South Dakota has proposed a 72 hour waiting period between ultrasound and abortion for women seeking to terminate their pregnancies. And in Arizona now it is perfectly legal for doctors to lie to their patients if they think the information they give will influence them to have an abortion. Also in Hell Arizona, “reasonably suspicious” women and men are being asked for Papers, please, despite a mixed Supreme Court ruling on the legality of SB 1070. This article takes on an excellent exploration of what this means for immigrant women, and what the situation of immigrant women means for equality for all people in the US. Check out the pictures supplied by Planned Parenthood at the end of the post for other evidence of the war on women.

And then there’s the Violence Against Women Act…. The Senate passed a beautiful, sparkling reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that extended protections to undocumented women, Native American women and lesbians. The House promptly stripped those additions, leaving millions of women in traditionally under-served populations even more vulnerable, all the while claiming that women would use these new provisions to scam the system with false accusations. The President has vowed to veto the House version if it crosses his desk. LGBT lobbies and Native American women’s lobbies are still pushing for passage of the Senate version at Capitol Hill and even Christian websites think Congress should pass the Senate version! At least New York understands.

With a staggering 1 in 3 Native American women raped in her lifetime one would hope Republicans could at least show compassion in the wake of such terrible violence. But no. A sickening story of a Tampa rape victim who was arrested on charges of outstanding warrants after she reported her rape has outraged women across the country. The worst is yet to come. After being booked, a guard where she was being held confiscated the second pill of her emergency contraception because it went against her beliefs. A federal court has ruled that the victim will be allowed to sue the guard for violating her right to privacy. In other news of the State violating individuals human rights, this (potentially triggering) piece explores the unnecessary police practice of forced catheterization in Utah. Even liberal San Francisco is being accused of victim blaming people who come to the police as victims of rape and domestic violence.

Rape in the US military is a hot-button issue too, yet House Republicans showed little compassion when blocking abortion access for soldiers who have been raped. The award-winning documentary The Invisible War explores the issue of rape that is poisoning the US military. One service member interviewed explained victims’ options as “suicide, AWOL, or deal with it.” The film explores why many rape victims don’t report the incident: for 25% of women who didn’t report the rape to their commander, their commander was their rapist. The documentary’s website, in addition to the trailer and information on the movement, offers ways to take action and help demand accountability and justice for service members who have been raped.

Pillamina on the campaign trail!

Now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you, I want to give you the good news. In addition to the beauty of an estimated 3-5,000 people filling Michigan’s capital steps to respect the word vagina, across the blogosphere people are overcoming the shame of using the word vagina. Like the personal story of abortion linked in the beginning of this post, it is extremely important women are speaking out so that their voices are heard. Public performances, like The Vagina Monologues, have long been an effective tactic in the strategic nonviolent activists’ arsenal, and with Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney wanting to “get rid of” Planned Parenthood, a giant pack of birth control pills, Pillamina, is now following him along the campaign trail. If that doesn’t make you smile, how about this: since 1990 abortion rates have decreased 18% for women in their 20s due to increased contraception access. Also, many big city mayors (a lot of whom are men) have added their names in support of women’s reproductive rights. Rock on Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Hartford and New York!

And not all news from individual states is bad. The Governor of New Hampshire vetoed a “partial birth” abortion ban since a similar ban (for a procedure which doesn’t actually exist) is already in place at the federal level. Also in New England Connecticut has included abortion as an essential health benefit in the state’s insurance plan. And even quiet Midwesterners in North Dakota are fighting back against this war on women, deciding they don’t want to expand religious liberty to discriminate against anyone. At the federal level Congress actually did something right, by failing to pass a ban on “sex-selective abortions,” a problem which deserves national attention in India and China but is almost non-existent in the US.

Though the comments on this video are repulsive, the White House 1 is 2 Many campaign to encourage men to speak up if they witness violence against women is a good reminder that bystanders have power too. As we saw with the contentious issue of undocumented women being covered by VAWA, immigrant women are the often-forgotten victims of violence against women. Thankfully the newly opened Tahirih Justice Center in Baltimore is a haven for immigrant victims of domestic violence throughout New England. If you want to get involved and fight back against the misogynistic legislative attacks, including the VAWA embarrassment, check out A is For, a group seeking to reclaim the scarlet letter A. Or join the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health in their Week of Action for Reproductive Justice because you, like Mary Gonzalez, the openly lesbian Latina doctoral student recently elected to the Texas House, are poderosa.

