Wisdom worth listening to: Daughters of Mother Earth
Daughters of Mother Earth: The Wisdom of Native American Women, edited by Barbara Alice Mann, offers us a view of ecofeminism rooted in indigenous women’s teachings (one caveat: when I use “we,” I am recognizing that I, like the Whites being written about, am speaking from a position of social privilege which is and should be questioned). The book’s four articles are written by Native American women, giving them a voice to correct the predominantly male & Eurocentric view of Native Americans. While I’ve been fortunate enough to have been exposed to much of this information already, there were a few surprises and extremely thought-provoking concepts which were new to me, some of which follow.
Paula Gunn Allen points out in the first chapter the breathtaking, arrogant ubiquity of White privilege, wherein White people believe we can rightfully express anger concerning museum presentations created by and about Native Americans — because Whites aren’t present enough! I particularly liked the author’s characteristic use of humor regarding the situation: “That Natives regard the European intrusion as but a fraction of our ancient experience, which we extend back to creation, got lost in the ruckus” (16-17). It would appear it is White folks, not Native Americans, who most want the Native Americans to rage against the machine! ;) Also wonderful: the author’s statement placing responsibility squarely where it belongs: “Although it is true that Native peoples have been victimized over the centuries, we are not victims, and because we did not cause the situation we find ourselves caught in, we cannot cure it, either” (20).
In the chapter by Lee Maracle, I am fascinated by the beauty of the Native American language of diplomacy. Also appalled, at reading of women again being asked to “back-burner” women’s issues, when they object to the election of chiefs who are abusive to women or children, and/or engage in domestic violence. As the author perceptively notes, chieftainship should occur after:
discussion about the nature of chieftainship, the responsibilities embraced by it, the direction of the nations, the strategy for achieving the vision of the nation, or the breadth and extent of authority inherent in the chieftainship… No discussion existed on whether the individuals in the running had the necessary skills, integrity, or capability to effect nationhood in the long run. (47)
Personally I believe the Native American women and the feminist Greens are right: enough with patriarchy’s false and damaging hierarchies! We should all rise together — or we should all continue working together to rise!
I was intrigued by Kay Givens McGowan’s explication of the institution of a “hunting wife” in the Eastern US woodlands, which was a concept I’d never heard of before. This was apparently a woman who chose to stay with a man for a season’s hunting, and then departed when she wished (56). Also powerful: “It is axiomatic that women hold the greatest power in societies where they are the economic producers exercising some control over the distribution of economic resources” (57).
I was aghast to read that “Native American females are two and a half times more likely to be victims of a violent crime than any other group of females in the United States” (66). I do not yet know how to right the many wrongs Native American women suffer, but I intend to listen to them to hear what they want and believe should be done.
Loved the brilliant manner in which Barbara Alice Mann explains the Native American grandmothers overcame difference: through adoption rather than violent exclusion (88). Also fascinating: apparently there was a Great Black Swamp filling most of Northwestern Ohio! Unfortunately the encroaching white “settlers … drain[ed] that natural wonder of the world, a deciduous wetland in northern latitudes” (78).
I was also never taught that several Southeastern Native American groups, “especially the Cherokees, were, at contact, white skinned people. Some were even blue-eyed, although more were grey-eyed” (79). Fascinating! Also wonderful: in the Iroquois tongue, you cannot refer to humans in terms of color, and there’s no way to use a possessive pronoun to describe another human (85).
Excellent book and a quick (if also involving) read. I love learning new things like this! They strengthen my belief that this information should be taught routinely in schools — both so that our view of history is enriched from its usual mono-perspective poverty, and so we have more intellectual options to draw from in times of need.