It's very unusual that I post an assignment by a student but I am making an exception for Carla Nunez. Her evocative prose describes the life and everyday circumstances of the women of the Oglala Lakota Sioux, one of the seven subtribes of the Lakota people, who along with the Nakota and Dakota, make up the Great Sioux Nation. Note how she weaves in class readings and concepts with stories of women that humanize what we are learning in POS 355 WOMEN POWER AND POLITICS NAU, Spring 2015. Reprinted with Ms Nunez' permission.
Today, this morning, as the sun shines, I sit here with a very heavy heart and flip through my mind's memory. I sit within this isolated community, surrounded by the badlands, dry scrubs, and pines. Dead tumble weeds blow across my path and dirt clouds blind my view. This land, the Federal Government allocated for the Oglala Lakota Sioux to die upon, given the name Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. I think about the tragic losses that have recently taken place on this reservation of oppression: 5 young girls not wanting to live another day on this earth, not wanting to take another breath of air from an environment poisoned with poverty, unemployment, alcoholism, child abuse, and neglect. How did they find the bravery, or courage, to take their own lives? What was going through their minds as they searched for the rope that would rob their spirit from the physical world to the spiritual world? Why didn’t they use that bravery and courage to fight the negativity that surrounded them like the women that lead the First and Second Wave of Feminism, Fought in Wounded Knee, and led matrilineal societies? How can we plant that seed of bravery into our young women in this generation?
I search my mind and observe the environment that surrounds me. I wonder what has happened within the family unit or within the society of Native American families that has led these young women down a tunnel of blackness and stoned their heart with hopelessness. I think about the book Sisters In Spirit and the article “The State of Native America Genocide, Colonization, and Resistance.” As stated in the article, “Haudenosaunee women, for example, owned the fields which produced about two-thirds of their people’s diet. Among the Lakota, men owned nothing but their clothing, a horse for hunting, weapons and spiritual items: homes, furnishing, and the like were the property of their wives.” I find it enormously comical that all a Lakota women had to do in order to divorce her husband was to set his meager personal possessions outside the door of their lodge. There is a saying around here on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, if you see a man walking down the road with a small bag of his possessions he may only be kicked out of his house for a few days, but when you see a man walking down the road with a large bag of his possessions, you know he has been kicked out of his house for good.
A few months ago I attended a conference titled Cultural Competency. The keynote speaker was a Lakota man, Wayne Weston, who discussed the dynamics of marriage within the Lakota culture, and how the meaning of the word “marriage” has changed within the culture. Pre-colonized word that was used by the Lakota for marriage is “mihansani” which translates in the English language as, “wife, my skin beside me” (mi-my, han-skin, sani-beside). Wayne also discussed that the wife becomes the husband’s closet relative. Today, the colonized word for marriage is “mitayeou” which translate to the English language as, “wife, mine to take” (mita-mine, yeou-to take). We can draw out the differences with the concept of marriage from the pre-colonized to the colonized meaning within in the Lakota culture. We can also draw out the differences between the European and the role Native women played in the marriage. In the European culture, during the marriage ceremony the father “gave” his daughter to her soon to be husband. The husband now owned his wife; she was now the property of her husband. She was now a woman who could not exercise autonomy. A life of choice, a life to earn, or a chance to divorce weren’t an option for her. In the article, The Politics of Liberal Feminism, Betty Friedan concurred, “For women to have full identity and freedom, they must have economic independence…Equality and human dignity are not possible for women if they are not able to earn…Only economic independence can free a woman to marry for love, not for status or financial support, or to leave a loveless, intolerable, humiliating marriage, or to eat, dress, rest, and move if she plans not to marry.” As a young woman, my mom worked every day in a packing house; often she would come home with her brown steel toed boots with black thick soles and on the tip of her boot a piece of fat from the pork meat she had trimmed. When she walked through the door, she was always tired from working 10 hour days and standing the majority of the time. She raised nine kids, and bought her own home before she met my dad. One morning, I woke up, because I felt a cold draft of air on my face, it was winter time. I got up off the couch and walked to the back door and noticed it hadn’t been closed all the way. Before I went to push the door closed I noticed car head lights on. I peeked out the door and seen my mom shoveling snow from around her car because it had