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American Indian Women of Proud Nations

Essays on History, Language, and Education

by Cherry Maynor Beasley (Volume editor) Mary Ann Jacobs (Volume editor) Ulrike Wiethaus (Volume editor)
Monographs XIV, 170 Pages

Summary

This multidisciplinary collection of nine previously unpublished essays presents new research in three interlocking domains: tribal history with a special emphasis on Native women in the Southeast, language revitalization efforts and the narrative knowledge inherent in indigenous oral culture, and traditional educational systems in the context of the ongoing colonization of American Indian educational practices and values. This volume highlights Southeastern Indian issues and demonstrates the unique situation of women in tribes lacking (full) federal recognition or a more inclusive and multidisciplinary discussion of Native women in more than one tribal nation. Southeastern themes are linked with topics of concern by other tribal nations to show commonalities and raised awareness about the central experiences and contributions of Native women in the encounter and ongoing struggle with Euro-American systems of oppression and cultural erasure.
This book spans the full gamut from naming women’s experiences of historical trauma to their ongoing efforts at preserving and rebuilding their Native nations. The collection of essays is distinctive in its Indigenous hermeneutics in that it insists on a holistic view of time and place-based knowledge – the past still fully affects the present and gives the present depth and meaning beyond the linear flow of time.
This book also features American Indian and non-American Indian scholars who are well known in American Indians studies, scholars beginning their career and scholars who, while not experts in American Indians studies, are considered experts in other disciplines and who recognize the unique attributes of Southeastern American Indian nations.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgments
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword as Story: I Am Not the Problem
  • Introduction
  • Part One: Women’s History and Language
  • Introduction to Part One
  • Lumbee Indian Women: Historical Change and Cultural Adaptation
  • Healing Responses to Historical Trauma: Native Women’s Perspectives
  • Southeastern American Indians, Segregation, and Historical Trauma Theory
  • American Indian Language Revitalization as Lived Experience
  • Narrative Hermeneutics and the Experiential Transformation of Care
  • Part Two: Education and Parenting
  • Introduction to Part Two
  • The Elder Teachers Project: Finding Promise in the Past
  • Oshki Giizhigad (The New Day): Native Education Resurgence in Traditional Worldviews and Educational Practice
  • Parenting for Adolescent Well-Being in American Indian Communities
  • Honoring Women in the American Indian Studies Classroom
  • Contributors
  • Index

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Foreword AS Story

I Am Not the Problem

CHERRY MAYNOR BEASLEY

I was born in the lap of luxury—that is, the luxury of a large family. My parents were young high school graduates who farmed my grandparents’ farm. This set of grandparents were not landowners, but mortgage payers who had been forced to start over a year or two before I was born. There was “debt to work off the place.” My other set of grandparents, a skilled but uneducated carpenter and homemaker, owned a small farm and a house in town. I had family who allowed me to grow. My family believed in hard work, education and family ties. Everyone, even my elderly great-grandfather had a job in the household and embraced his or her purpose. He would pray for us and rock me during the night. As the first grandchild for one side of my family, I was the gift of the future, adored and loved by many.

Life was rough from the beginning. I was born too early (they always did say that I was driven), weighing every ounce of four pounds eight ounces. My survival was doubtful. My mother was not allowed to see me until I was two days old, because my dad, on the advice of the doctor, didn’t want to upset my mom. (It was a nurse who brought my mother to see me late one night.) I grew, and at six weeks old, I weighed five pounds and got to come home. My family was so excited that they “set out” walking the twenty-five miles to bring me home. I was in the lap of luxury. I was wanted, loved and represented the future: a mother of the people.

My home was on a farm. The house had electricity but no running water. But I have great-grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles. Our farm was across the river—the major landmark for the Lumbee ← xi | xii → people is the river—, among other Indian farms. We rarely went to town, and when we did we usually went to Pembroke where the population was primarily Indian. It was a rarity to go outside the Indian community. I was embraced, cared for, the first grandchild, with lots of love. I was not a problem. I was a blessing. I have only three early memories that required me to leave the Indian communities. One when I was very sick, one when we were traveling, and one at a garden party. When I was sick, my grandfather and father had taken me to the doctor (not an Indian) and it was determined that I needed to be hospitalized. At the hospital, my family was told I would needed to be put in the “hallway because there were no Indian rooms left.” I remember my grandfather saying he had money and that he could see empty beds in other rooms. But he was told that those were not for Indians. He decided to take me home instead of putting me in the hall. I know now that degradation was understood to be a worse illness, one of the spirit. The second memory also involved one of my grandmothers. We were traveling to Maryland to visit an aunt when we stopped for gas. I needed to go to the restroom. But I quickly returned to the car and told my grandmother I couldn’t use the restroom here. She asked why, thinking someone had said something to me. I told her that there were restrooms for whites and colored but not Indians. You must understand that in those days, everything in my county required separation of the races. My grandmother’s response was that “You are so special, you can choose.” What a vision of who I was in the world! The last memory is one my sister loves to tell. We were at a garden party at the college president’s home. When his daughter decided to inform me that her dad was the president of that college, I informed her that was okay, but that my Dad was the president of his class! I wanted to make sure that the pecking field was in order. A problem? No, I am a blessing! Well, maybe this was the beginning of me being a problem.

