Welcome to the 17th edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the "Invisible Indians" project put together by navajo and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Last week's edition is here. In this edition you will find a recap of our American Indian Caucus at Netroots Nation, a look at the year 1873 in American Indian history and some linkable bulleted briefs. Click on link below to read our earlier editions.
All Previous Editions
By Meteor Blades
The highlight of our caucus was the presentation of our guest, 72-year-old story-teller Paulla Dove-Jennings, a Niantic-Naragansett Indian whose ancestors have lived in what is now Rhode Island for several thousand years. The 2400-member tribe, which was once reduced to a three-acre plot of land where the Episcopal Indian Church had stood since 1744, regained federal recognition in 1983 and now holds 1800 acres of additional land. You can read FNN&V's condensed but more detailed history here.
In addition to our story-teller's wonderful weaving of tribal history, family life, politics and Niantic-Naragansett tales, navajo and I also briefly discussed the progress of FNN&V and quickly summarized what would have been a full hour's discussion of Indian voting rights and voter suppression if our proposal for such a panel had not been rejected by the Netroots Nation screening committee. Because I know most readers would prefer to watch Jennings' presentation in the video below than read my abbreviated version of what that panel would have covered, I'm saving that for next week's FNN&V.
For those who are video impaired, there is a transcript of Jennings' talk at the end of this edition of FNN&V. Thanks to oke and rfall for videotaping the session and transcribing it.
Here's an introduction to Jennings in her own words followed by the video:
Members of the Turtle clan are the keepers of tribal History, family history, and
traditional legends. I am a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.
Working as curator of museum Native collections, Tribal Council member, oral
historian, story-teller, and published author have all enhanced my confidence
and knowledge of true story-telling. A story-teller never uses another tribe's story without permission.
I grew up with my parents, grandparents, and other family elders telling tribal history, family history, and legends in the 1940s, 1950s, and '60s. I have passed some of my stories on to nieces and nephews as well as my own grandchildren.
Several years ago I invited my mother, Eleanor Spears Dove, to Brown University
to a story-telling event. Seven well-known Rhode Island storytellers of various
ethnic groups presented their stories. All of the presenters used props such as
instruments, music, scarves, sticks, etc. They were wonderful. I told the story of
how the bear lost his tail. My props were the tone of my voice, the shift of my
body, movements of my hands, eye contact, and the lift of my head, leaning
toward the audience and pulling back. I try to build the scene, the weather, the
wind, the sky, the earth, the water, the forest, and the animals.
When the event was over, my mother surprised me by saying she actually saw the bear!
I have told stories from Maine to Alaska, to the young and the old, in cultural
institutions, colleges, universities, schools, powwows, organizations, and private
and social events. I thank the Creator for this gift.
By Meteor Blades
The Nez Perce were the largest tribe on the Columbia River Plateau when Lewis and Clark encountered them in 1805. The two Americans weren't the first white people the Nez Perce had seen. They got their name — "pierced nose," even though they didn't pierce their noses—from French fur traders. A half-century later, vastly reduced in numbers by war with white men and European diseases, they stood in the way of America's inexorable Manifest Destiny.
In 1855, some Nez Perce bands agreed to a treaty with most of their traditional hunting grounds, including the Wallowa, set aside for them "permanently" in exchange for giving up some land and right of way. All the bands agreed, including the Wallowa band led by Tuekakas, known to the whites as Joseph after his Christian baptism in 1839, and later, Old Joseph. However, in 1861, gold was discovered on Nez Perce land in Idaho and 10,000 white settlers poured in. Conflict naturally arose. The government called for another treaty. This reduced the original land promised in 1855 by 90 percent.
Tuekakas opposed the deal because his band's beloved Wallowa Valley would have to be surrendered. Because he and the leaders of four other bands opposed the deal, the divisions were henceforth labeled treaty and nontreaty Nez Perce. Tuekakas staked out the valley with poles and declared "Inside this boundary all our people were born. It circles the graves of our fathers, and we will never give up these graves to any man." He died in 1871, and his son, Hinmuuttu-yalatlat (Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain), also known as Young Joseph, became leader of the Wallowa band. His father is reported to have said before his death:
My son, my body is returning to my mother earth, and my spirit is going very soon to see the Great Spirit Chief. When I am gone, think of your country. You are the chief of these people. They look to you to guide them. Always remember that your father never sold his country. You must stop your ears whenever you are asked to sign a treaty selling your home. A few years more and white men will be all around you. They have their eyes on this land. My son, never forget my dying words. This country holds your father's body. Never sell the bones of your father and your mother.For four years, they stayed put, as President Grant had said they could. But relations with whites were tense. Settlers continued to move into the Wallowa and this led to inevitable clashes and a few killings on both sides.
In May 1877, the one-armed Gen. Oliver O. Howard arrived. Without ceremony, discussion or advance notice, he told Chief Joseph that his band would be moved immediately. The first thought of many non-treaty Indians was to fight, but Joseph knew this was a losing proposition. The band pulled up stakes, literally, from the Wallowa and crossed the Snake River, joining the other non-treaty bands and a small group of Palouse Indians. They were headed for the reservation, heartsick. Before they could get to the reservation, however, a small group of young warriors joined the band to say they had killed some whites and taken their horses. The 800 or so people in the allied bands soon learned the Army was coming after them.
