Indigenous Women: Nations, Cultures, Voices

The Blog offers information about Indigenous women spanning topics from current events in Indian Country to book reviews to discussion of Indigenous women’s cultural histories and ritual cycles relating to the Earth. Above all, there are the voices of Indigenous women as they present themselves.

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Dr. Mays

Dr. Mays

Dr. Mays is a professional writer with a doctoral degree in Native American Studies who has taught at the college level for nearly two decades. She is committed to educating about Indigenous cultures, especially about practices that specifically relate to women, in order to raise awareness about current issues in Indian Country, dissolve stereotypes, and create healing among all communities.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_1039f6596cec77dfadd9159fc0550ab7--native-american-beadwork-native-beadwork.jpgNative American jewelry is one of the most highly visible expressions of Indigenous culture and art that is familiar to many people around the world. Silver-work, beading, weaving and use of turquoise are widespread components of Indigenous jewelry making, though the nations all have their unique cultural style and materials. Pictured is an example of some gorgeous Eastern Woodlands beadwork.

b2ap3_thumbnail_c60a6000f2231082bade632cb3827e75--native-american-beadwork-native-beadwork.jpgTraditionally, all objects Indigenous peoples created were done so with a high aesthetic value. In other words, utilitarian items (like a hairbrush or a basket strap) were also made to be beautiful. What this means today is that the handles of our can openers would be beautifully beaded or have silver and stone inlays! Even the most "mundane" items were, and still are, elevated to objects of artful beauty by Indigenous peoples. b2ap3_thumbnail_index-bracelet.jpgThis should tell you a lot about their outlooks on life (life is understood as reflecting beauty), their sense of time in creating these objects (careful patience and timeless perspectives), and the reality that everyone had beautiful items (no class/caste system).

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Dakota-Pipeline.jpgDespite the international outcry and daily presence in media outlets across the United States this past fall and winter concerning the Dakota Access Pipeline construction, you may not be hearing much in the news these days. However, the absence of news headlines might suggest that nothing is happening and the Water Protectors and their allies and advocates have given up. This month's blog is to assure everyone that this is far from the truth, despite our current U.S President's statement that after he approved the continued construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines his first week in office "nothing happened--no one protested." This is a completely false claim!

Here is what is happening after the President's easement in January allowed drilling:

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b2ap3_thumbnail_51jcu4spniL._AC_US218_.jpgIf a peaceful summer afternoon spent reading a book is your idea of relaxation or perhaps having some time before bed to unwind with some nourishing words would be welcome to you, I have some suggestions!

I am often asked by folks curious about Native Americans "How do I know what's real from what's fake Native American culture when it comes to books?" I understand completely how truly difficult it is to find and assess relevant, informative books about Native American cultures, so this month's blog is meant to help you in this process.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_baaits_san_francisco_2.jpgThe Gathering of Nations is an annual mega-pow-wow in Albuquerque, New Mexico that brings in thousands of Indigenous dancers, drummers, and singers for a high-profile, high-flyin' time in Indian Country that boosts pride and re-affirms the vibrancy and resiliency of Indigenous cultures. But to some Native Americans, the annual Gathering of Nations event has been missing something, something the Two-Spirits especially noticed....them! The photograph above is of the Bay Area American Indian Two Spirit Society from 2016.

So last year the founders of a group called Bands in Action founded the Gathering of Queer Nations so the underground culture of Indigenous lesbian, gay, queer, and trans people can be brought center-stage in a celebratory event that includes musical artists, poetry, and a fashion show. The necessity for a separate event is the result of European colonization: many Indigenous people, communities, and tribal nations today reject their LGBTQ2 relatives. Much of this is due in part to the effects of the Indian Boarding School brainwashing that enforced heterosexual-only beliefs and shamed Indigenous beliefs that included and respected LGBTQ people, among many other traumas.b2ap3_thumbnail_Native-Out_20170423-202957_1.jpg

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b2ap3_thumbnail_th_Jenni-Monet-Oceti-Sakowin-water-protectors-FB-live-2-22-17.jpgLike General Braddock and his colonial-era armies that slaughtered Eastern Woodlands Indigenous peoples in Pennsylvania and Colonel Chivington (a Methodist minister) who lead his army against the Cheyenne ending in the massacre of Natives at Sand Creek in the 1800s, the 45th President of the United States and his supporters are leading a 21st century war under the same old banner of "social progress." However, this 21st century colonial war is for the same reason and intention of all previous colonial wars in America and around the world: confiscation of land, natural resources, and the willful harm of Indigenous people's cultural expression, personhood, and sovereignty. In this 21st century war it is ever clearer how those who benefit and support the old Dominator power structures continue to exploit and desecrate the land and Mother Earth's resources. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_DAPL-action-2017-Ray-Cook.jpgThe photograph above is a scene from Oceti Sakowin Camp that housed the protestors of the Dakota Access Pipeline who left the camp this past week. Protestors numbered up to 10,000 at times over the course of the movement. Indigenous people from all over Turtle Island came to the aid of the Standing Rock Sioux nation, and advocates of all races and identities, especially American Veterans, came to show their support of tribal sovereignty and protection of the Earth. On February 22 Water Protectors left the camp ceremonially (and somberly) singing and drumming to honor the work behind them and all that is still left to do. Some of the few protestors remaining were arrested by police. The photo just above shows police in riot gear and thus the level of tension and threat the Water Protectors bravely faced.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_strawberries.jpgA fundamental ethic of Eastern Woodlands Indigenous nations since their origins in the time before time unto today is to establish, practice, and maintain Communal Ethics. The intent of an ethic that centralizes the community is to bring the whole of life into the kinship networks of this world. These kinship networks include human beings, animals, Mother Earth, the plants, waters, stars, mosses...every one. We do not say every "thing" because the members of the biosphere are not "things". The entire biosphere contains a multiplicity of beings, not objects. These beings are sacred. They have purpose, destiny, intelligence, consciousness, and are spirit-filled, just like the human beings.

To Native American/First Nations people, the Community traditionally means everyone--human beings with all various skin tones, any gender identity, any sexual orientation, any physical and intellectual ability level and the whole non-human world. Personal responsibility that supported the nation was key in the Eastern Woodlands nations, not personal aggrandizement, personal specialness, or setting oneself apart from the nation. Personal responsibility and developing one's mind, spiritual awareness, and talents and skills to strengthen the nation were and still are a strong ethic. In the northeastern nations, opinions were given an open hearing without censure in the councils. Indeed, Consensus Decision-Making originated with the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) League.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_cobell1.jpgOn November 22, 2016, President Obama posthumously awarded Eloise P. Cobell with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award given to a civilian. Cobell (1945--2011) was a Blackfeet Tribal Elder, a highly-accomplished woman championing the rights of her people, and the person who filed the largest class action lawsuit against the United States government in American history--and won!

In the 1980s, Cobell saw a systemic pattern of corruption in how the U.S. government was treating the Blackfeet and other Indigenous nations within their confederacy, and she took on the responsibility to do something about it. After taking a deep-dive into the historic accounting practices between the U.S. and the Blackfeet that entailed pouring over centuries-old treaties, she not only determined the mishandling of funds, but the staggering figure the government owed the Blackfeet.

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  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham says #
    Thank you for this - it is amazing to see these past 500 years of history on the North American continent begin to turn as "the mo

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