been snowed in. She had to shovel the snow so she could get out and go to work at the packing house. One time I asked my mom, “if you had the opportunity to go to college, what would you have studied?” She replied, “An accountant.” I always knew she was a genius in math because she was fast with numbers. Her dad, my grandpa was also good in math. If my mother, a Native American woman, hadn’t had the opportunity to earn, she wouldn’t have been able to purchase her home on her own. Growing up and observing my mother and father’s relationship and how they interacted with other, I knew my mother was the decision maker in the family. She always ordered my father around; he would do what she always told him to do. He was smart. I always wondered why it was like that in my family. I would observe my friends parents relationship and noticed the huge difference between her parents and my parent’s relationship. Her father was from Mexico and her mother was a Chicana. Her mother didn’t work, her father did, her mother never drove, and her father always did. When she asked for permission to go somewhere she would have to ask her father. Her mom never had any money; she would have to ask her father for money. He would pay the bills, and she always stayed home. She was always cooking, cleaning, and washing clothes. He was always sitting in his chair smoking Marlboro red cigarettes and drinking beer. My mother’s ancestors evolved from a matrilineal society and her mother’s ancestors evolved from a patrilineal society. Although matrilineal societies have been oppressed by Western culture, I can still see some of the characteristics in my mother and myself.
I think about Mary Wollstonecraft and what was published about her life in the article titled, “Mary Wollstonecraft and the Rights of Woman.” When she was born, “she was handed over by her mother to be breast-fed by a wet nurse.” Mary also grew up in a home of alcoholism and experienced being beat by her drunken father and witnessed her mother be bullied by her father. “As a child Mary would sleep on the landing outside her mother’s door in vain attempt to protect her from Edward Wollstonecraft’s alcohol-fuelled anger.” Mary’s life experiences led her to publish Vindication of the Rights of Woman. I found this quote very powerful, “I am not born to tread in the beaten track.” I found it powerful because instead of her continuing the tradition of being owned by a man, she had the bravery inside her to make a change. Mary had hope. It was women like Mary that championed the Liberal Political Theory.
On the other hand, there were women who fought for basic human rights only for white women. As stated in the article, Class struggle and women’s liberation 1640 to today, “Susan B Anthony who was one of the most prominent women and the leading organizer of the feminist movement stated, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work for or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the women.” Elizabeth Cady Staton, was the leading intellectual of the movement and she too made derogatory references to “Sambo,” and the enfranchisement of “Africans, Chinese, and all the ignorant foreigners the moment they touch our shore.” One issue that has really bothered me is that white woman also discriminated against other women of color. They were all being denied basic human rights, but somehow white women believed they deserved them more than other women. The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) openly discriminated against others, Carrie Chapman Catt, one of the leaders of the NAWSA arraigned against the ignorant foreign vote and the slum dwellers vote, “Cut off the vote of the slums, and give it to women.” The objective of this declaration was to ensure the permanency of white supremacy.
The Knights of Labor was another organization; they believed they should have part of the wealth they worked for. The Knights of Labor had to organize many of its meeting in secrecy because they believed in equal rights for all as quoted by Philip S Foner, The K of L provided a form of organization and a common leadership for the American working class, skilled and unskilled, men and women, North and South and white, Native American and foreign born, of all religious and political opinions.” This group wasn’t like the suffragettes, who believed white women, and white women only should have the basic rights in life.
The American Federation of Labor founded in 1881, was a Jim Crow white supremacist organization. Samuel Gompers, its president, who fanned race hatred against blacks, referring to them as “darkies,” as superstitious dull, ignorant, happy go lucky, improvident, lazy, and immoral. Some blacks managed to become part of the AFL, but they were separated into different branches. Women were also not wanted in the AFL. Their exclusion was achieved through long apprenticeship requirements, high fees for admission, and special examinations for women. Several groups noted in Tony Cliffs Class Struggle chapter demonstrated strikes against poor working conditions, unfair treatment, and public spaces. Each group discussed in the chapter had a time in history with a beginning, middle, when each group gained momentum with several members, and an end. An ending that was caused by lose of interest by participants and internal issues within the group’s administration, and beliefs.