Finally, the best news of all. In addition to this long, well-cited list of Obama’s accomplishments as President he can now definitively add “bringing American healthcare into the 21st Century: The Supreme Court has upheld Obamacare!!! This landmark decision ensures that women and men will be treated equally by insurance companies, and preventative services like birth control (with no co-pay), mammograms, and pap smear cancer screenings, will all be covered by insurance! If you’re so inclined you can write a letter of thanks to the five Supreme Court Justices who voted in favor of universal health care. Thank you for reading, be well, and as always, if you have ideas, suggestions or comments as to how we can fight back against the patriarchy, please share them below.

In Peace~

 


Day 25- SisterSong

To the readers who know me personally, the lack of discussions surrounding sex and reproductive rights and health has probably been puzzling. Sex, sexual rights, and sexual health are some of the areas about which I am most passionate. As Jean Kilbourne states in Killing Us Softly, sex is both more important and less important, than the advertising industry shows. I have not delved into sex/sexuality yet because it is such an intense topic and I have to be mentally prepared for it. Sunday’s blog will go in depth into the fight for sexual/reproductive rights in the US.

Today I want to introduce you to SisterSong, an amazing organization that is “building a movement for reproductive justice.” Reproductive justice is one of my favorite phrases in the English language. Put simplyRJ is “the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social, and economic well-being of women and girls, based on the full achievement and protection of women’s human rights.” In other words, reproductive justice explores women’s sexuality and reproductive health while fighting for individuals’ rights to make fully-informed decisions regarding every aspect of life from education to employment to the environment.

SisterSong is a Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. I know that all sounds really hippy feminist, and it is, but hear me out.  Let’s break it down: women of color includes any and all women who are marginalized by the imposed, socially-constructed racial heirarchy in the US, usually anyone who is not or does not appear to be white and does not benefit from the privileges of whiteness; reproductive justice, again, is a social movement that seeks to teach an understanding of sexual and reproductive health and rights issues as it relates to the framework of oppression women face in the US, including poverty, racism, ableism, ageism, and homophobia, in addition to sexism; finally, collective underscores the need for solidarity amongst women to not fall prey to the imperialist tactic of divide and conquer, as SisterSong explains: doing collectively what we cannot do individually.

The Goose Story explains members’ clear committment to the work they are doing and how vital a community of support can be. The SisterSong community includes Southern RJ Activists, the Latina Encuentro, Trust Black Women and these member organizations. SisterSong also produces Collective Voices, “the only national newspaper addressing reproductive health created and distributed by and for women of color….” They also recommend these publications and articles.

July 14-17 this year SisterSong will host its 2011 Let’s Talk About Sex Conference in Miami Beach. The theme this year is Love, Legislation and Leadership. Sistersong also offers three different levels of RJ training which are aimed at audiences of 10-20 people.

If you would like to support the work SisterSong does to end racial oppression and sexism you have a few options: you can register for their training sessions so that you will be more prepared and able to discuss RJ with anyone who will listen; you can donate to Trust Black Women to help continue the fight against racist billboards aimed at shaming black women into not asserting their right to choose; you can donate to help preserve Mother House, the historic home offices of SisterSong in Atlanta, Georgia; or you can donate to SisterSong’s Women of Color Scholarship Program to ensure that “women of color, working class communities, immigrant communities, and young women and students” have access to information and services surrounding SisterSong’s work.


Day 5- Native American Women’s Activism

2005 Powwow

Image by Smithsonian Institution via Flickr

Native American women, like their Arab, Asian, black and Latina sisters, have also struggled in naming their own identities. Christopher Columbus’s geographic muddling typed the indigenous people of the Americas as “Indians” for centuries. Today Native American and Indian are used fairly interchangeably, but there is growing awareness as to the number and diversity of remaining tribes.

Many Latinas of indigenous heritage, from tribes that reigned from Central America up into modern-day Colorado, unlike activists in MEChA, do not identify as indigenous people or Native Americans because of the racism that plagues American societies. This is largely due to white supremacy and linguistic bigotry–Spanish-speaking indigenous people do not identify with English-speaking indigenous people and vice versa, but again, white, patriarchal society also has a stake in keeping minorities from unifying.

“Women who wish to share their similar experiences ought to be able to do so but [they should] do so within the context of being mindful that we are part of a larger body of people under siege and all of us are needed in the struggle.”[1]

Native American women were the first people to experience the violence, racism and sexism the English, Spanish, French, Dutch, and Germans brought with them from Europe. Very few women’s histories have been recorded from the time of European invasion and those stories that have been retold are suspicious in their details.

