Indigenous Women 1992

Against the Current, No. 37, March/April 1992

Ingrid Washinawatok

AS THE NEW YEAR begins we, as Indigenous women, hope 1992 begins a new era in history. The Quincentenary has occupied more of our thoughts the past few years. Preparation for 1992 has involved strategy for the proposed celebrations, gearing public relations toward positive views of our people; slogans such as Five Hundred Years of Resistance have been coined, conferences planned, organized and realized; projects such as rewriting the falsehoods into truth have begun and are near completion.

Along with the Quincentenary work, daily life as we know it continues, little has changed and some victories have occurred.

We continue to organize against toxic waste sites on our land/reservations, and we continue to speak out for alternative energy and appropriate technoIogy. We are delivering babies, we are having babies, writing songs, walking our children to school or the bus stop and picking them up at 300. We talk to them about the twists of the truth about our people, and our Black and Asian cousins.

We protest racist mentalities and the use of our people as team mascots. We are directing 5lays, managing radio stations, presenting workshops, doing research, finishing our doctorate, beginning college. We are teaching classes, cooking for 200, filling in for Paula Zahn, compiling information for the Commission on Human Rights, and we are frying to maintain a physically and mentally healthy lifestyle.

We are sewing star quilts and beading moccasins, we are embroidering Raphael on our sons’ jackets, we are fancy dancing. We are repairing grass dance yokes and jingle dress jingles, we are passing on our fancy dance outfit and beginning our traditional one. We are planning strategy for this year’s spearfishing season; we are compiling our list of Pow-Wows to attend and where to have our food stands; we are telling our children the stories; we are caring for the elders.

We are learning the medicines, we are healing we are preparing briefs, we are translating for the elders at the meetings, we are identifiers of the issues, we are organizing press conferences, we are doing AIDS teach-ins, we are struggling to keep ourselves and our families in balance.

1992 is, in many ways, just like any other year. The rainforests are still being clear cut Even with the “collapse of Communism” and the “opening of the Iron Curtain,” the nuclear weapons within the old Soviet Union are still a world threat As we see it, nuclear weapons in anyone’s hands are a threat to the world.

The ladies at Big Mountain are still weaving and still threatened by relocation. We continue to work toward the repatriation of our ancestors’ bones and liberate sacred objects from museums; we persevere to educate the world around us about what technology is doing to the earth.

Everyday life keeps us even more aware of the issues, struggles and work that we have to be doing. Everyday life stares us in the face on television, in the stories we read our children, in the ads we see in the magazines where the face staring back at us does not look like ours.

The images we do see are the Cleveland Indians’ goony, goofy, grinning face, the Atlanta Braves’ Tomahawk Chop and the Washington Redskins. “We are paying homage to the Indian,” we are told. As in the Macy’s Day parade: “We have Native Americans represented in the parade,” they said. “There is a canoe on one of the floats.”

We have been telling the people that being used as mascots is offensive and racist—and people are still trying to argue with us. Even when the Chicano people stood up to Frito Lay and asked them to remove the Frito Bandito, BANG! He was gone. There might have been an argument but he is nowhere to be found now.

Indigenous women are busy. As we struggle to keep our lives in balance we uncover yet another layer of what these past 500 years have done to us. And although we were not supposed to survive the genocide and the ethnocide and the ecocide… We did. And we did so as Indigenous women, whether we are Choctaw, Mohawk, Pueblo, Pima, Menominee, Ojibway, Lakota or Shinnecock.

We survived. Uncovering the layers is painful, but without pain there is no growth and with our pain we see we are not alone. Indigenous women of the world are going through the same process. We will continue to labor in the fields, cook for 200, take care of the children and the elders, we will continue to realize the goal of survival, and endure.

March-April 1992, ATC 37