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.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Bill-Baker-Pastel_20180702-172609_1.pngNot many Americans may feel much like celebrating the hallmarks of our country--liberty, justice, and freedom--this July 4th as we watch the shocking horrors experienced by asylum-seekers on our Mexican border, among other national tragedies. For many of us, the shame of what is happening is deep. Despite our protests, petition-signing, contacting our elected officials, political canvassing for the 2018 elections, monetary donations, and speaking-out in print and social media, we can still feel powerless to halt what is occurring. Whenever I feel a deeper level of outrage and frustration about government-policy attacks on people and Earth, however, I think of the tenacity of Indigenous Elders, particularly Native American women. Whenever I lapse into being shocked about today's news headlines, I only need to quickly remind myself of our American past and the treatment of Indigenous peoples, and how the events of today are merely another unfolding of what has been going on in this country since its birth. I am disturbed with America's interminable short-term-memory loop as I hear in the media connections between Japanese Internment camps during WWII and the immigrant detainment centers of today. So let me help you remember, America, about our country's history in relation to Native Americans, and how the detainment centers are just America's newest colonial-era Forts. I also want to remind those of us who are bone-weary (and afraid) about what is happening in our country to take the long-view, as the First Nations of Turtle Island do when they, too, are face to face with inhumane treatment. These Elders are our guides for Perseverance, Strategy, and an unshakeable Belief in the power of LOVE.  The image above is a work of art in pastels by New Mexican artist Bill Baker. Find more of his work at http://billbakerart.com/

b2ap3_thumbnail_flat550x550075f.jpgFirst of all, many of the people crossing the border from Mexico into the United States to seek asylum and a better life are Indios, Indigenous peoples of Mexico and Central America. For Native Americans living on sovereign tribal lands that the U.S./ Mexican border cuts through, the hassle to visit relatives, collect plant medicines, and ritually perform ceremonies as they have done for centuries is high. Border patrol officers rifle through medicine bundles, bags of sacred plants and objects, and can be extremely callous toward Indigenous Medicine People--even when those people have the legal right to move freely through their own sovereign lands. These border crossing impediments have been going on since the border was created, but over the years more citizens of Native nations have gained legal rights to cross unimpeded. This is a fight that is not included in any news coverage about the immigrants.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven says #
    Thank you so much for this compassionate post speaking truth about the connections between today's "migrant" policies and the past
  • Dr. Mays
    Dr. Mays says #
    Anne, Thank you so much for providing a forum for me, and so many others, to speak back to what is happening in our country--and t

Two Native American women leaders are currently on the cusp of being major "Firsts" in American Congressional and Gubernatorial races--exciting!

 

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Bimages.jpgAn antidote to the frustrations of current politics, environmental degradation, and the struggles in our own individual and collective human lives--that can include sheer exhaustion from fighting and emotionally processing these forms of oppression--is music. Singing, and especially dancing, uplifts the human spirit and renews us in ways that few other experiences can. When songs are specifically written to address the very struggles we are engaged in, and remind us that we struggle together toward similar goals of social equity, global community and peace, and economic stability for all, it can downright uplift our resolve to get back in the fight, our vigor shining!

b2ap3_thumbnail_BuffySainte-Marie.jpgThis is what Indigenous-Canadian of the Cree nation, Buffy Sainte-Marie, has been doing for the past 50 years! St. Marie became well-known for her activist peace song "Universal Soldier" in 1964 and was a headline act at many national venues in the 1960s. Her song, “Until It’s Time For You Go” has been covered widely, including by such greats as Elvis Presley, Cher, Roberta Flack and Glen Campbell.  She had a million-selling theme song from the western, Soldier Blue, and in 1982, she won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a British Academy Film Award for Best Original Song for the theme song from the film An Officer And a Gentlemen, called “Up Where We Belong” that was sung by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes. St. Marie also had a stint on Sesame Street in the 1970s and she continued appearing on that iconic American children's show into the 1980s. In 2015, she won a prestigious Polaris Music Prize for Album of the Year for Power in the Blood.

