The Native American Women Missing from Your History Textbooks

Written by Marian Phillips
Marian is a first year student in the Women’s History Graduate Program.

When one has the opportunity to receive an education on Native American women in the history of the United States, the names Sacagawea and Pocahontas are commonly the names heard more often than others. These two women are inherently important, as they play large roles in American history. Pocahontas saved the lives of captive Native Americans during the settling of Jamestown, Virginia, and without Sacagawea, Lewis and Clark would not have had the ability to successfully explore the Louisiana Territory. Common white-centric histories on these women center around their explorations at the hands of colonizers, and these heroines of history undoubtably deserve a more expansive and appropriate representation of their strength and larger contributions.

With a mid-term election filled with firsts for Native American women in politics, I find it appropriate to revisit historical firsts for Native American women that are missing from history textbooks. The purpose of this piece draws influence from the American public-school system’s provision of a narrow historical framework on Native American women, often times erasing important figures. Furthermore, I insist the necessity in including Sharice Davids, the first openly gay Native American woman elected to Kansas’s third congressional district, and Deb Halaand, one of the first Native American women elected to Congress, into future revisions of these histories.

Biawacheeitchish (Woman Chief in English) was born in the early 1800s to the Gros Ventres people and passed away in 1858. Taking on traditionally masculine roles, she assumed leadership positions and became renowned in her marksmanship, horse riding, and warrior status. She led wars, and quickly became recognized as one of the three highest ranked members of 160 lodges. Despite the history of Biawacheeitchish remaining somewhat of a mystery, her contributions and status mark her as an important figure of Native American women’s history.

Susan La Flesche Picotte (1865-1915) was the first Native American woman to earn a medical degree at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. Noticing the mistreatment of Native American communities by medical doctors, her pursuits were fueled by the necessity to provide her community with healthcare opportunities. Picotte traveled reservation to reservation treating people for various illnesses and spreading knowledge on hygiene and overall health. Quickly becoming a pillar in her community, she participated in political action towards the bettering of healthcare, and chaired the state health Committee in Nebraska.

Mary Golda Ross (1908-2008) was the first Native American woman that held the title of engineer. Commonly remembered for her contributions to aerospace design, she contributed largely to the ability for conceptualizing unmanned and manned space exploration. She worked on countless secretive projects such as the Skunk Works project; Ross was one of the forty engineers that had founded this specific project as well.

These are only a few of the countless Native American women that hold titles of being “the first” and have largely contributed to the bettering of their communities, as well as society as a whole (such as Ross, who without, space exploration may have taken a longer route to achieve). When I first discovered these women, I was shocked that I hadn’t heard of them sooner. One would assume that Biawacheeitisch would find a home in conversations with chiefs such as Geronimo or Tecumseh, or that a mention of Ross would appear in histories of space exploration, yet they do not. As these Native American women are absent from the common history of the United States, I contend that we must seek to revise it and give these women the credit they deserve and that their achievements warrant. 

Indigenous Punk Music: The Miracle Dolls

Written by Marian Phillips
Marian is a first year student in the Women’s History Graduate Program.

When someone says the word “punk” in reference to the musical genre one may immediately think of the popular people that shaped its introduction to mainstream knowledge such as Sid Vicious (Simon John Ritchie) of The Sex Pistols, or Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill. Punk music is notably fueled by a feeling of discontent towards social, political, and cultural norms, structures, or institutions that marginalize individuals that deviate from them. Known for its anarchic style, artists that have participated in creating works in the genre express disdain towards an unjust system and use their platform to make statements against injustices. An overtly apparent goal of punk rock is to provide community to others that feel marginalized and form a collective movement to incite larger social change. This is not without flaw, as most faces that dominate the culture of punk are primarily white, and/or men. As the end of another thanksgiving holiday closes, I would like to direct the reader to a few of the many Indigenous people of punk and their efforts in the genre that we should be thankful for year-round.  

The Miracle Dolls, consisting of twin sisters Dani and Dezy Doll from Southern California and members of the Hidatsa tribe, started the Native American Youth Music Program (NAYMP) to create larger change in their community. These sisters are no strangers to public forms of activism, as their song “Sweet Grass” was written in support of the Water is Life Movement and the preservation of the Earth. The sisters utilize their musical platform as a form of activism against injustices towards Indigenous people while promoting the health of their community through instructing music lessons through the NAYMP. Taking note of the hardships the youth in their community experience, the two center the classes as more than instructive, they are therapeutic through the capability of providing a freeform of expression and an outlet. Dani and Dezy Doll believe that music is the greatest outlet for their community and have set a long-standing goal to provide musical instruments to every reservation to further heal the historical trauma that Indigenous people face.