The Wallowa Nez Perce and their allies went on a nearly 1200-mile, three-month-long zig-zag trek, out-maneuvering the Army, white volunteers and Indian scouts, which included some of the non-treaty Nez Perce. Small clashes were won and lost throughout the summer. But attrition was catching up with the band. Its cohort of battle-ready warriors dwindled week after week. Ultimately, after a five-day battle in the freezing cold, with the remnants of the band starving and more than 150 warriors dead, Chief Joseph surrendered just 40 miles from Canada on Oct. 5, 1877.
There, he was said to have given a stirring speech ending with "From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever." Scholars now believe it was a later invention of a lieutenant colonel and poet under Howard's command.
The Nez Perce repeatedly were promised they could return to the Wallowa. But it never happened. Chief Joseph died in 1904 at the Colville Reservation, living with the other 11 bands assigned there. And, despite there being numerous bridges, dams, streets, a mountain pass, a highway, a town, a creek and a canyon named after their leader, the Chief Joseph Band of Nez Perce still live at Colville.
In the Wallowa Valley that the band never agreed to surrender, there is today the 160-acre Wallowa Band Nez Perce Trail Interpretive Center. The mission is to tell the story of the band's trek and "to assist in assembling the Wallowa Band Nez Perce culture and history in order to provide interpretation, knowledge and understanding to those who visit the grounds." Still there, near Lake Wallowa, lies the grave of Old Joseph. His valley is no longer surrounded by poles but, unlike his living kin, he remains forever in the land of his fathers.
• The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story by Elliott West (2009).
• Treaty of 1863.
• Nez Perce Joseph: An Account of His Ancestors, His Lands, His Confederates, His Enemies, His Murders, His War, His Pursuit and Capture by O. O. Howard (1881).
But Indians from several tribes who met last week in Chicago with members of the campaign team say they are concerned that not as much seems to be being done with Indians as was done in 2008. And they expressed disappointment that the Obama campaign apparently plans to depend on the efforts of state Democratic Party apparatuses to handle voter outreach to the tribes. In the past, Indians have been ignored—or treated with hostility—by state parties.
Approval by the Navajo, the Hopi and 30 other entities are required before the pact can be finalized. The 24 Navajo delegates to the Tribal Council will vote sometime this month, possibly as soon as this week. The settlement, introduced in February, is the swan song of Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl and backed by Sen. John McCain. Foes encompass numerous grassroots Navajo groups cooperating as the Dinè Water Rights Committee, Dinè being what the Navajo people call themselves in their own tongue. Members include the Forgotten People Corporation, Black Mesa Water Coalition, To Nizhoni Ani, Dinè Citizens Against Ruining the Environment, Hada’asidi, Next Indigenous Generation and the Council Advocating an Indigenous Manifesto. Jihan Gearon, executive director of the Black Mesa Water Coalition said:
“It’s obvious that the grassroots people of the Navajo Nation reject the settlement agreement. We have collected hundreds of petition signatures from concerned citizens opposed to the settlement as well as hundreds of letters against the settlement. Furthermore, there was overwhelming opposition at each of the eight educational forums organized by the grassroots organizations, not to mention the overwhelming opposition voiced against the settlement at each of the seven town hall meetings sponsored by the president’s office under direction from the council.”
Sarana Riggs of Next Indigenous Generation said: “Our vision for the future includes a just transition away from the coal-based economy, a diverse and sustainable economy based on traditional values, and true self-sufficiency for the Navajo Nation. We will sign these things away if we agree to the settlement.”
In a open letter, Anna Rondon (Navajo) wrote:
I also serve on the Navajo Nation Green Economy Commission. I question why our leaders cater to the very federal government that has time and time again under-funded us, to design internal fighting among ourselves. Our leaders turn the other way when real Dinè ideas lead the way for a healthier and sustainable economy. But, our leaders are selling us out. I cannot believe the Navajo Nation is setting precedence that is not only unruly for us as a People, but for our other tribal nations that will also feel the negative impacts of this legislation.—Meteor Blades
The NCAA ruled in 2005 that all university and colleges should drop Indian-themed mascots, logos and nicknames ranging from "Redskins" to "Braves" to just plain "Indians." Exceptions were allowed for schools that obtained tribal permission. Although some foes of eliminating Indian mascots and nicknames have claimed these are not degrading but respectful, images and attitudes expressed around these have historically been filled with ridiculous caricatures and racist stereotypes. One of those stereotypes is that so many of the logos and mascots choose Plains Indians as their image no matter what the local Indian culture was and is. Hundreds of universities, colleges and secondary schools have dropped the nicknames over the past 40 years as opposition has steadily grown. Oregon formally banned mascots and nicknames this year after some schools held out against the state school board's request several years ago that they do so voluntarily. Last month, Sanford became the last small school in Maine to drop the "Redskins" nickname from its high school sports teams.
While a dwindling number of schools retain the nicknames, two national franchises—the Cleveland Indians baseball team with their despicable Chief Wahoo, and the Washington Redskins— continue to thumb their noses at people who object to their racist depictions.