Then my world changed. I began to live outside the closed, supportive Lumbee community. We moved to a nationally renowned college town when I was in the fourth grade and then outside of Washington, DC when I was in the fifth grade. In both of these settings, I heard the phrase “the Indian problem.” I clearly recall the first time I heard it. I was in the fourth grade and the teacher started discussing “the Indian problem”. I remember looking around the room, seeing who else was an Indian and wondering what kind of problem he or she was causing! I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Imagine my disbelief when I understood that she meant all Indians were problems and have been for our entire history! A similar situation happened when I was in the fifth grade. Here, the references were more in the negative and in the present, because in the early 1960s, all so-called minorities were problems. Not only did I hear these words. My siblings and I were treated differently. Yes, we spoke a Lumbee dialect and we had not visited some of the places that others had seen. I remember my teacher’s shock that I had never been west of the Mississippi. I didn’t know where or what it was. I was assigned to ← xii | xiii → the lowest reading group, the lowest math group, and required to do extra work in history and science “to catch me up.” They even thought that my sister, who is very bright and more outspoken than me, was mentally challenged. I began to see that I wasn’t equal in the “real world”. And, even though we eventually went back to the Lumbee community to live, I had learned that the majority group was smarter than us. Even our textbooks had been discarded from their schools; a fact that I hadn’t noticed or understood before living outside the community. The Indian problem was that we were not a blessing.

In high school I became the Indian problem. I was bussed to an all-white high school for the purpose of integration. As the first non-white to attend, my classmates sneered when I walked by, ostracized me from meetings, and seemed surprised that I could think. I became ashamed of who I was and wanted desperately not to be me. At a time when one’s peer group is important, I found that I no longer fit into either community—Indian or white. I didn’t date, go to games or dances. It was a hard time for me. I wasn’t pretty, I couldn’t play a sport or music, I had no special talent, I was not extremely smart, but I could work hard and learn. During this traumatic time, the grandmother who was part of my multigenerational household died and my parents divorced. So, I not only didn’t have a supportive peer group but the extended family that had sustained me was disappearing. I learned that the only one I could depend upon was myself. I survived only because I had been given a purpose: “opening the doors for others”. This was what I was told by my family. I later understood the value of an open door from reading civil rights speeches and literature. At that time in my life, being an Indian was a problem for me and for others. By the end of my junior year, I was at last recognized as being smart, not as smart as the Lumbee males or the whites, but smart.

I wanted to pursue a degree in nursing and wrote to the admissions department of a flagship nursing school. I was no longer ashamed of who I was and declared my race in the letter. Even though my grades and test scores were acceptable, the response I received was one of discouragement because “… they didn’t have a nursing program for Indians.” The program recommended I get a diploma in nursing and not try to go to college. So, even being accomplished in learning wasn’t good enough, my efforts were thwarted because of being an Indian. I was outraged and hurt, but redoubled my efforts. With the help of family, I moved out of state to finish high school and attend one of the most prestigious nursing programs in the country. I was one of three “minorities” in a class of two hundred, and the only Indian. My right to be there was questioned by my classmates. But on this radical university campus in the early 1970s, I learned that I could be successful and that embracing my difference and the causes of others was important to me. I learned that it was good work to be the Indian problem along with the female problem, the Southern problem, the anti-war problem, and the poverty problem. After all, I had had lots of experience and was not afraid or ashamed any longer. ← xiii | xiv → The attitude I developed in high school and college—depending only on oneself, embracing hard work and a willingness to embrace my difference—has allowed me to continue to become me over the years. I have had to learn to embrace my spirit and love myself. And I have learned the value of insisting that you do the same. I am a problem only if you choose to look at me as different, if you are afraid of me because I see the world differently. “I am a problem” is your decision to be the only keeper of truth.

Along the way, I have learned another valuable lesson. I can’t just depend upon myself. There is not a separate world or mind. We are in a world together, even though we may not know each other’s truth as yet. Look upon me as a being like yourself, who is a complex person, who is experiencing freedom, choice and responsibility just as you do. Look upon me and encourage me to become who I am and to connect with you as we cocreate a better world for us all. This way does come with a cost. We will all have to change. I am not the problem. The problem is our fears, our lack of courage or unwillingness to grow. Let my difference blend with yours and let’s create a world for all of us. Our grandparents, aunts and uncles, children, and the spirit that binds us are blessings, not problems. May we be willing to walk together to create paths so that others can come home.

Biographical notes

Cherry Maynor Beasley (Volume editor) Mary Ann Jacobs (Volume editor) Ulrike Wiethaus (Volume editor)

Cherry Maynor Beasley: is the Belk Endowed Chair in Rural and Minority Health at the Department of Nursing, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. She has devoted most of her professional nursing career as a nursing provider, educator, and researcher within the greater Robeson County community. Mary Ann Jacobs is Associate Professor and Chair, American Indian Studies and Social Work, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. She is the author of several peer-reviewed articles, book sections, and reports dealing with foster care, racial identity, Chicago’s American Indian community, American Indian LGBT issues, child welfare policies for Indigenous children, and decolonizing methods. Ulrike Wiethaus is Professor of Religion and American Ethnic Studies at Wake Forest University. Her research and publication interests focus on the history of Christian spirituality with an emphasis on gender justice and political history, and most recently, historic trauma, religion, and the long-term impact of U.S. colonialism.

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