“Along with Pocahontas, Sacajawea is the best known of Native American women; the fact that both are remembered for the assistance that they rendered to white men is an aspect of national history that deserves more thoughtful attention than it has received.”[2]

These two Native American women have received the highest “honors” available in U.S. culture: Sacajawea was immortalized on a coin and Pocahontas got her own Disney movie.

“By implying that ‘noble’ Indians like Pocahontas recognized the superiority of non-Indian culture and consequently wanted Europeans to overrun their lands, it allowed whites to rationalize their illegal and immoral seizure of Indian lands.”[3] Indeed, the whitewashed storytelling about Native Americans nearly always places European culture in a superior role, and only when the “savages” recognize this are they “saved” and brought into Christianity.

The sheer number of people who were killed by violence and disease after the arrival of Europeans limits the available historical examples of Native American women but, anthologies of Native American women have recorded stories from tribes across the country about remarkable and heroic women.

Among them is Lozan, “the only Apache woman known to have devoted herself fully to the life of a warrior.”[4] Because she took on a traditionally masculine Apache role she disregarded the traditional feminine role she would have taken on if not for her prowess as a warrior.

Many Native American cultures were far more accepting of variation in gender roles than Europeans ever were. Most Native American cultures throughout North America recognized and often revered the possibility of gender variation. The modern term for those people who felt both masculine and feminine is two-spirit. A transgender person, or two-spirit, is one who is born with one sex but feels that her/his gender role should be closer to that of the other sex. Two-spirits and those who are born intersexed, were historically seen as special, intellectual beings in many Native American cultures because they embodied both masculine and feminine spirits. In essence they were more whole as a person than anyone who was solely male or solely female could be. Recognition of this cross-gender identification has been documented in over 155 tribes in North America.

It was not uncommon for a woman who dressed and acted like a man to engage in sexual relationships with other women and historically there was much more acceptance of fluidity within identity and orientation in Native American cultures. While Europeans often conflate gender roles and sexual orientation, many two-spirit people were celibate, and therefore would not fit into the modern “homosexual” box.

Today Native Americans who identify as two-spirit “face homophobia and sexism from [their] own people, racism from lesbians and gays, and racism, homophobia, and sexism from the dominant society, not to mention the classism many Native Americans have to deal with.”[5]

Many Native Americans who identify as either lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, or two-spirit are active in combating homophobia in hetero-normative societies, including Native American societies, and in combating racism in predominantly white societies, including the LGBTQAI society.

Those Native American women who are now fighting for equality and an end to racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and ableism have an amazing repertoire of heroines to look up to from the middle of the 17th century on. Unfortunately the oral traditions that would have carried stories of heroes and heroines from before the European invasion were lost to racism, disease, and death.

One of the first Native American women to make it into the European historical records was Cochacoeske, the village leader of the Pamunkey, who signed the Treaty of Middle Plantation of 1677. “Unlike most agreements between whites and Indians, it attempted to be fair to both sides…. During the negotiations, she insisted that the treaty identify her as the leader, not only of the Pamunkeys, but also of several neighboring tribes.” Cochacoeske “chose to use negotiation rather than weapons to realize her ambition.”[6]

Another historical sister Native American women can look to is Molly Brant. The sister of Joseph Brant, a Mohawk chief, she “was perhaps the most politically powerful Native American woman during the late eighteenth century.” Even if she had not been the sister of the chief, “In traditional Iroquois society, women enjoyed a good deal of economic and political power,”[7] and were the owners of the land and what it produced.

While women did not commonly perform the same tasks as men, the tasks they did perform were generally as valued as men’s–something very different from the way women’s work is valued in modern American society. The status of women in many Native American societies was such that “suffragists regularly cited their status as evidence that women and men could and should have balanced roles.”[8]

Native American women, like all women of color in the United States, have historically been forced to choose whether their primary fight is against racism or sexism. Possibly because women already had some political sway within their own communities and had rights that were denied most white women, many Native American women chose primarily to fight for their rights as Natives.

Susette La Flesche Tibbles, an affluent woman of mixed Ponca, Iowa, and French descent, fought for the rights of Native Americans as a reporter and interpreter during the case of Standing Bear v. General George Crook in 1877 when, for the first time, Native Americans “were legally recognized as human beings.”[9] This landmark ruling was a major step forward for Native Americans, but legal recognition as human beings did not necessarily result in more humane treatment by the U.S. government.

