Resilience is Sifting a Cultural Identity
American Indian Outreach
• “Personal mediation – sifting-involves various
layers of experience, some of which seem
contradictory. While sifting can separate out
uniform grains, it can also blend to gether
disparate elements into a cohesive whole that
has a richer flavor and texture than any of its
original ingredients. [Indian women] sifted
their experiences in order to preserve and
refine essential ingredients;
• “then they sifted these ingredients together to
create their identities and values. By the same
token, we can use [the life experiences of
Indian women] to understand the uniqueness
of [their] experiences and [their] culture, and
we can blend these lives together to create a
richer view of Native America.”
• Theda Perdue. Sifters: Native American Women’s Lives. Oxford University Press.
Essential Understanding: Federal Policy
There were many federal policies put into place throughout American history that have
impacted Indian people and shape who they are today. Much of Indian history can be
related through several major federal policy periods.
Colonization Period - Misconceptions of women’s roles
Treaty Period - The role of women in war
Allotment Period - Paternalism v.s. Matrilinealism
Boarding School Period – Disconnect from traditions
Tribal Reorganization - Women use Education, Activism
Termination - Women Activist, Politicians, Leaders, urbanized
Self-determination – Women Educators, Activist, Politicians, Leaders,
Essential Understandings: Indian women
• There is great diversity among individual American
Indians as identity is developed, defined and redefined
by many entities, organizations and people. There is a
continuum of Indian identity ranging from assimilated
to traditional and is unique to each individual.
– Many Natives live in an urban setting.
• There is no generic American Indian.
– Squaw is NEVER an acceptable term.
The Old Woman who
Tends the Fire of Life
• Oral traditions about creation and Creator.
• She weaves us together in the fabric of life.
• In tribal clan systems they are the ultimate authority in
• Her benevolence spiritually crosses the universe to
extend care and favor for her children.
• The community is intact if the sacred center
(grandmother) is secure. Such as White Buffalo Woman
of the Lakota, Grandmother Bundles of the Kiowa, and
the Ceremonial Fire of the Cherokee.
• Women in Creation Stories
– Women are central figures, creators,
cooperative creators, namers of
creation, also destroyers
• Women’s psycho-spiritual
– Personal power, dreams, visions,
• Women at leaders and healers
– Female lineage may hold the rights
• Women as nurturers and teachers
– Women’s right to distribute the
bounty of Mother Earth.
• Women as sacred
– The centrality of powerful women to
social well-being is unquestioned.
– In most gynocratic nations
women were free of
constraints typically found in
• Such as ownership of property,
choice of profession.
• Women experienced free and
easy sexuality, and a wide
latitude in personal style (Allen,
– Gynocracy doesn’t imply that
women held equal power,
opportunities, or equal
autonomy over their lives.
– A characteristic of the ideal
model of adult men includes
the nurturing of children.
and political system is
necessary to maintain
the physiological and
spiritual health of the
Understanding the Purpose of
• Achieving the highest human principals is the goal
expected of all people.
– Human ideals were not applied by gender.
– They might be expressed through practices based in
• Social order is focused on social responsibility rather
than on privilege and on the realities of the human
constitution rather than on denial-based social fictions
to which human beings are compelled to conform by
powerful individuals within the society. (Allen. p. 3)
Features of Gynocratic Nations
• The even distribution of goods among all
members of the community – this philosophy
based creation stories that taught cooperation
and sharing as essential.
• Punitive forms of social control don’t exist.
• Meaningful encounters with supernatural
• The welfare of the young is paramount.
• The complementary nature of all life forms is
• In the home: Women have power – they
distribute food and provide clothing and shelter,
and influence their men with ideas.
• The interior work of women balances the
exterior work of men – it varies from tribe to
tribe and was not always equitable. It continues
to this day.
• Women were free to chose a life path and to be
as successful as they could be in that choice.
They could aspire to opposite gender capacities
if they were so inclined.
• Separate from biological
motherhood by the
responsibilities of a female
person for her nation as a
political, spiritual, and
• Marked by the beginning of
her moon cycle as a time of
exceptional power and a
reason to seclude herself so
as not to counteract another
person’s personal power or
ceremonial spiritual power.
The Female Creatrix
• The power of intelligence, complexity, and the
necessary precondition for material creation:
– Laguna Pueblo: Thought Woman is the supreme
being, the only creator of thought – she gave names
to all things, created language. This perception of
female power is not limited by maternity. She is
both mother and father to humanity. She sings her
two sisters into life.
