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In August Veronica Chambers published her book Finish the Fight: The Brave and Revolutionary Women Who Fought for the Right To Vote. It commemorates White women gaining the right to vote in the United States in 1920 while also making visible the continued fight for voting rights for Women of Color beyond that time. Chambers elevates the stories and voices that counter the American narrative that suffrage provided all women access to the ballot box. Instead she surfaces the conflict within the suffrage movement ------ White Suffragist choosing to advocate for voting rights for themselves while downplaying connections to Women of Color because White men would not have endorsed the granting of voting rights if those rights were also bestowed on Women of Color.


The story of Zitkála-Šá (also known as Red Bird) is particularly profound as we move closer to the celebration of Thanksgiving. As a member of the Dakota Sioux, a young Zitkála-Šá naively agreed to attend an Indian Boarding School and was subject to the “civilizing” that was common in such schools during the 1800’s. In her brief and beautifully written biography My Life, Zitkála-Šá captures the experiences of generations of Indigenous People who have been told that their traditions and culture need to be erased and replaced with White culture for them to survive in the United States of America.


This erasure was important to decrease the dissonance caused by forcibly seizing the lands of Sovereign Indian Nations during the 1800’s for the United States expansion. To further calm the dissonance, words like “savage” and “wild” were used to describe Indigenous People and their land; somehow justifying their “taming”.


The erasure of Indigenous People persists. It is embedded in the simplistic narrative of Thanksgiving and unless we offer fuller and richer stories of Indigenous People our erasure of them will continue. What if we took a few moments to tell the story of Zitkála-Šá? What if we watched a movie about women in Indian Country during the Thanksgiving break? What if we researched the Indigenous People who were on these lands long before us? What if we think of ways to stop the injustice of erasure and act on our ideas? What if we did all of this with our children?


If we take these steps, we are saying: “We see you and we are with you.”


Resources:

“Unfinished Work: Finish the Fight”

This radio play features the voices of Black, Indigenous, Latino, and Asian women of color who fought for the right to vote.


Gyasi Ross’ Keynote Speech From the 2016 People of Color Conference

In this powerful speech Gyasi Ross discusses his people, the history of education of Indigenous people, and the how Indigenous People are using their knowledge of history to make change.


Four New Indigenous Movies By and About Native Women (Article from Indian Country Today)

Women Making Films, a nonprofit, has funded four new films made by female Indigenous filmmakers. You will want to see them all!


“All Nations Rise” by Lila June

Lila June offers an anthem calling us all to rise up for justice. June says “In this time it isn’t Indians versus Cowboys. No. This time it is all the beautiful races of humanity together on the SAME side and we are fighting to replace our fear with LOVE. This time bullets, arrows, and cannon balls won’t save us. The only weapons that are useful in this battle are the weapons of truth, faith, and compassion.”


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