I woke up at 5 am so I could finish reading my last chapter before I had to get ready for work. My mind was filled with so much information. I knew women in the past had to fight for Women’s equal rights, but I didn’t know details and specific stories that had been covered in the course content. I was numb to the sacrifice women before me had experienced. At one time in my life before this course, I thought every woman before me born into this world had basic human rights. I remember a few years back, reading about the debate to make Plan B available over the counter. Another issue woman had to face, groups wanted to use the law to control woman’s private spaces such as sex reproduction. Of course, abortion has been a topic debated about for centuries and many politicians find themselves in hot water if they don’t have the same beliefs as their constituents.
I start my essay by shining light on the suicides that have taken place recently, all of them young women, because of what I read in the chapters of The State of Native American Genocide, Colonization, and Resistance, Sisters in Spirit, and The Politics of Liberal Feminism. Well I guess I could say all the articles discussed the stance woman took to fight for the right to earn, human fulfillment, and to end discrimination. Liberals believe in liberty, justice, freedom, freedom of worship, a limited right of civil disobedience, and several other freedoms. On a reservation, like the Pine Ridge Indian reservation with an unemployment rate of 82% I find it difficult for families to obtain or benefit from many of these civil liberties. The other day, a woman that worked for the Oglala Sioux Tribe Educational department came over to my house so I could sign some papers to allow them to do a screening on my child. She came and sat down at my table. We began some small talk and she told me she was from the Manderson community. On the reservation the land mass is so large it takes at least two hours to drive from the southern part of the reservation to the northern part of the reservation. There are eight communities or districts. We started to talk about the suicides that took place because 2 of the young woman who took their lives are from that community. I asked her if she knew the girls, and she said she knew the family. I asked her why she thought they decided to end their lives, she stated, “all the people do is drink every day.” Is life so isolated in these communities that these individuals don’t have the opportunities to enjoy life’s gifts woman have fought for in the past and present? If they wanted to apply for a job, where do they apply? When they do get a job, it may be at minimum wage or part time. There is a major shortage of housing on the reservation, it’s not uncommon for 2 to 3 families to live in a 2 or 3 bedroom government house. On the local radio station, an elder, grandmother “unci,” was talking about the social problems taking place in the community, she believes the family units aren’t as strong because women and men don’t have to opportunity to earn a decent living, live in their own homes, and have their own privacy, and responsibility. Like mentioned before, they live in the home with several other relatives. As stated in the chapter The State of Native American Genocide, Colonization, and Resistance
“White woman, most of them very middle class and for whatever they think their personal oppression is, a group they’re obviously the material beneficiaries of the colonial exploitation their society has imposed upon ours…they come and they look at the deformity of our societies produced by colonization, and then they criticize the deformity. They tell us we have to move “beyond” our culture in order to be “liberated” like them. It’s just amazing…They virtually demand that we give up our own traditions in favor of what they imagine their own to be, just like the missionaries and the government and all the rest of the colonizers. It was being forced away from our own traditions that deformed us-that made the men sexists and things like that-in the first place. What we need to be is more, not less Indian. But every time we try to explain this to our self-proclaimed “white sister,” we either get told we’re missing the point-we’re just dumb Indians, after all-or we’re accused of “self-hatred” as women. A few experiences with this sort of arrogance and you start to get the idea maybe all this feminism business is just another extension of the same old racist, colonialist mentality.
As I typed the above quote it made me really sad because every day I work out in each of these communities and provide dental treatment to these kids. When a child needs major dental work done, we refer them to go straight to surgery. I have to have the parents fill out the surgical packets, it very difficult at times to get a hold of the parents by phone because many of the numbers listed on the consent form are disconnected so I usually make a trip to the child’s home. The last home I went to was so pitiful. As Native women, are we still fighting for liberation? Today there was another suicide, a 21 year old mother.
I took this picture “RIP SANTANA.” Shortly after this 14 year old young woman took her life, I was scheduled to provide dental services to the children at this school.
At one of the schools I was at, I asked the parent if they could come to the school to fill out his child’s surgical paperwork and he game on a horse. On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation hitchhiking is a main mode of transportation.