– Hopi: Hard Beings Woman – doesn’t give birth to
humans, but breathes life into male and female
effigies. Creation without copulation.
• Value peacefulness, harmony, cooperation,
health, and general prosperity.
• Consider the inherent power of making,
creating and transforming as sacred,
treasured, and essential to personal and
A Nation is not
conquered until the
hearts of its women are
on the ground. Then,
no matter how brave its
warriors nor how
strong their weapons, it
Nurturing as Leadership
Women lead by caring for others,
bringing them up and bringing
them along through good times
Women lead by helping and
showing others how to live
healthy, happy, and through all
Women lead through nurturing
activities essential to life,
ceremony, celebration, and war.
• Women endured the
hardships of warfare,
starvation, and disease to
birth the next generation.
• Women instill values and
pride in their children,
teach by example, and
Realms of Influence
Women traditionally were economically independent and
owned the home and food that was brought into it.
Women gathered approx 50% to 80% of the families diet in
foods such as plants, berries, roots, and small game animals.
Unlike white women, Indian women adapted to a wage
economy as early as the 19th century – survival depended on it.
As Indian men adapted to the Euro-American culture
expectations of their gender contributed to increased domestic
upheavals and all too often was spurred on by the effects of
Realms of Influence
• Ceremonial: Women’s roles were and are central to
many significant tribal world views and religious
– What examples can you provide from the oral histories,
academic coursework, or personal experiences?
• Healing: Women might receive spiritual powers
through fasting/vision/prayer/dreams, but most often
assisted their husbands. During the early reservation
era, Indian religion and Indian medicine men were
outlawed by the federal government. During this time
women played a central role in the continuation of
healing practices, especially in the collection herbs.
Boarding Schools 1878 to 1928
Gertrude Simmons Bonnin
• Sioux woman from the 1920’s who was a classically
trained violinist, writer and political activist
• First woman to serve on the Society of American
Indians board of editors
• She formed the National Council of American Indians
and became its president
• She used the Indian Welfare Committee as a
platform to investigate the corruption of BIA.
• First American Indian
female doctor and the
first American Indian to
hold the position of
reservation physician. She
graduated at the top of
her class from medical
school at the Women’s
Medical College of
Susan (center) at Graduation
Hampton Institute in Virginia.
A member of the Omaha Tribe.
She married Mr. Picotte in 1894 and set up her practice in Bancroft,
Nebraska where she became distinguished by her fight against small pox.
Susie Billie: Seminole
• healers may give you a tea made from a shrub such as
prarie willow (Salix humilis, var. tristis. This tea also
was said to help bring down a fever, too. The magic
didn’t lay entirely in the plant, but in the loving way it
was prepared by the healer for you.
• Another plant used for Seminole Indian headache
treatment was white sage (also called western
mugwort, cudweed or Artemisia ludoviciana). Instead
of making a tea out of it, you used it like an incense or
like aromatherapy. You crushed the leaves and
breathed in the scent.
She was the matriarch of the large Panther clan, that
traditionally provided most of the Seminole medicine
men. She practices healing medicine that combines
extensive knowledge of herbs, songs, and rituals that give
the medicines their power. She was featured in a
documentary film, Four Corners of Earth, that focused on
the woman’s role in ensuring cultural continuity in Indian
life. In 1985 she was designated an official Florida Folk
Artist by the Florida Department of State.
Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail
(1903-1981) 1962 recipient of the
President’s Award for Outstanding Nursing
Care. 2002 Inducted into the American
Nurses Association Hall of Fame.
Mrs. Yellowtail helped to bring modern health
care to her people, the Crow tribe. She also
fought to end abuses in the Indian Health Care
system, such as the sterilization of Indian
women without their consent.
Mrs. Yellowtail was a nurse who traveled Indian
Country to assess the health, social and
educational problems experienced by Indian
people. She was a midwife who practiced in
the Little Horn Valley for 30 years.
Lois Fister Steele
• Born in 1939, enrolled
member of the Fort Peck
• Best known for her work as
the Director of INMED
(Indians into Medicine
Program) at the University
of North Dakota.
• She has received many
awards for her work as a
medal from the US PHS for
development of AIDS
prevention and methadone
demonstration programs for
the Pascua Yaqui Tribe
• 1986-1991: Clinical Director
for the Pascua Yaqui tribe of
• Currently serves as the
Clinical Specialty Consultant
in colposcopy and women’s
health, tobacco abuse
prevention, clinical research
and medical information for
the Tucson Area Indian
• The experiences and
knowledge of elders is
valuable to cultural
– Repositories of cultural
knowledge, oral histories,
• Elder women are honored
by their families and
– Seated in places of honor.