While many Indians say they have no objections to such nicknames, the National Indian Education Association passed a resolution in 2009 calling for getting rid of all the Indian-themed mascots, logos and nicknames. And the National Congress of American Indians has been campaigning for an end to mascots and nicknames since 1968.
• Real Indians Protest Fakes: Sal "White Horse" Serbin (Oglala-Lakota) grew up on the Pine Ridge reservation of South Dakota. But he lives in Florida now and in 2010 established a group called the Fraudulent Native American Task Force. Its numbers are small. But Serbin is trying to make its impact greater by protesting fake Indians every chance he gets. That often puts him into conflict not only with wannabes and other frauds but with other Indians, too. Among the many frauds he has challenged are "healers" and performers and participants in phony sun dance ceremonies or moon worshipping and other whatnot, often charging fees for services they claim to be Indian in origin.
"The stealing and exploitation of the Native American culture," Sal said, "has become an epidemic."At one event recently, the Chasco Fiesta Parade, Serbin and five other Indians of various tribal heritage held signs when the faux-Indian Krewe of Chasco danced past in "Mohawk" haircuts, feathers and beads, dressed as "Pocahontas" and other stereotypes. Serbin's sign read: "Having Fun Playing Indian? Grow Up!!"
He has links with other groups, including the Florida chapter of the American Indian Movement, the militant organization whose most famous confrontation occurred at Wounded Knee in 1973 on the reservation where Serbin was born nine years earlier. The 77-year-old leader of Florida AIM, Ruby Beaulieu, who has protested the Chasco parade's inclusion of fake Indians for many years, told Leonora LaPeter Anton at the Tampa Bay Times that her complaints had gotten rid of outrages like "Find the treasure in the Indian burial mound" and "Pin the tail on the Indian." But the parade remains.
At the Venice Community Center, the night before the parade, Serbin had another encounter:
In another central Florida town recently, Serbin and some Indian allies confronted the New Age-style fake-Indian ritual midway. The participants, all sporting "Indian" names responded:There, a man named Ed WindDancer, a flute player and a carpenter, had put together a cast of Indian performers for a show called "Flight of the Red-Tailed Hawk." The cost to attend: $15. CDs of his music were on sale. The parking lot was filling up fast.Ed WindDancer
WindDancer said he was Cherokee, but Sal called the Cherokees. Sal said they had never heard of him. When WindDancer said he was Nanticoke, Sal said he called the group's chief in Delaware and learned WindDancer was not on their tribal rolls either. He knew that WindDancer had changed his last name from Pielert and that part of WindDancer's family had come from Germany four generations ago. He knew that WindDancer had received probation and a $5,000 fine for bartering eagle, hawk and great horned owl feathers with a wildlife officer, a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
"In a past life, we were you," said Raven That Speaks With the Cloud People. "We were Indians."Small battles, occasionally small victories. But he doesn't give up.
"Let's just love each other," said Tiger Lily. [...]
"If you want to continue with this group, if you could just add 'style' or 'hobbyists' to the end of your advertisements," [Serbin] implored nicely. "This could be a wonderful thing if done properly."
• American Indian Schools Get Solar, Wind Money from Arizona: After the expansion of a Tucson Electric Power company's 400-megawatt, coal-fired power plant in 2009, the Arizona Renewable Energy Investment Fund was given $5 million to support projects to reduce pollution and benefit Native American communities in Arizona and northwestern New Mexico. Several projects have now been selected to receive a share of those funds: $236,000 for a solar and wind power project at Little Singer, Dilkon Community, Leupp, Shonto Preparatory and NATIVE schools; $65,000 for a solar and wind power project at Moenkopi Day and Hopi Day schools; and $253,000 to provide wind power to an assisted-living facility for the Hopi Office of Elderly Services.
• Montana's 40-year-old Indian Education Act Praised: Surviving delegates and other Montanans gathered in the state's House chambers Friday to commemorate the passage of Montana's constitution in 1972. They focused intently on the document's Education and Public Lands Article that changed how Montana relates to its American Indian populations. It says: “The state recognizes the distinct and unique cultural heritage of the American Indians and is committed in its educational goals to the preservation of their cultural heritage.”
It wasn't until 1999 that this article was actually implemented. That took the prodigious efforts of Rep. Carol Juneau (Hidatsa and Mandan) to shepherd through the legislature. And it took several more years of lawsuits to get it funded, according to Montana Assistant Attorney General Andrew Huff (Cree-Rocky Boy Reservation). Juneau's daughter Denise (Hidatsa and Mandan) is now the state's superintendent of public instruction.
Because he didn’t look obviously like an Indian or what other people thought an Indian should look like, many people thought Huff was Italian or Mexican or marveled at his apparent easy ability to tan.—Meteor Blades
“So by the time I had hit high school in Missoula, I’d heard just about it all with regard to Indians — all the Indian slurs, the stereotypes, the racial epithets,” he said. “I’d heard that Indians were drunk, lazy, that we were a defeated people, that we should just blend in, that we should accept our fate and assimilate and that reservations should be done away with.”
Many people in his life — his supportive family, many teachers and his friends — had fought against these stereotypes, Huff said. Many people wanted to help Indian children, but lacked the knowledge to counter the stereotypes, he said.