Since the European invasion Native Americans were pushed off their land and forced to sign treaties that reserved only a small piece of their homelands for them and still today Native American reservations have some of the highest crime and poverty rates in the country.

Ten years after Standing Bear the Dawes General Allotment Act was signed into law. In trying to compel Native Americans to assimilate to white culture it did irreparable damage to the tribal structure of Native American communities by allotting small parcels of land to individuals in each tribe and then distributing the “surplus” amongst white colonizers. Heads of household received 160 acres, other adults 80, and minors 40, but until an 1891 amendment to the act married women were ineligible to receive land. After the amendment all adults regardless of sex or marital status were treated equally but the size of the allotments was halved.[10]

“The allotment policy depleted the land base, ending hunting as a means of subsistence. According to Victorian ideals, the men were forced into the fields to take on what had traditionally been the woman’s role and the women were relegated to the domestic sphere. This Act imposed a patrilineal nuclear household onto many matrilineal Native societies. Native gender roles and relations quickly changed with this policy since communal living shaped the social order of Native communities. Women were no longer the caretakers of the land and they were no longer valued in the public political sphere. Even in the home, the Native woman was dependent on her husband. Before allotment, women divorced easily and had important political and social status, as they were usually the center of their kin network.”[11]

“By dividing reservation lands into privately-owned parcels, legislators hoped to complete the assimilation process by forcing the deterioration of the communal life-style of the Native societies and imposing Western-oriented values of strengthening the nuclear family and values of economic dependency strictly within this small household unit.”[12]

Until the Indian New Deal overturned the act in 1934, some 90,000 Native Americans were made landless and an estimated 90 million acres of treaty land was taken from tribes across the country.[13]

“By the late nineteenth century U.S. policies toward Indians had deeply impoverished most tribes, particularly those confined to reservations in the West.”[14]

During the period in which the Allotment Act was active many women were working for more fair and just treatment of Native Americans such as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, a mixed Nakota Sioux and white activist who worked in the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the government agency responsible for dealing with tribes in America.

Bonnin supported the Society of American Indians, an organization established by Oneida activist Minnie Kellogg in 1911 to support pan-Indianism, or the unification of Native Americans for the rights of all tribes. The pan-Indianism movement began strong steps towards organizing various Native American tribes in 1912 when the Four Mothers Society, made up of people from the Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Choctaw nations banded together to take political action against the policy of allotment. In the same year the Alaskan Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood was formed to protect tribes’ natural resources.

Meanwhile Bonnin continued to be active in working for Native American rights until her death in 1938. She worked with the General Federation of Women’s Clubs to form the Indian Welfare Committee in 1921 and with the help of the Indian Rights Association persuaded the government to begin what would be the Meriam Report. Even though all Native Americans were finally granted U.S. citizenship in 1924, because Bonnin still felt Native Americans were being severely discriminated against by the government, she formed the National Council of American Indians in 1926.[15]

The Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934, also known as the Indian New Deal and the Wheeler-Howard Act, restored some sovereignty to Native American nations by allowing tribes to create their own governments and have input into reservation schools.

Even after this Native American children were forced to live in boarding schools far from their families. “The government still operates a handful of off-reservation boarding schools,”[16] and some students who attend them now are grateful for the opportunity to be surrounded by other Native Americans and practice their cultures. The reality of today’s Native American boarding schools lies in sharp contrast to the program implemented in 1879 that was based on a prison education system.

When Army Captain Richard Pratt opened the first Native American boarding school, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, he did so with this philosophy: “all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”[17]

Indeed many students were killed in the century in which Native Americans were forcibly removed from their parents, renamed, forbidden to speak their own languages, and imprisoned in off-reservation boarding schools. Hard manual labor and emotional, physical, and sexual abuse were rampant in these schools and rules and discipline were often inappropriate and dangerous.

The Problem of Indian Administration, commonly referred to as the Meriam Report, published in 1928 was a scathing review of the U.S. government’s handling and treatment of Native Americans in all aspects of life. One comment on the teaching methods utilized in the boarding schools stated:

“If there were any real knowledge of how human beings are developed through their behavior, we should not have in the Indian boarding schools the mass movements from dormitory to dining room, from dining room to classroom, from classroom back again, all completely controlled by external authority; we should hardly have children from the smallest to the largest of both sexes lined up in military formation; and we would certainly find a better way of handling boys and girls than to lock the door to the fire-escape of the girls’ dormitory.”