As American society and government continues in its attempts to diminish the culture of Indigenous people and their communities, we must continue to recognize the importance and the existence of active participants that aim to nurture growth such as Dani and Dezy Doll. While their music may not be a definitive representation of what one would assume punk should or should not sound like, their challenging of political, social, and cultural injustices Indigenous people face would adhere them to this genre. The two use their music to provide community, raise awareness, and advocate for the importance of a musical outlet. Ultimately, the Miracle Dolls’ efforts through and in their music should not go unnoticed or underrepresented.

In short, Dani and Dezy Doll are importance figures in the genre of punk, as their activism isn’t solely centered around speaking out, but rather, taking action to cause change and actually doing it. As mentioned, punk is statistically centered around white individuals in the mainstream and popular culture, which is an injustice in itself, and erases the efforts of people of color in punk. Rather than think of Sid Vicious or Kathleen Hanna next time you hear the words “punk” or “punk rock,” think of Dani and Dezy Doll, and their continuous activism and strength.

Additional bands fronted by Indigenous individuals:

  • A Tribe Called Red
  • No More Moments
  • Hamac Caziim
  • Black Fire
  • Samantha Crain
  • Digging Roots

Watch a The Miracle Dolls music videos here.

“Women’s Work” and Thanksgiving Memories

By Hannah McCandless
Hannah is a first year graduate student in the Women’s History Program.

A Thanksgiving Memory

Grandmother worked in the kitchen for hours leading up to the day of the big event. Mom would make food at home and bring it to grandmother’s house. Aunt May would always bring pie and rolls. I was the only girl of the grandkids, so I was always asked to set the table, even though someone always came behind me fixing my mistakes.

“Mary Jane, why don’t you put Hannah in a finishing school? She needs to know how to set the table!” Said Grandmother. A hidden eye roll and playful smile looked my way. Mom wouldn’t send me to a finishing school. She thought that was silly, especially in this day and age.

My brother and cousins played while I waited for instructions. Carry this, clean that, take this drink to that person… I knew it was weird – me being the only grandkid working, my aunts and mother being the only adults working, my grandmother being the only grandparent working. I didn’t understand why. I was just a kid. But I knew it was not fair that my granddaddy, my father, my uncles, my brother, and my male cousins would not help. And then after all of that hard work, my granddaddy was still the one who got to cut up the turkey. I was unsure how to address something I had no words for. How can you say that something is wrong when you don’t know how to name what is wrong i the first place?

Years later, the traditions have changed. But it is mostly because my grandmother can’t keep up with that much food in the way she used to. Now, my aunt takes on those responsibilities. Now, I find myself still helping. My brother helps more, but not for long before he is told, by my aunt, to go sit down and enjoy the company of everyone else.

“Women’s work” is what they call it in feminist writing today. “Women’s work” is the work that people assume women will do, like cooking, cleaning, and child rearing. During holidays and in everyday life, women end up taking on tasks that have been feminized to an extent that in many heterosexual relationships, the work in the home is almost completely on women. It is 2018 and still when I find myself at home, with my parents and other family members, the gender norms and gender rules still exist.

It spills over into the office, and women often end up being the people who organize office parties, put the notes together for  meeting, or decorate around the holidays. It puts differing values on differing types of work. Women teach and become nurses. Men do construction and become firefighters. “Feminine” jobs require a lot of training and furthering education, and yet more “masculine” jobs are paid more and are sometimes viewed better. All jobs are valid and needed, but it is very problematic that some are viewed with the face of a woman and thus less respect.

“Women’s work” is a part of today’s culture, and the culture of our past, that is so much a part of the way we value work and how it is gendered. It starts at a young age, and it seems like it becomes a part of the the social structures and identities of every young woman and man.

This Thanksgiving, consider practicing “stepping up and stepping back.” Consider asking male cousins or siblings to help in the kitchen, ask your father or uncle to cook something for the meal, and take a step back. Take a moment to talk with your mother or grandmother, and ask how your brother can help. Challenge everyone to be a part of whatever traditions you have. It’s a small structural step that can help change a culture so deeply ingrained in many Americans this holiday season.

Stop Pardoning Turkeys, Start Pardoning People

Written by Hannah McCandless
Hannah is a first year student in the Women’s History Program at Sarah Lawrence College.

Every year, the President of the United States will pardon a turkey on or around Thanksgiving. The dad jokes that President Obama used to tell to the lucky turkey are something I personally miss often. The ceremony is generally met with laughter and approval from the general public as we see our president take a step away from their desk and do something lighthearted.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s cute. As a non-meat eater, I hope that turkey goes on to live a long and happy life. But I think it’s time to change up the tradition a bit. Rather than having our president step away for some lighthearted turkey pardoning, I think it’s time we tell our presidents to step into their Executive Power sized shoes and start pardoning people instead of turkeys.