It took 40 years, but Montana at last is fulfilling the promise of that provision, Huff said.
Montana has a K-12 Indian Education for All curriculum, developed in consultation with Indians and their tribes, he said. Teachers are getting trained on how to teach it and learn about Indians and Indian tribes. And Montana children of all backgrounds are learning about Indians and their history.
• Indians Not Happy with IRS Meddling: The president of the executive board of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, John Yellowbird Steele (Oglala-Lakota) told members of a Senate committee Thursday that the Internal Revenue Service is stepping over the line of tribal sovereignty and violating treaties in its attempts to tax treaty-guaranteed government assistance for things such as housing, school clothes and burial aid that tribes provide their members.
"We fix houses, and they want us to put a value on how much that lumber cost to patch a hole in a roof or a floor, put shingling on, they want us to put a value on that and give the person a 1099" tax form to possibly be taxed on the help, Steele said. "The next year, where are those people going to find the money to pay the IRS?"The agency has over the years cut back on what social benefits for tribal members can be exempted from taxes. It has been meeting with various tribes to clarify rules on what is taxable under the General Welfare Doctrine. But, Steele said, in th midst of those meetings, tribes are getting notices that they are being audited. He called this an IRS fishing expedition.
• Indians Honor Owner of Cleaned-up Chickamauga Mound in Chattanooga: A Chattanooga burial mound dating back to perhaps 900 BCE was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1984. But it was overgrown with poison ivy, wisteria and 30 trees, practically invisible and, some in the American Indian community said, disrespected until the new owner of the industrial property where it sits decided to clean it up and give access to Native people. That owner, Kenny Wilhoit, was honored in a small ceremony today in conjunction with the National Days of Prayer to Protect Native Sacred Places. He was given a wooden bowl made from one of the trees removed from the mound.
Tom Kunesh (Standing Rock Sioux) of the Advisory Council on Tennessee Indian Affairs said that prior to 2010: "We would stand outside the fence, pray, offer tobacco and look forward to the day when we would be allowed access to it." Wilhoit says that access will continue for as long as he owns the property.
In an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star last week, Keel discussed the economics of the tribes, including his own. In the 1980s, the 40,000-member Chickasaw tribe's economic goal was $5 million. “If you look today, there’s probably a billion dollars flowing through our businesses.” These include a chocolate factory and a metal-fabrication factory. “Those create jobs,” he said, “and the jobs then relate to raising the quality of life of Indian people across the country.” One example is the 4,800-member Winnebago tribe of Nebraska, which went from zero revenue in 1995 and now has revenue of $226 million. But for many tribes, especially those in more remote areas, the economic conditions remain grim.
Keel noted that one major NCAI goal this year is getting out the Indian vote: “In 2008, there were probably one million Native American people who were not registered to vote.” Although he didn't mention it, suppressing the Indian vote of those who are registered has been a key factor in keeping the numbers who vote at a low level relative to other ethnic groups.
• 'American Indian' Charter School Blasted: Despite a report ripping the American Indian Charter School in Oakland, California, the school board there approved renewal of the school's charter in April. Among the complaints about the school run by American Indian Models are that it has conflicts of interest, limited parent involvement and high teacher turnover. On a scale of 1-5 on 43 measures, the school received only as high as a "3" on one. But because its academic index was 990 out of 1000, a phenomenally high score that no other school in the Oakland system achieved, it retained its charter. Now some believe the index rating was inflated by cherry-picking transferring students, a violation of the law. Admissions are supposed to be "blind," but parents have been asked to submit their students' scores in their applications.
The school got its name from the fact that it was originally designed to serve the American Indian community in Oakland. In the 2010-2011 school-year, there were ZERO students who identified as Indian.
That's a sticking point for some local American Indians, said one prominent member of the Bay Area American-Indian community, who asked to be anonymous for fear of making waves. "If anything, I just wish they would change their name — it's misleading, and potentially damaging to our community."—Meteor Blades
• Oglala College Students Work Against Youth Suicide: Suicide among young people is epidemic on many American Indian reservations. To raise awareness, generate hope and help reduce this terrible circumstance, some Oglala Lakota College business students, have begun a campaign using traditional advertising and social media. Students in the Introduction to Business class have passed out 200 disposable cameras to elementary and middle school students at the Loneman, Crazy Horse and Red Cloud schools. The assignment: Take the camera home and shoot photos to show what hope looks like.
• Photo Exhibits Focuses on the 1973-1976 'Reign of Terror in South Dakota': From the time of the Wounded Knee siege in 1973, the FBI, government bureaucrats and corrupt tribal officials were at loggerheads with traditional Indians and the American Indian Movement. From now until the end of June, AIM-WEST, a non-profit community based inter-tribal organization in San Francisco, is hosting a photo and art exhibit about the “Reign of Terror in South Dakota" of that era. More than 60 AIM members were murdered in a three-year period. Included in the exhibit will be paintings by political prisoner Leonard Peltier, photos of AIM's past activities, including the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz and the 1973 siege of Wounded Knee, as well as Bay Area indigenous activism. The exhibit is at the Arte International Gallery, 963 Pacific St. More information is available at AIM-West.
