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Thunderwoman

By Tom Hawthom about the 150 years of statehood.

Tom Hawthorn

Special to The Globe and Mail

June 11, 2008

VICTORIA

The horse-drawn covered wagons rolled toward Fort Snelling as part of ceremonies organized to mark 150 years of Minnesota statehood.

A wagon train of carts and prairie schooners – the drivers and their passengers clad in fringed buckskin and other pioneer costumes – travelled 160 kilometres from Cannon Falls to St. Paul.

At the fort, the procession was halted when a handful of protesters blocked the road. Among them was a 40-year-old professor named Waziyatawin. She was in no mood to honour a colonial triumph.

“They gained statehood at Dakota expense,” she said.

A Wahpetunwan Dakota from the Upper Sioux reservation, she learned stories about her people from her family as a little girl. As an adult, she earned a doctorate in history, bringing formal academic training to her studies.

Minnesota is having a birthday party. Talking about stolen land, broken treaties and of mass murder does not fit into the narrative of a celebration.

So she blocked the road. She was cited for misdemeanour disorderly conduct and held for an hour.

A few days later, a protest on the steps of the state capitol turned into a scuffle with police. Although not directly involved in that incident, she was warned not to continue shouting. When she did so, she was arrested again.

Two arrests on successive weekends made May a memorable month.

On July 1, she will leave Minnesota for British Columbia. Waziyatawin (pronounced Wah-ZEE-yah-tah-ween) will be taking up a five-year position as the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples at the University of Victoria.

She plans to teach courses on such themes as truth-telling and reparative justice, indigenous women and resistance, and decolonization.

She was born to parents who were both educators. Her father earned a doctorate in the field, while her mother is currently a director of a social welfare agency in North Carolina.

“I grew up in a family with a strong oral tradition,” she said in a telephone interview from Granite Falls, Minn. “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know stories. It was something I heard always when I was growing up.”

What she heard at home was unlike what was taught in class.

“All the children in U.S. schools learn all these myths we have about Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. Those were all nightmares to me.”

She remembers a dark day in Grade 9 when a social studies teacher offered for debate the statement that the only good Indian was a dead Indian.

After gaining a double major in history and American Indian studies from the University of Minnesota, she earned a master’s degree and a doctorate from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Her doctoral thesis was an oral-history project that became the first of her four books.

Research into the history of her people has not eased the pain.

The skirmishes of 1862 go by many names – the Sioux Uprising, the Minnesota Massacre, Little Crow’s War. The details are familiar to her, even as they are unknown to so many others. The outcome was dismal for the Dakota, some of whom had risen in opposition to the occupation of their lands.

Survivors were marched across the state, held in a camp, and then forcibly expelled. (The camp was near the fort at which she was arrested last month.) Thirty-eight Dakota were hanged in what remains the largest mass execution in American history.

A price was placed on the head of any Dakota found in the state.

At lectures, Waziyatawin shows a newspaper clipping from an 1863 edition of the Winona Daily Republican. It offers a bounty of $200 for a single Indian scalp – enough, she notes, to purchase a 160-acre homestead.

“It’s still stunning to me. It still appalls me. There’s still the hurt, a recognition of just how expendable aboriginal persons have been. And still are.”

Twice she has embarked on Dakota Commemorative Marches, treks of nearly 200 kilometres retracing the route her ancestors were forced to follow in their expulsion a century-and-a-half earlier.

The marches “provide a wakeup call to all of us about the extent of the injustice perpetrated against us.”

She is also left with a thought – “as Dakota people we are very much visitors in our own homeland.”

An elder gave her the name Waziyatawin as a girl. It means “woman of the north.” She began using it regularly five years ago and last summer Angela Cavender Wilson legally changed her name.

The lone difficulty with bearing a single traditional name has been in booking an airplane flight, as the computer system demanded a first name. A boarding pass was acquired by signing in as Miss Waziyatawin.