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With awareness growing in America about the widespread occurrence of sexual harassment, assault, and rape impacting so many women's lives, I think often about the conversations I hear Americans having about this crisis and the pervasive absence of even superficially referring to cultures that do not historically have a culture of rape. The idea, and reality, is rarely (ever?) mentioned on social media, on radio/television outlets, in college textbooks, or in print media. Only if Americans read Indian Country Today or the individual blogs of Native American activists are they going to read about America Before Rape Culture.

No national dialogue about the time when America had no Rape Culture? Let's change that!

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b2ap3_thumbnail_mother-earth-day.jpgConsidering the shocking events of the past months in the United States, particularly in relation to the Earth, I believe we need to talk about Mother Earth's laws versus the practices of Empire. They are radically different. Mother Earth's Laws are Life-centered and honor all people and all life on Earth; Empire is death-centered, favors a narrow demographic of people, and believes the Earth should be plundered for her resources for individual gain. Empire exalts social Darwinism and believes "those who have are those who deserve"; to the contrary, Mother Earth's Laws function from the reality that everyone here deserves to have their needs completely met and everyone matters.  The highly-evolved, sophisticated cultures of Native Americans historically and currently function at every level of engagement (governmental, socioeconomically, and in gender practices) in ways that reflect and honor the inherent laws of this planet, Mother Earth's Laws. These Laws come from a profound and ancient relationship to the Earth. There is no "food chain" that functions from a belief in human exceptionalism, no hierarchy that allows humans to take and all other beings and elements expected to give. There is no one-way "Giving Tree" relationship (like Shel Silverstein's book), where human beings constantly take and Mother Earth gives, to the ultimate sacrifice of her very life.That's Empire.

Mother Earth's Laws do not function from a twisted belief that some human beings are more important than other human beings. Mother Earth denies no one anything, ever. She has never said, "You cannot drink from my river because of the color of your skin" or "You cannot breathe my air because of your religious beliefs" or "You cannot dig medicine because you are poor". That is not how this planet works, and Native American nations functioned from that reality for millennia before the Europeans arrived and started individual ownership of land, killing Native people and animals, and pillaging the Earth. Tragically, these beliefs and practices of Empire set up the system that defines the United States now, despite vehement opposition by people of all identities.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_icstorymoonlogo.jpgHello Relatives! I'm so glad you could come with me this evening and travel to a gathering to hear a traditional Indigenous Grandma's storytelling! Historically, in most Indigenous nations of the Americas, the colder months meant the work is mostly over and the celebrations begin in order to see the people through the long, dark months. Even though we now have modern conveniences, traditional people still keep the cycles of the year of their ancestors and practice their traditions just as they have always done. Ah, I see you have the gift I suggested you bring Grandma in order to honor her and her nation's traditions--thank you! That beautiful blanket you brought will be put to good use for whomever in her community needs one.

Brrrr...it sure is cold this time of year, and I'm glad to see you dressed comfortably, but respectfully, because we will be up for hours listening intently to stories that have been told for centuries! Just like people dress well for an event they value, dressing respectfully to attend a traditional gathering is important--it's not a sports event or the gym! Come on! We are almost to her very traditional home where her medicine and ancient objects from her nation are kept. Look, here we are at last...I'm so excited!

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Native-American201.jpgThe annual U.S. celebration and federal holiday called Columbus Day is this Monday. The day is welcomed by many Americans who are glad for the day off and appreciate the many retail sales events over the long weekend. Columbus Day is also celebrated throughout Central and South America and in Spain. Heroic tales of Columbus having a "great vision and courage" to travel in so-called "uncharted" seas are told to school children and promulgated in mainstream media. Some Italian-American communities today continue the traditions of the generations preceding them who originally lobbied to have this day recognized by the U.S. government in order to develop ethnic pride. This history all sounds reasonable--if you don't know your history, that is!

Pictured above is Jacqueline Pata, a member of the Raven/Sockeye Clan of the Tlingit Nation of Alaska, who is Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians. Ms. Pata is wearing a Tlingit cedar bark woven hat with a Tlingit robe made of ermine and abalone. Photo courtesy of the NCAI.org.

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