My name is Paulla Dove-Jennings
I brought some tobacco with me today. A little here for the past, a little here for the present, a little here for the future. History and all the powers that be said that my people have been here ten, maybe fifteen thousand years, but my grandmother told me we've been here 30,000 years. When I started on this journey of talking about my people and learning about my people I went to anthropologists and mythologists, and I interned at a museum. And they said, "How do you know what you're saying is true, what's your primary source?" "My Grandmother." They said, "Where was it written?" Well, my grandmother writes beautiful letters but she never wrote down our history. I've converted a lot of educated PhD authorities and one day they’re going to catch up and realize my people have been here 30,000 years.
I was going to sit down and talk but I like to see faces so I'm going to stand up so I can see faces.
My name is Paulla Dove-Jennings, I have a brother who is a year older than me but on the day that I was born my father stood at the end of the street and said, "Today I am a man because I have a daughter, because women are the givers of life." And I tease my two younger sisters from all the time, saying they weren't necessary one sister is 9 years, the younger one is 18 years younger than me. I asked my father one night my after my first sister came along. "You had me, why her?" He said, "Well, you keep saying you wanted somebody else to play with." We lived out in the country, without electricity without running bath, that kind of stuff. It was great, it was wonderful. When my baby sister came along my father said, "I thought it was a tumor." But I love them both. Women, not only being born make a man a man, just as a son makes a woman a woman, have always played an
important part in our nation.
Now if you look on this sheet here and other places you're going to see the word "Narragansett" correct spelling, or pronunciation, is Nah-ah-gansett because we didn't have the letter 'r'. If you're from Rhode Island or talk to other Rhode Islanders you'll often find they leave the ‘r ‘out. We like to say, "they're trying to talk Narragansett."
My people have always been here, this land where this building is right now is part swampland, low-lying lands. If you go to Providence Place mall where the parking area is there's a sacred burial ground. And we were given about 350,000.00 dollars to allow them to bury our people on that land. My voice was not loud enough, the elders voice was not loud enough, the young people were not loud enough. So it's up to those of us today to speak up and be loud about it. Be courteous but be loud. People think it's amazing that women finally are running for President. We had women who led our people. Some more well known than others.
We also read in the paper now that women can fight in different battles in the United States Army, Marines, Navy. We had women warriors, we did all this and it's taken 400 years of everything to come around full circle so people realize that when the creator made us, man and woman, it was to walk side by side.
Now, that didn't always happen some people like my father’s mother married an Englishman. My grandfather is about 6'4", 250 lbs; he went to college and became an engineer. But then he married my little 5'2" grandmother she was Niantic and in Rhode Island my grandfather was known as squaw man. He could only get a job as policeman or fireman, that's what he did. He and my grandmother had eight children. His family disowned him, didn't want anything to do with him because he married this woman. My grandmother and grandmother lived in Westerly, Rhode Island which is in the southern part of the state, in an old Italian neighborhood. My grandmother would stand at the fence, a white picket fence, she'd be on one side of the picket fence, Mrs. Filosetti would be on the other side. Mrs. Filosetti was speaking in Italian, Calibrese, and my grandmother was speaking in Narragansett and they would understand each other. And my grandmother would send over baked fish and they would send over the most delicious sausage, and sauce, and they'd exchange.
Once a year, around Thanksgiving time, a news reporter from the Westerly Sun would come to interview my grandmother. My Grandmother had a front porch which we called a piazza, and we'd be on her front porch. In those days I didn't talk much. Grandmother would be out there, she'd have her apron on, the reporter would come to interview her. He'd ask what she was going to do for Thanksgiving, what she was going to cook. And my grandmother would say, "Well, we're going to have roast turkey." A truck would come by and it would have all these cages on it and my grandmother would reach up for the fattest one, she'd check them all out, pick out one that was 25 or 30 lbs. and take it out in the backyard, chop the head off, did what she had to do. She'd talk about the vegetables and so forth and the family members that would come in from wherever. But one year they sent a new reporter out and this reporter said, "Mrs. Dove, do you people go hunting for your turkey?" My grandmother's sitting there and I'm holding onto her apron. I looked up at her and her eyes were getting blacker and blacker. She told him no, she had bought it from Mr. so-and-so." "Well, did your people live in tee-pees?" "No, we had long houses, we had wig-wams." I could feel my grandmothers body tense up and her eyes kept getting darker and darker. He went on in this way for quite awhile. Finally he said, "Well isn't it true that the women are not as good, well they're inferior to the men." Grandmother said, "No, that's not true." Then he said, "Well, I heard that Indian women always walk behind their men." By this time my Grandmother rolled those eyes up at him and said, "That's true." "Well see you are inferior then." My grandmother stood up, all 5'2" of her, holding onto her apron and she said, "We stand behind our men to tell them where to go." Still true, still true.
Now my grandmother said to my grandfather, "You have to vote, you have to get involved. It's not only your right, it's your responsibility." You have to make sure when your children come of age that they vote. Don't just vote for the President, or the national, or just for the Governor, remember who you’re voting for in these small towns.
Now 1924, when the reorganization act was going, on a woman known as Princess Red Wing, a Wampanog-Narragansett, she designed the Tribal Seal. It’s the peace pipe, the North Star and the sun. And she worked hard. So, we weren’t Federally recognized, but we were recognized.
Now our people fought in all the wars, up to and including the Civil War and after the Civil War was over and we're back on our reservation in Charlestown , Westerley, all through the Southern coast, that was all our land but it slowly being stolen. It was taken away and we moved back in further and further. One of our elders called our people together and a man came down from the state house up here and said, “you fought in the civil war, you did well. We're going to make you citizens of the state of Rhode Island.” He went on and on about the benefits of being a citizen of the state of Rhode Island. He didn't mention voting. Just as the black men were given the right to be citizens he said at that time. We sent him away. We do not want the citizenship. We are happy to be Narragansett. Why would we give up what we have? Yes, you claim the black man is now a citizen, but we will never see a black man running this country. And I wept when Obama won, I didn't vote for him, I voted for a woman. And then I prayed that he would be safe and not killed, or his children be harmed. Because I worry about this. Well time went on, 1924 we’re now official citizens of the state of Rhode Island. But it wasn't until 1951 or '52 that Rhode Island made the law that allowed us to vote.
Now I lived in Charlestown and there were a lot of Native families there around us and the beginning of November a car would drive out the dirt roads, no electric, and drive to my cousin's house, to my cousin's father's house, to our house, and they would come out and say, "you vote for us, don't vote for anybody else." Then leave a pint of whiskey. My father's cousin and my father put all the whiskey up and my father would call them together and one of the elders, he was a young man then, would say, "you go and vote, and you vote for the person you think is going to be the most responsible for all our needs, not just a certain individual.' Then at Christmas time they'd all bring their pints and my father would take fresh whole cream and make the best eggnog you ever had and he shared it all.
My father tried to run for local town office in Charlestown, he could never get in. Sometimes he wasn't even allowed to get on the ballot. Then we moved to Exeter, Rhode Island. And when we moved there first, my father went to the PTA meetings, to the local town meetings, and in a few years he was the town moderator. He periodically came up to the state house. He would meet with the local politicians. He would call them up, he would draft a letter to whoever the local representative was. So when they heard the name 'Ferris Dove' they'd say, "ah, he's got some influence with the tribe."
His Native Name was Roaring Bull
His whole purpose was to help us get some of our land back. He was on the tribal council, and he also ended up after a couple of terms as town moderator they used to tell him he didn't have to use the mallet, his native name was Roaring Bull, that he could just raise his voice. He became a tax assessor for several years.
My father met my mother just before he got a scholarship from the DAR to go to Bacone Indian college in Oklahoma. The DAR said they were going to pay his way there. If he did well, it was a two-year college, they'd send him onto graduate school. When he left he had 2 outfits, 4 pairs of undies, 4 pairs of socks and 2 dollars. Took the Greyhound. He loved school, loved education. Now before he went they offered two or three other Native men. He had been out of school 3 or 4 years but his younger brother said, "no, I'm going in the Navy." This was in the thirties. My father went out there. My family is fortunate, we must be a bunch of pack rats because we still have the letters he sent. His greatest pain was they would go from Oklahoma to Texas and they walked to a store where they were going to get something to eat and a sign said, "No dogs or Indians." And my father wrote to my grandmother and said, "I want to come home, I want to come home, I can't live with this." And my grandmother said, "Your own Grandfathers and Grandmothers barely speak to you and you're going to worry about this sign? Stay. Get your education." My grandfather stayed. He went to school with Dick West. And he loved school. And when he came back, whenever he had a chance, he took courses at the University of Rhode Island. He died when he was sixty-eight, in 1983, and he was still taking courses. When he became town moderator he took some political courses. And when he was the tax assessor he took some financial courses.
My parents owned a restaurant, twenty years. It was my mother’s idea. My mother worked in a factory called Kenyon Mill. She said, "I’m not coming back after summer vacation." We had this house with a building next door and my mother's father was a chef, her grandfather also owned a restaurant here in Providence. I think there's a Wendy’s or McDonald's there now where it was located. My parents did catering work as well as my father working making submarines, and my mother working in this factory. And being a female daughter you get drafted whether you want to or not, working those days off from your regular job, you had to waitress or cook, or do something. And every week two or three people that would say, "are you a real Indian?" I'd wonder to myself, "what's an unreal Indian?" Oh, they mean what happens at Halloween, the stereotypes. They'd ask what tribe are you. "Narragansett." "Never heard of them." "But you're here in Rhode Island. How can it be you've never heard of them?" Then I thought back when I was in school, I was in grammar school. In our classes at Thanksgiving time it was the Indians that met the Pilgrims. We weren’t heard again.No other Native nations were mentioned until in the spring when they talked about the Cherokee and the Trail of Tears. That was it. The rest of the time we didn’t exist. And not talk about the names of the towns, the cities, words that they'd use, "hammock". [unintelligible 20:51] They'd go to the beach, names like Pawtucket. All this, this is ours.