The Bureau of Justice reported that Native Americans are 38% more likely to be incarcerated than the national average. AIAN are also more likely to be killed by police than any other racial group. According to the Bureau of Justice, the population of American Indian and Alaska Natives (AIAN) in jail has doubled between 1999 to 2014, which comes out to an average incarceration rate increase of 4.3% per year. Comparatively, the rate of incarceration of individuals of all other races combined raised only 1.4% per year.

The National Council on Crime and Delinquency reports that Native American youth are 30% more likely to be referred to juvenile courts, while white youth are more likely to have their charges dropped completely. Additionally, 71% of AIAN incarcerated are under the age of 39, while only 53.9% of all combined races incarcerated are under the age of 40.

When considering gender, a report compiled by the Lakota People’s Law Project found that AIAN men are four times more likely to be incarcerated than white men, and AIAN women are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white women. Additionally, of the violent crimes committed against Native American women, 88% of them are done by non-Native Americans.

Why are AIAN people incarcerated at such a high rate? And why is it increasing so much from year to year? And why are so many of them so young? The number of ways that the United States Government has suppressed and oppressed AIAN people throughout history are numerous, and even if I tried to list the ways, it would in no way be a comprehensive list. But over incarceration of AIAN are at the top of the list. So this Thankgiving, let’s cut the cute turkey pardoning crap and demand some real change from our government.

#PardonPeopleNotTurkeys

The Farm Bill and its Affects on Native Communities

Written by Sarah Goldman
Sarah Goldman was an Emerson Hunger Fellow from 2017-2018 and researched the Farm Bill and its affects on Native Communities. Her research was used to compile a report that was used to help farmers in Native Communities and to support women and families in their nutritional needs.

This article was adapted from her report: https://www.hungercenter.org/publications/farm-bill-education-and-policy-toolkit-for-tribal-governments-citizens-and-food-producers/

The “Farm Bill” is one of the most important piece of legislation that impacts federal food and nutrition assistance, farming, ranching and rural infrastructure policies in the United States. The most recent Farm Bill was passed in 2014, and Congress is projected to reauthorize the next Farm Bill in 2018. Analysis from the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the 2014 Farm Bill will have $489 billion in spending over five-years [1]. The Farm Bill is incredibly important, and funds many programs that support Americans from nutrition assistance to infrastructure projects such as fire stations and hospitals. Nearly 25 percent of tribal citizens participate in federal feeding programs (certain Native American communities see more than 50 percent of their citizens participating in federal feeding programs) [2], and Native Americans utilize more than 50 million acres of land in food and production agriculture [3]. Native American involvement in the Farm Bill process is essential to build vibrant food systems, and support healthy communities, and is important not only due to Native Americans’ utilization of many Farm Bill programs, but also the fact that their involvement could expand inclusion and remedy funding disparities in the Bill. However, despite the importance of farm bill programs, Native American farmers and communities have often been excluded from these programs.

The Keepseagle v. Vilsack class action lawsuit which was settled in December of 2011 claimed the USDA discriminated against Native Americans by denying them equal access to credit in the USDA Farm Loan Program. The plaintiffs in this case proved that the USDA did not allow Native American farmers and ranchers the same access to farm loans and loan services as were allowed to other (white) farmers. In addition, the USDA did not provide Native Farmers with the same technical assistance or outreach for loan applications. The settlement of this lawsuit was a huge win for Native farmers and ranchers, and a $680 million compensation fund was created with an additional $80 million in debt relief for Native farmers and ranchers. However, there is still lots of work to do in creating parity for USDA programs for Native Producers.

Today, Native American producers receive less average government monetary support than what the average producer in the U.S. receives. In addition, Native American reservations are some of the most rural communities in the United States, and thus require increased investment to access widely utilized technology such as broadband. Native American Tribes across the United States are becoming increasingly involved in the Farm Bill, and in 2017 the Native Farm Bill Coalition was formed to advocate for Native American interests in the 2018 Farm Bill. As stated in the Indigenous Food and Agriculture’s Regaining Our Future report: “the Farm Bill provides resources and programs that will allow [Native People] to reach our goals more quickly than in the past” [4].

Resources

  1. Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative (IDAI), Regaining Our Future Report, June 2017, pg. 13, availble at: http://seesofnativehealth.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Farm-Bill-Report_WED.pdf
  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, Addressing Child Hunger and Obesity in Indian Country: Report to Congress Summary, Jan. 2012, available at: http://fns-prod.aureedge.net/sites/default/files/IndianCountrySum.pdf
  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agriculture Statistics Service, 2012 Census of Agriculture Highlights: American Indian Farmers, Sept. 2014, available at: http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Online_Resources/Highlights/American_Indian_Farmers/Highlights_American_Indian_Farmers.pdf
  4. IFAI, Regaining Our Future Report, June 2017, pg. 14