After the Meriam Report, in the 1930s, “educated Indians were determined to fight for the rights of Indian people…. Indian women, such as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin and Ruth Muskrat Bronson, rose to prominence in this movement, which became known as Pan-Indianism because it encouraged Indians of many different tribes to work together to solve their common problems.”[18]

Bronson, a Cherokee woman who worked for the BIA, wrote Indians Are People Too and “she cautioned non-Indians that romanticizing Indian people could be just as destructive as stereotyping them. In the 1940s she also became involved with the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), a national tribal organization dedicated to defending Indian rights.” Formed in 1944, today the NCAI is one of the largest organizations working for the welfare of Native Americans in the UNited States. [19] She also worked to improve living conditions on Native American reservations through her creation of the women’s group Ee-Cho-Da-Nihi.

Another Native American woman who was actively fighting for civil rights during this time was Alice Mae Jemison, of mixed Cherokee and Seneca heritage. Because the BIA had “promoted several policies that were meant to ‘protect’ Indians but that had ultimately helped to make them the poorest minority group in the nation,” Jemison published a newspaper article in 1933 which demanded the government “Abolish this bureau with its un-American principles of slavery, greed and oppression and let a whole race of people, the first Americans, take their place beside all other people in this land of opportunity as free men and women.”[20] In 1935 Jemison also served as the official spokesperson for the American Indian Federation.

The latter half of the 20th century saw major participation by Native American women in fighting for justice. Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, of mixed white and Seminole heritage, made history in 1967 when she became the first elected female tribal chief of any Native American tribe.[22] Her success helped to pave the way for other Native women.

The American Indian Movement (AIM), “Largely composed of young urban Indians inspired by the African-American civil rights movement of the early 1960s… advocated a renewed respect for Indian traditions and sought to make the U.S. government live up to the treaty promises it had made to Indians throughout the country.”[23] Also known as the Indian Rights Movement and Red Power, AIM included many female activists who were integral to its key campaigns such as the occupation of Alcatraz Island, the Trail of Broken Treaties–a protest march at the nation’s capital, and the occupation of Wounded Knee, amongst other activities.

One young mixed Lakota Sioux and white activist, Mary Brave Bird, even gave birth at Wounded Knee as “a symbol of renewal, a tiny symbol, a tiny victory in our people’s struggle for survival.”[24]

Wilma Mankiller, a disabled, mixed white and Cherokee woman, was vital in organizing and fundraising for the occupation of Alcatraz by Native Americans. She would go on to be elected the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1985-1995, despite concerns that “electing a female deputy would be an affront to God and would make the Cherokees a laughingstock among other Indian groups.”[25]

Other prominent Native American women active during the 1970s included Ramona Bennett, chairperson of the Puyallup Tribal Council whose “combative brand of activism during this turbulent period helped prevent the dissolution of her tribe,”[26] and Ada Deer who founded Determination of the Rights and Unity of Menominee Shareholders (DRUMS) and has thus far been the only woman to head the BIA as the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs, from 1993-1997.[27][28]

Choctaw activist Owanah Anderson was also an integral member of the fight for Native American women’s rights in the 1970s. She served in 1977 as a co-chairperson of the Texas delegation to the Houston Women’s Conference, and then joined the Committee on the Rights and Responsibilities of Women under the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. “From 1978 to 1981, she also served on the Advisory Committee on Women organized by President Jimmy Carter, [and she] founded the Ohoyo Research Center in 1979.”[29] In the past she also served as a project director for the National Women’s Development Program and on the board of directors of the Association for American Indian Affairs. While Anderson is well known throughout Native American communities for her activism, her Micmac contemporary, Anna Mae Aquash has achieved legendary status.

Aquash participated in the Trail of Broken Treaties and was married during the Native American occupation at Wounded Knee to showcase “her commitment to the fight for Indian rights.”[30] Aquash was an effective organizer and leader, drawing Native American women into the causes of AIM when its male leaders could/would not. Tragically, Aquash was murdered shortly after participating in Wounded Knee with AIM leadership claiming it was the work of the FBI and many Native American women claiming it was the work of the male leaders of AIM “who incorrectly believed she was a traitor.”[31]

Today the group Indigenous Women for Justice[32] fights for an answer in Anna Mae Aquash’s murder and follows the events of the trials of those men who have been accused with involvement in her murder nearly 35 years ago.

