Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

September 5, 2021

The Gift. The Book of Elders.

Words to live by

"Understanding comes in its own time." -- Lakota medicine man Pete Catches

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

A gift arrived, bringing with it a flood of memories and emotions. It is, "The Book of Elders: The Life Stories and Wisdom of Great American Indians," by Sandy Johnson with photos by Dan Budnik.

Inside are the words and photographs of so many that I also had the gift of interviewing as a young reporter.

And with each there is a memory, going to Roberta Blackgoat's home, Carrie Dann visiting the Longest Walk, listening to Thomas Banyacya and so many more. There was Mike Haney remembering the early days of AIM.

Some I knew only as legends, like Chief Arvol Looking Horse, and Leon and Audrey Shenandoah.

The gift has a back story. A student in Canada was searching for an article that I wrote 11 years ago. It was on sexual violence in Indian country, and the strong Native women advocates who were organizing. The article was quoted elsewhere and difficult to locate online. After a long search of files, I found the article and forwarded it.

Now, I'm looking forward to hearing these voices again, like these words from Thomas Banyacya: "Stop, consider, change and correct."

And these words from Roberta Blackgoat, remembering her sweet home and the threat of forced removal and relocation. Blackgoat says, "This whole area is a sweet place."

The cover photo is at Warm Springs, of three sisters, Sylvia Walulatuma, Nettie Queahpama, and Matilda Mitchell, whose interviews appear in the book.

Mildred Cleghorn, Apache, shares the story of her ancestors. "My name is Mildred Imach Cleghorn. I was born in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, on December 11, 1910, as a prisoner of war."

Cleghorn tells how her mother had to sleep out in the open, as a prisoner coming from Mount Vernon, Alabama, waiting for the wagon to Oklahoma. When the older Apache women heard the coyotes, they began to cry. It made them feel like they were home again, home again in the west.

Santiago Leo Coriz, Santo Domingo Pueblo, talks about the hantavirus which spread across the Southwest in the 1990s. Coriz says it is not to be blamed on an animal. "I think that virus came from the atmosphere, or something man made."

"We are the ones causing all the sickness."

Coriz speaks of the Los Alamos lab and the poison and sickness it brings.

Mike Haney, Seminole Lakota from Oklahoma, always surprised me with his blunt honesty. In the book, he tells of the occupation of Wounded Knee, and the Spirit Horses.

There are 30 interviews in the book, sharing the words of Lakota, Hopi, Dineh, Tulalip, Onondaga, Mohawk, Shoshone, Cree, Ute, Seminole, Apache, Kiowa, Six Nations, Pit River, Yurok, Haida, Bella Bella, and Pueblo.

Martin Gashweseoma, Hopi, speaks of fear, and conquering fear by prayer and bathing in cold water to become strong physically and spiritually.

Rose Auger, Woodland Cree from Alberta, Canada, also speaks of living without fear.

"It is so fulfilling to live by the motivation of your spirit. That's what people lack today, and that's what has to be established. To begin listening to their own inner selves, their own spirit, or for us, our guardian spirit."

Pete Catches, Lakota medicine man, told the author, "Understanding comes in its own time."

Author Sandy Johnson spent three years talking with elders for the book. The excellent photographs are by Dan Budnik. It was originally published by Harper Collins in 1994 and is available new and used online.

-- Thank you, Brenda.

No comments: