Honoring “The Strength of Indian Women”

Carol A. Hand

Culture is an interesting force in our lives. It establishes our foundations in ways we cannot predict or control unless we become aware of its importance. Although I honor the work of many artists and activists in what is now the United States and around the globe, the ones who have been most influential for me are Native American women. Despite their passion and wisdom, their voices are not often heard in dominant media.

The voices of Native American women have helped me realize the need to honor the strengths and resilience of all my relations, as Crystos so elegantly says.

whose eyes I wear in my soul
in joyous praise for gnarled hands
precious children           laughter in the soup of pain
Everyone of us beautifull
deeply as young pink birches in high white snowdrifts
the Native woman whose Black pimp stared me down
the many in the alcohol trap chewing off their legs
the strong, the fearful, the weary, the angry
the traditional, the assimilated, the ones on both sides
of the bloody borders
playing Bingo, dancing in Pow Wows
telling stories leaning against a cold fender
How beautifull we are           How complete
just as we are
Grief & confusion wail through our hills
Above it I sing a song for my people
who always resist           always fight
A song rising in our throats now
A song in our bellies now
A song in our hands now
A dark light in our eyes now
How we are beautifull
(Crystos, 1991, Dream On, p. 70. Vancouver, BC: Press Gang Publishers.)

With her unique pulsating voice, Buffy St. Marie urges all of us to take action to honor promises and to be mindful of the role we all play in global wars. Ulali reminds us that we need to care about each other because we are all inextricably interrelated.

Before her passing, Vera Manual reminded us of The Strength of Indian Women, something my teacher, mentor, and friend, Ada Deer, demonstrated so forcefully in her own life. Spiderwoman Theater reminded me that humor is often culture-bound as they helped me find my laughter once again in an alien world. Ignatia Broker’s  one novel, Nightflying Woman, a timeless work of art, helped me understand not only what it means to be Ojibwe, but also what it means to be human. Winona La Duke reminds us of the work we need to do now to create a better future for generations yet to come.

It saddens me to realize that many people are unaware of the gifts these courageous women have bestowed. I am sharing this brief list of my heroes in hopes that others have an opportunity to hear their voices and learn from their passion and wisdom.



20 thoughts on “Honoring “The Strength of Indian Women”

  1. Our collective power lies in our shared humanity. These bonds are stronger than the artificial bonds of money and status. Thank you Carol for sharing these clear and powerful voices.


  2. Beautifully written and so beautifully true. Once I visited a vert talented female artist who was creating a series of portraits on canvas of women of the Mexican women. I loved it. I wanted to photograph her doing her creative work.


    1. Thank you for your kind words, Harold. I’m sorry you didn’t have an opportunity to photograph her work. The photos and observations posted on your blog are powerful and profound!


      1. Thank you Susan. I am really sorry that I did not photograph her work too. The artist’s name is Merry Calderoni and she lives here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I really enjoy what I am doing with Through Harold’s Lens. It keeps the creative part of me going forward and not falling into a slump.


  3. Thank you for educating me about this. There are so many writers and thinkers I do not know about. Now I have new feelings and thoughts to process …..


  4. I haven’t stopped thinking about this article all week, but when it’s read together with the circle your wagons article, it’s even more vital!


    1. Thank you for seeing the link, Nicci. The first essay (the strength of Indian women) was an attempt to address an underlying issue. I thought is was enough until I sat down to write yesterday. I couldn’t ignore the image that came to mind — wagons in a circle. What flowed was more direct and forceful.


  5. Years ago, living in Austin, TX, and working with Native American activists and lesbians, I had the audacity to include myself in a Native American women’s retreat based on a photo in which my undocumented original people’s roots showed physically. At that time I had the opportunity to meet and hear Winona La Duke. Thanks for sharing so many other creative and activist voices, I haven’t met before.


    1. I consider you a sister, Skywalker Storyteller, and I know women of good hearts everywhere would as well.


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