And they'd talk about how wonderful Roger Williams was, how much he helped us. He fought for us to be able to use our own religious beliefs. But they don't talk about how after the battle at Great Swamp how he voted to send our ancestors, our people, to Barbados and to the islands of the Caribbean as slaves. And I grew older and had children and grandchildren and who comes from the islands to my nieces school as exchange, Narragansett, Niantic, Wampanoag, and Peuquot descendants from the slaves. And my niece and the schoolchildren, half of them went down there. We were shocked at how much we looked alike and at how many things their ancestors had passed on and had stayed the same. You always wonder who writes history. Red Wing always says the winner writes history. I look at history books, and you all can look at history books and you can see the biases, and it's passed on to the children and it's passed on to the children's children. It's time that we speak the truth.
A Real Indian
At one time I was executive director of the commission for Indian Affairs for the state of Rhode Island. I had a window office and a secretary and the secretary's name was Lois San Antonio. A very pretty Italian woman. She was always peeking around the corner. After a month or so I said, "Lois, what's the problem?" She said, "I can't believe I'm working for a real Indian." I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I said, "Lois, what's an unreal one?" She said, "I didn't think any lived in Rhode Island. I told her they may live on the same street you live on, you have this image in your mind. Don't let that fool you. Don’t let that take away. Then I brought her down here to meet my parents, and my children and grandchildren and different siblings. After about two years she said, "I want to apologize for my stupidity, but it's not my fault, it's the school’s."
And part of the schools is that you go and vote for your committees. You make sure that people are looking out for everybody. You have to remember that, it's important. You have to be able to think beyond what's right before you and see the rest.
I have a book that I found in a second hand bookstore and it has the native names that we use in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Place names, towns, rivers. How many of you know that half of our 50 states are named for the local indigenous people. People don't think about that. It's fact, not fiction. People don't say enough about Native people. There's a Vice-President that was half Native. They don't talk about the Native that went out into outer space. I don't even want to go into outer space, I'll be honest with you. The Creator made us here, we stay here. But my grandmother in another interview, different reporter, different paper, was asked about going to the moon because that was the big thing when President
Kennedy was here. And so she said, "Well, I have no desire to go, I wouldn’t allow my children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren to go, but maybe everybody else will go!" And the reporter, and I was there, he was shocked, he was stunned, "What do you mean?" "If everyone goes we can reclaim the land, they won't chop down anymore trees, or put down pipelines here or there, they won’t defile the water, they'll let things grow naturally."
People don't realize, when people came across that big water over here we had everything we needed. We had our food, clothing, shelter, our educational games. No it wasn't in a classroom with desks lined up in a row and rote memorizing. See, in the wintertime and the elders would tell stories and help you learn how to identify things, things that were necessary. Think about the things we didn't have before those ships got lost and landed here. We didn't have rats, the common housefly. We had good mosquitoes and other kinds of flies. We didn't have jails. We didn't have homes for the elderly, we took care of our own. We didn't have guns. guns are for food, not today. it's to kill to slaughter someone so they can’t live again.
The British were astounded at the wars we would have. Whether I’ll get your bag and take it home. I got whatever's in your back pocket and take it home, I won, I got it. I might even say that's a pretty young woman and I think I'll take her home to work in my garden. She might work there for a year or so, she might decide she wants to stay or she might want to go on. And these were all good things. So we had what we needed.
One of the first things that happened when this part of the country was invaded was the British chopped down the trees. Because in Europe and in England the biggest trees belonged to the Lords. High and mighty so they chopped down the biggest trees here to take back. Not for the poor people, not for the homeless. You got put in places, if you couldn't pay your debt you got thrown in jail. They took everything and they keep taking from Mother Earth, that's why you need to vote. And they put nothing back that's good in there. They keep putting stuff that's not good up in the air so people can't breath and have diseases and different things happen to them.
You have to vote, you have to remember. You got to start at the local level and keep going and going. And speak up. A lot of times in the newspaper or telephone books will say who your local representative is. Call them up even if you get a voicemail. Go on the computer, I'm not a computer person. But, go on it and let them know how you feel . So they'll hear more than those that they want to hear. They'll hear truth and they'll think about the people, and that's important. Gotta stand strong, stand together and you gotta speak up because it doesn’t do a bit of good if you sit there and just say, "I don't really agree with that." You have to stand up. Go to your town meeting. I know, some of them are boring and some of them you say oh my god where did these people come from. But, if you don't speak up it’s going to keep going the way it has been going.
If you don't recognize the racism in this country, you never will. I was born and raised in Rhode Island. I had one child born in Connecticut, my oldest one. On her birth certificate it says "American Indian.' My second child was born in Mississippi. My husband got out of the Air Force he was a tall cool drink of water and I said that was for me. He was black, Indian, and white. He looked like a white. We go to Mississippi, I have my first son and the doctor's and nurses are all running in there, "he looks like a white baby. He's not white." They put N on his birth certificate. I told them I'm American Indian, they still put down, N. This son I lost. He was ten years old when he died in an accident, and this was before we were going for Federal recognition. My youngest son was born here in Rhode Island, South County Hospital. Picked out a name, his name was Adam, the first man. I filled out his name, filled out race, and so forth. They called me into this little office when I was getting ready to come home. "You have American Indian on here, what tribe are you?" "Narragansett" She crossed it out. I called the doctor. He said he'd fill it. He did and I didn't see it, didn't worry about it, it was Dr. Barber. To go for Federal recognition you have to have birth certificates. The Health Department over here told my son they had him as white, Caucasian. I go to the Health Director. He looked at me and said, "Well, Mrs. Jennings, you know what they say." I said, "Sir?" "Momma's baby, father's maybe." I took my first Nitro pill less than a month after that. It angered me so, frustrated me so. I wrote a letter to the present Governor and told him about it. He called my father and apologized to my father, but I never forgot it. There's not one time I go into that health center that I don't remember the abuse of that man. It was small but it was painful. It was after that my father told me of his eight sisters and brothers, five were listed as white, three were listed as Indian and they all had the same mother and father.