“Felt like a pageant title,” she quipped.

She looks forward to learning the history of the indigenous peoples of Vancouver Island. British Columbia, she was told, is also marking a sesquicentennial this year.

2008 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Posted by Tom Hawthorn at 10:23 PM

Canadian Prime Minister Apologized To The Nation’s Indians.

Canada apologizes for decades of abuse of Indians

June 11, 2008

OTTAWA – Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized Wednesday to the nation’s Indians for “a sad chapter in our history,” acknowledging the physical abuses and cultural damage they suffered during a century of forced assimilation at residential schools.

“Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country,” he said to applause.

A group of 11 aboriginal leaders and former students sat before Harper in a circle in the House of Commons, some weeping as the prime minister delivered the government’s first formal apology to them. In the crowded, expectant chamber, Harper bowed his head as he read a carefully crafted speech, asking for forgiveness for separating children from their families and cultures, exposing the students to abuse, and sowing the seeds for generations of problems.

“The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian residential schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on aboriginal culture, heritage and language,” Harper said.

The apology was billed by the government as a chance to redress a dark chapter in Canadian history and to move forward in reconciliation.

Over more than a century, about 150,000 native Canadian children were sent to boarding schools run by churches and the government to “civilize and Christianize” them. Expressions of native heritage were outlawed, many children suffered sexual and psychological abuse, and grew up with neither traditional roots nor mainstream footing, their ties to family and community unraveled.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine, wearing a feather headdress, took the floor to declare that the occasion “testifies nothing less than the accomplishment of the impossible.” In 1990, he was one of the first to come forward with his story of abuse and push for an apology. “Finally, we heard Canada say it is sorry.”

Several churches offered apologies in the late 1980s and 1990s. A lawsuit settled in 2006 created a $1.9 billion compensation fund, and an independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission was launched on June 1.

Analysts say that the next step for the government is to settle outstanding land claims with aboriginal groups, and to refocus policies to alleviate poverty and improve education among First Nations.

Geraldine Maness-Robertson, 72, a Chippewa, said her six years at an Anglican school were a “horrific experience,” and her hands were often whipped with a razor strap to break her spirit.

“When I left I was so full of rage and anger and hatred,” she said. “Today’s apology was so helpful, it hit all the areas of hurt. I have spent my whole life reconciling and I turned a page today.”

The Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition

KFAI’s Indian Uprising, June 15, 2008 from 7:00 – 8:00 p.m. CDT #270

Rape and Sexual Violence.  “Native American and Alaska Native women in
the United States suffer disproportionately high levels of rape and
sexual violence, yet the federal government has created substantial
barriers to accessing justice, Amnesty International asserted in a
113-page report, Maze of Injustice: The failure to protect Indigenous
women from sexual violence in the USA.  Justice Department figures
indicate that American Indian and Alaska Native women are 2.5 times
more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the United
States in general.” – www.amnestyusa.org

The Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition (www.miwsac.org)
is a unique Coalition funded in October of 2001, through the US
Department of Justice, Violence Against Women Office and is one of 16
Tribal Coalitions around the Country formed to address domestic and
sexual violence in American Indian Communities. The Coalition is the
only sexual assault coalition in the state of Minnesota that is
specific to American Indian Women.  Guests are:

Nicole Matthews (Ojibwe), Director, Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual
Assault Coalition

Guadalupe Lopez (Ojibwe/Purepecha), Membership/ Outreach Coordinator, MIWSAC

* * * *

Indian Uprising is a KFAI Public & Cultural Affairs program relevant
to Native Indigenous people, broadcast each Sunday on 90.3 FM
Minneapolis and 106.7 FM St. Paul. Producer & host is Chris Spotted
Eagle.

For internet listening, visit www.kfai.org, click Play under ON AIR
NOW or for listening later via their archives, click PROGRAMS &
SCHEDULE > Indian Uprising > STREAM.  Programs are archived for two
weeks