Native American women today are just as active in fighting for their rights as Native Americans and as women as they were 40 years ago. In 1970 white and Comanche activist LaDonna Harris created Americans for Indian Opportunity and has served as its president ever since. Her active involvement in environmental issues and feminism in conjunction with indigenous issues have made her a force to be reckoned with. She chaired the National Women’s Advisory Council of the War on Poverty in 1967; served as a representative of the Inter-American Indigenous Institute; was a presidential appointee to the U.S. Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year,[33] the National Council on Indian Opportunity, the White House Fellows Commission, and the Commission on Mental Health; has served on dozens of national and advisory boards dealing with women’s and indigenous issues including NOW and the ACLU; and participated in the founding of the National Indian Housing Council, the Council of Energy Resource Tribes, the National Tribal Environmental Council, the National Indian Business Association, Common Cause, the National Urban Coalition, and the National Women’s Political Caucus.[34]

Another environmental activist, Winona LaDuke, an Ojibwe and Jewish woman, founded the White Earth Land Recovery Project,[35] the Indigenous Women’s Network, and Honor the Earth.[36] She was previously involved, as were many of the above-mentioned activists, with WARN– Women of All Red Nations, to prevent forced sterilization among Native American women.

Other women like Paula Gunn Allen, a mixed Laguna Pueblo, Sioux, Lebanese and Scottish author, worked to increase tolerance for gays and lesbians within Native American communities. Gunn Allen did so with her work The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions[37] while Chyrstos, a Menominee, Lithuanian and French two-spirit has done so with her work Not Vanishing and by contributing to This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color.

Another two-spirit activist, Ojibwe Carol LaFavor fights for Native Americans with HIV/AIDS and founded Positively Native to support the Native American community. Other organizations in which Native American women fight for their rights include the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation,[38] the American Indian Institute,[39] and the Native American Rights Fund.[40]

Native American have fought since their first interactions with white invaders for their rights and will continue to do so within whatever women’s/indigenous/women of color framework they choose. “Like women everywhere, indigenous women do not want others defining for them what it means to be a woman.”[41]


[1] Camper, Carol ed. 1994. Miscegenation Blues: Voices of Mixed Race Women. Sister Vision: Toronto, Canada.

[2] American Women’s History Doris Weatherford. 1994. Prentice Hall General Reference: New York.

[3] Sonneborn, Liz. A to Z of Native American Women. Facts on File, Inc.: New York. 1998.

[4] Sonneborn, Liz. A to Z of Native American Women. Facts on File, Inc.: New York. 1998.

[5] Laframboise, Sandra and Michael Anhorn. 2008. The Way of the Two Spirited People: Native American Concepts of Gender and Sexual Orientation. Dancing to Eagle Spirit Society. 30 June 2010.  http://www.dancingtoeaglespiritsociety.org/twospirit.php

[6] Sonneborn, 1998.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Mankiller, Wilma. 2004. every day is a good day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women. Fulcrum Publishing: Golden, Colorado.

[9] Sonneborn, 1998.

[10] “Indian General Allotment Act (Dawes Act) (1887).” Major Acts of Congress. Ed. Brian K. Landsberg. Macmillan-Thomson Gale, 2004. eNotes.com. 2006. 1 Jul, 2010 http://www.enotes.com/major-acts-congress/
indian-general-allotment-act-dawes-act

[12] Gibson, Arrell M. “Indian Land Transfers.” Handbook of North American Indians: History of Indian-White Relations, Volume 4. Wilcomb E. Washburn & William C. Sturtevant, eds. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1988.

[13] Case DS, Voluck DA (2002). Alaska Natives and American Laws (2nd ed. ed.). Fairbanks, AK: University of Alaska Press.

[14] Sonneborn, 1998.

[15] Sonneborn, 1998.

[16] Bear, Charla. 12 May 2008. “American Indian Boarding Schools Haunt Many.” National Public Radio. 1 July 2010 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16516865

[17] Bear, 2008.

[18] Sonneborn, 1998.

[19] Sonneborn, 1998.

[20] Sonneborn, 1998.

[22] Sonneborn, 1998.

[23] Sonneborn, 1998.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[29] Sonneborn, 1998.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[33] Sonneborn, 1998.

[37] Sonneborn, 1998.

[41] Mankiller, 2004.


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