– Asked to lead prayers &
Grandmas are like Center Poles
• Paula Gunn Allen: “Through all the centuries of war
and death and cultural and psychic destruction have
endured the women who raise the children and tend
the fires, who pass along the tales and the traditions,
who weep and bury the dead, who are the dead, and
who ever forget. There are always the women, who
make pots and weave baskets, who fashion clothes and
cheer their children on at powwow, who make fry
bread and piki bread, and corn soup and chili stew,
who dance and sing and remember and hold within
their hearts the dream of their ancient peoples – that
one day the woman who thinks will speak to us again,
and everywhere there will be peace.”
The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions. 1992
Protocols: Elder Women
• Recognize the role of social order in leadership
protocols – Men are in front, but women are in
• Modesty is a virtue that aging does not erase.
• Elder women have greater access to ceremony
and healing because of their age and because
they are past their reproductive stage of life.
• Historically, elder women often lived with their
daughters to care for their grandchildren and
help their daughters with homemaking
Grandmothers Train Women
• Birthing – act as midwives
• Infant care – built in babysitters.
• Child care – built in pre-school
• First Moon – training for womanhood.
• Guild members – provide apprenticeships for
• Healers – provide training in identification,
harvest, and medicine making.
• Final disposition of the dead – ritual and custom
Fostering the best in others
• Care of children
• Care of elders
• Care of the sick
• Care of men
• Care of ceremonies
• Care of spiritual enlightenment
• Care of education
• Care of sacred items and sacred places
Coming of Age
• Importance of
customs of recognition.
– Meals hosted, gifts given,
conducted, a young
woman is redressed,
blessings are bestowed.
• Christianity and Euro-
pressure Indian families
to treat femaleness in
more modest terms.
Status, Prestige, & Honor
• Elk tooth dress symbol of
• Oral traditions feature – the
beautiful woman as a highly
• Beauty includes
devotion to family,
attention to ceremony and
recognition/pride of male
• Quill Guilds
• Robe Tanning Guilds
• Tipi Making Guilds
Guilds – Professionalism of
Internal women’s organizations that guided apprenticeship through mastery of
specialized skills in manufacturing items of value. Mentors utilized praise to recognize
the developing skills of their protégé’s . The protégé’s paid for their initiation into the
guilds by offering gifts and a meal to established masters and their associates in the
guild. Standards of excellence were maintained, design conventions were adhered to,
yet creativity was allowed as the availability of materials changed over time. After the
reservation era, women’s guilds influenced by Field Matrons employed by Indian Agents
evolved into social organizations such as mothers of soldiers, and home industries like
sewing and canning.
Matriarchs in Training
• Learn the responsibilities of:
– Managing a family during crisis
• Illness of family members
– Managing a family during a celebration
• Determining the list of “give away” recipients
• Selecting a Praise Song singer or announcer
• Cooking, seating, serving, praying
– Managing a family during a ceremony
• Knowing the process and who is the best representative for certain
• The training comes from assisting your elders, watching,
remembering, and paying attention to detail. Being
present during the process is essential to the proper
training of women.
Pre-contact to pre-reservation Era
Pine Leaf, Gros
Crow at age 10
of the Crow
1790 - 1830
Brave Heart Woman, The Girl Who Saved Her Brother,
Cheyenne. At the Battle of the Rosebud in 1876.
• Fourteen Native American women
served as members of the Army
Nurse Corps during World War I, two
of them overseas.
– Mrs. Cora E. Sinnard, a member of the
Oneida Tribe and a graduate of the
Episcopalian School of Nursing in
Philadelphia, served eighteen months in
France with a hospital unit provided by the
– Charlotte Edith (Anderson) Monture of the
Iroquois Nation also served as an Army nurse
in France. Charlotte was born in 1890 in
Ohsweken, Ontario, Canada. In 1917, she left
her job as an elementary school nurse to join
the Army Nurse Corps. She later referred to
her service in France at a military hospital as
"the adventure of a lifetime." Charlotte
passed away in 1996, at the age of 106.
• Nearly 800 Native American
women served in the military
during World War II.