To The Moon
Don't let anybody mistreat who you are. Respect it and love it. I have nieces and nephews that are half Chinese and half German, they love both sides of their culture. When they go to the Powwow or August Social they look as Narragansett as anybody else. At German beer festivals they're more German than anybody else. it all depends on who and what you are. But they all know that Grandfather said voting is not only a responsibility, it's a right. Do it. Don't complain. Do it. I expect each and every one of you to tell your young ones to do the same, otherwise I'm going to send you to the moon.
I brought out my tribal ID card which does have a picture on it and a tribal seal. I wish on the back there was a little list of history that said when we got recognition, when we were de-tribalized, some more things about us. But after 911 I happened to be on the Tribal Council at that time and happened to be traveling across the country and remember in Nevada. I went to get on the plane and I showed this card and they took it. Next time, 3 weeks later, I had to go to Washington State. When I got there I pulled the card out, they refused to take it. They patted me down, went through all my things. Finally I get in line to go in and they pull me aside again. Well, I was so frustrated and so angry I said, "You're here in my country, why am I going to bomb it?" And they looked at me like who's this wild woman. There was a younger native woman with me and she said, "calm down, calm down." It is very frustrating when people don't recognize who and what and where we're at.
I wanted to go over this just a little because I wanted to make a few notes. If you look at this paper Verrazano said we were the tallest looking Indians he'd ever seen. We love to tease the people. We were taller than the English. We were always in the subservient area when you see these European drawings. I told you we'd been here 30,000 years. Many people were affected by plagues and disease. Do you realize, and this is documented, over 70% of the medicines used is medicine that derived from the Native people in North and South America? It's ours, we did it. I can remember when Pampers came out, they thought that was a big thing. Well, we took the inside of the milkweed and made Pampers. We had it all.
Remember Wampanoag and Narragansett only has an ‘s’ on it when it's possessing something. It's just that way. We talked about Roger Williams, he bought land. Well we didn't have the concept of buying land. You could use the land till you didn't need it any longer and then you moved on.
The war with the Pequots, the Mohegans, well the war with the Pequots was the same nation but they split. They came from upstate New York and my people got angry because they kept fishing in our ponds and they wanted to make war. We didn't like that. King Philip decided to make war, it's on page 2. He didn't decide to make war he tried to preserve some land, culture and religious beliefs of our people. So, he didn't make war he was doing something to protect us.
When the battle of the Great Swamp my people took in Wampanoag, elders, young people, down in South County. The English came in and from CT and MS and slaughtered, burned. People that weren't sent into slavery were put on a ship and told they were going to Block Island when the boat got half way there they threw them overboard and it’s not in the history book. But my grandmother told me because her grandmother told her. I have never been able to go to Block Island. Can't bear the thought that I would be floating over an ancestor. I'm the only member of my family that's never been to Europe or Asia. My grandmother told me don't go across the big water, your name is Sunflower, stay here. I've been up and down North and South America but not across the big water.
Then it says in 1782 it says only 500 Narrangansett were left to sign. They LOCATED 500, now others they didn't want to locate. At that time, and right up until 1924 the Native people from Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, were meeting right here in Providence. Meeting at various churches and venues trying to reclaim our land. This wasn't something that happened in the '60s and '70's after AIM. We'd been trying all that time.
None of our nations are perfect, the United States certainly isn't perfect, but I can't think of another place I'd rather live. I've lived in California, NY sate, miss, I've lived in CT. As far away as I get my heart keeps coming back to the cold winters, the lovely springs, the beautiful fall, the seafood.
This is it, this is it. And if you love wherever you're from, and if you love who your family has been and who they will be you will do the things that need to be done to help this world survive. I don't know you all but I can tell you I love you all because you're fellow humans.
Indians have often been referred to as the "Vanishing Americans." But we are still here, entangled each in his or her unique way with modern America, blended into the dominant culture or not, full-blood or not, on the reservation or not, and living lives much like the lives of other Americans, but with differences related to our history on this continent, our diverse cultures and religions, and our special legal status. To most other Americans, we are invisible, or only perceived in the most stereotyped fashion.
First Nations News & Views is designed to provide a window into our world, each Sunday reporting on a small number of stories, both the good and the not-so-good, and providing a reminder of where we came from, what we are doing now and what matters to us. We wish to make it clear that neither navajo nor I make any claim whatsoever to speak for anyone other than ourselves, as individuals, not for the Navajo people or the Seminole people, the tribes in which we are enrolled as members, nor, of course, the people of any other tribes.