2017-08-30 / Voices of the People

Two writers to remember on Women’s Equality Day


T hese days when lawmakers want to see women’s health centers closed, when religionists say there should be “no choice” for women concerning the termination of an unwanted pregnancy, when women are “stalked” by our now top winning politician on the debate stage as Hillary was by her opponent she calls “a creep” in her new book, vulgar talk by men toward women is either accepted or ignored in the media, and native women are said to be the most frequent victims of abuse in the streets and their homes, it is difficult to “celebrate” Women’s Equality Day as we did this past week.

None-the-less, we have been celebrating our progress toward equality in the modern world, and even native women are thankful for the work that people continue to do for women in American who make up half of the total population of this country.

Huge numbers of immigrants from everywhere come here every year and bring with them the many changes which have affected contemporary native women in so many ways. The New World looks very different from the indigenous world of our ancestors. None-theless, we continue to try to say what “traditional feminism" might look like. One of the most important things to say is that native women of all tribes have always been in charge of child bearing, pregnancy, and child rearing until the Christians came and forced indigenous peoples to change their ways, nearly destroying the “tiospaye” concept of family. Native women have always held the knowledge of performing abortion services for themselves and their families in the face of necessity and health needs. The right of a native woman’s “choice” concerning reproduction was protected by all tribes without the interference of power structures and male influence until recent times.

Dr Beatrice Medicine, an anthropologist born and raised at Wakpala, SD documented the right of “choice” (now called the Civil Rights of contemporary women), in THE HIDDEN HALF, University Press of America in 1983, a scholarly work that told of the struggles and joys of motherhood and the responsibilities to the tribal nation of child bearing using traditional knowledge of winter counts and oral records. Hers was one of the first modern research volumes that defended the rights and responsibilities of native women to assure the success of their tribal nations. In the case of divorce, she wrote, women were awarded by tribal law the home, its contents, and the investment in the family’s future generations, i.e., the children. Life was difficult in the early days, and women were expected to take care of themselves and their extended families.

More recently, a discussion about women’s lives has been published through the South Dakota Historical Society called SIOUX WOMEN written by Virginia Driving Hawk Sieve (2016) and it documents particular experiences of modern Lakota-Dakota women from several different reservations in our area. It is an expression of the tribal values honored through the historical and cultural experiences of mature native women and it is meant to be an historical guide to how to be a good Dakota Witan and a survivor.

Both of these volumes and many others are now available and are available through internet research as well as Amazon. They should be on the shelves of all of the educational institutions in our region as we celebrate Women’s Equality Day.

(Contact Elizabeth Cook-Lynn 605-341-3228)

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