– Elva (Tapedo) Wale, a Kiowa,
left her Oklahoma reservation
to join the Women's Army
Corps. Private Tapedo became
an "Air WAC," and worked on
Army Air Bases across the
– Corporal Bernice (Firstshoot)
Bailey of Lodge Pole, Montana,
joined the Women's Army
Corps in 1945 and served until
1948. After the war, she was
sent to Wiesbaden, Germany,
as part of the Army of
American Indians have served with
distinction in United States military actions
for over 200 years. During World War II,
more than 44,000 American Indians, out of
a total Native American population of less
than 350,000, saw military service.
Indian Women on the Homefront
• Women took over traditional men' s duties on the reservation,
manning fire lookout stations, and becoming mechanics,
lumberjacks, farmers, and delivery personnel. Indian women,
although reluctant to leave the reservation, worked as welders in
aircraft plants. Many Indian women gave their time as volunteers
for American Womens' Volunteer Service, Red Cross, and Civil
Defense. They also tended livestock, grew victory gardens, canned
food, and sewed uniforms. A wealthy Kiowa woman in Oklahoma
sent a $1,000 check to the Navy Relief signed with her thumbprint.
Alaskan women trapped animals to earn war bond money. By 1943,
the YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association) estimated that
12,000 young Indian women had left the reservation to work in
defense industries. By 1945, an estimated 150,000 Native
Americans had directly participated in industrial, agricultural, and
military aspects of the American war effort.
WWII First Female American Indian to
enlist in the Marine Corps
• Private Minnie Spotted-Wolf
of Heart Butte, Montana,
enlisted in the Marine Corps
Women's Reserve in July 1943.
She was the first female
American Indian to enroll in
the Corps. Minnie had worked
on her father's ranch doing
such chores as cutting fence
posts, driving a two-ton truck,
and breaking horses. Her
comment on Marine boot
camp "Hard but not too hard."
• Sarah Mae Peshlakai, a member of
the Navajo Tribe from Crystal, New
Mexico, enlisted in the Women's
Army Corps in 1951, and served until
1957. Peshlakai trained as a medical
specialist and was assigned to
Yokohama Army Hospital in Japan,
where she helped care for casualties
from the Korean battlefields.
• Pearl Ross, a member of the Arikara
Tribe from the Fort Berthold
Reservation, joined the Air Force in
1953, and trained as a medical
specialist. Her first assignment was to
the Air Force hospital in Cheyenne,
Wyoming. Pearl was then assigned to
Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska,
where she worked in the 865th
Medical Group at SAC HQ (Strategic
Air Command Headquarters). During
the Vietnam era, she saw many men
who had been wounded in the
combat theater. Pearl volunteered for
overseas duty, but was turned down
because the Air Force was hesitant to
send women to Vietnam.
• American Indian nurses served in
MASH units in the Korean and
• Mary Tsinnajinnie Cohoe , Navajo,
served in Vietnam as an American
Red Cross "Donut Dolly." "We were
the moral boosters," Cohoe said. "I
supported the American G.I."
• Cohoe said she remembers telling
her father she was leaving for
Vietnam. "I told him, 'I'm going to
Vietnam to be with brother to take
care of him,' " Cohoe said.
• As a Donut Dolly, she said, she had
the highest security clearance that
enabled her to enter the battlefields
and camps where soldiers spent their
• "I thought there were thousands of
us (Donut Dollies) serving, but I
found out there were only 700 of us
in all different branches," Cohoe said.
Indian women from many of the Montana
tribes became warriors during the dog era
and have continued the tradition to modern
Brave Heart Woman - Cheyenne
Minnie Spotted Wolf – Blackfeet
Operation Iraqi Freedom
• A Hopi Indian, Lori Piestewa was
given special honors by tribal
representatives from across the
country because she was the first
service woman killed in action in
Operation Iraqi Freedom and the
first known Native American
service woman known to have
been killed in combat.
The 23-year-old soldier from Tuba
City, Ariz., died from injuries
when her unit, the 507th
Maintenance Company, was
ambushed on March 23 near
Nasiriyah, Iraq, by enemy forces
in Iraq. She was promoted
Shifting through Grace
• Goals in carefully managed
poise that is calm, controlled,
quiet, strong, determined,
devoted, gentle, yet firm and
unwavering, kind with a soft
touch and a light step.
Modest and keenly attentive
to aesthetic details and a
regal like behavior becoming
of a woman deserving of
honor and respect.
Shifting through Humor
• Humor can empower
resiliency during times of
stress and grief.
• A quick wit is socially &
• Humor is a teaching tool.
– Teasing clans
– Coyote stories in oral
• Many elder women have
no shame and use humor
to teach lessons that will
make young women blush.
Sifting through Conflicting Perceptions
• Indigenous selection of
new materials and ideas
they choose to
integrate in whole or
part into their culture to
meet their needs and
wants while preserving
their unique identity.
• Euro-Anglo view and of
Indian identity based on
their needs and wants
reflected in policy, law,
imagery, and myth to
name a few.
• The Queen
expected of the
to colonial action.
• The Queen acts as
ego that does not
Indian men, she
of the colonial
American Queen 1575 to 1765
• Portrayed as a Mother-Goddess –
– Nurturing, but dangerous
• Bare-breasted and full bodied.
– Raw sexuality
– Lush and potent beauty
• Exotic & beautiful
• Latin & Greek influences
– Personally strong
– Armed with weapons
– A warrior woman
In heavy Caribbean jewelry and feathers
she appears aggressive and militant.
She represents the opulence and peril of
the New World.
Social Commentary on Colonialism
• Europe’s relationship with
Africa and America:
– The darker-skinned women are
keeping Europe stable.
– Yet, the weaker woman holds
them by a rope suggesting her
grip on them – control.
– The metal bands around the arms
of the darker women represents
– The Europe figure appears fragile,
pale, and modest. Her private
parts are covered and her eyes
William Blake, Europe Supported by
Africa and America 1792
A Short Lived Queen
• As the conquest and taming of the wild land
continue, images of the Queen fade to be
replaced in Western literature and art by the
• Colonial America breaks its ties with the
Queen of England and begins a new journey
of independence from a ruling class. Imagery
in art and literature follow.
A National Myth for a New Nation
• Pocahontas becomes the icon for early
• She is the image of Indian-White relations
• She becomes the leading character in poems,
plays, novels, etc…
– Reality and accuracy of detail are forsaken in favor
of the emergence of the American identity.
Boarding School Competitions
– Best Costume competitions
• Increasing detail and complexity in creative design
• Opportunity to share and borrow creative ideas
– Dances at celebrations
• Public attraction to Indian dance and dress
– Early female activists, like Sara Winnemucca, use
the popularity of their Princess – buckskin image
to attract crowds to their lectures on the plight of
Indian people on the reservations.
In 1880, she pleaded the Indian’s
cause before President Rutherford
B. Hayes, but the promises made
were later broken by the federal
government and her people lost
their trust in her. However, she
persisted and by the end of her
life gave more that 400 speeches
to gain public support for the
• Lucy Ann Yellowmule, 1st Crow Indian
Rodeo Queen in 1952.
– From Wyola, MT
– She exemplified a sign of the times =
integration of Indian presence and
culture into the mainstream.
• Lucy Yellowmule, a Crow Indian girl,
(from Wyola, MT) was elected to be
Queen of the 1952 Sheridan Wyo Rodeo.
The Sheridan community was the first
one in the United States and in rodeo
history to have elected by popular vote,
an Indian girl to reign over its annual
• At this time, there were signs in shops
and cafe windows in Sheridan, "No
Indians or Dogs Allowed," and "No
Indians Served here.“
• By publicizing Lucy on radio, in
newspapers, personal appearances at
rodeos, before civic groups, at different
kinds of meetings and in private homes,
describing the historic background of
Lucy and her four Indian attendants,
public opinion was aroused to the point
where discriminatory signs disappeared
The Native View of the Princess
Calgary Stampede Princesses
Kristen Tubby, 2007-08 Choctaw Princess
The term Princess has two
Indian Use of the term:
– Market recruiter
– Cultural ideal
– Role model
– Event figure head
Non-Indian Use of the term:
– Sexual object
– She is a servant for white men
– She is good because she
acculturates in some fashion
– She is pretty with Caucasian
How Montana Benefits from Empowered
• We are no longer strangers in our own neighborhoods
– We have challenged the misconceptions about the roles of Native
women within and outside our tribal communities.
• Socio-economic conditions in MT benefit from empowered women seeking
to improve their communities
• Government to Government relationships
– Reflect the perspectives of both genders and increase Native
representation at the bargaining table.
• Cultural diversity is an asset to our uniqueness in the Nation. Montana is a
leader in Indian education, Indian legislators, and Tribal Colleges.
• The days of spaghetti westerns are done
– The Native women of today are assertive, confident, culturally
grounded, biculturally competent, and dedicated to excellence in their
fields of expertise.