Reinventing the Enemy's Language - Contemporary Native Women's Writings of North America (1997)


The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Reinventing the Enemy's Language - Contemporary Women's Writings of North America, edited by Joy Harjo and Gloria Bird. W. W. Norton, New York, London. 1997.

The blurb includes:
This long-awaited anthology celebrates the experience of Native American women and is at once an important contribution to our literature and an historical document. It is the most comprehensive anthology of its kind to collect poetry, fiction, prayer, and memoir from Native American women.
Here is an image of the book:

Setting the stage
I will begin by giving a general introduction to the background of the writers by providing a few links to Wikis that could be relevant. If you already know a bit about concepts like First Nations, Native American, tribe and Indian reservation, I would move over that quickly and get to the comments where I have picked out ten short stories. For the sake of structure and to make navigation easier, the stories have a number. I did not read all short stories, and hardly any of the poems. I don't think you need to read them all to learn something. Every story is selfcontained, although the editors have attempted to organize them in a few themes. There was no system in the reading except letting curiosity be the guide. After reading, I listed a few stories, which then became the seed for the post.

The background of the writers
The book would fall within the genre of Native American literature (US) and First Nations literature (Canada). More well known contributors to the anthology might appear in the List of writers from peoples indigenous to the Americas.

The writers of the book are associated with various groups that form a subset of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. These categories of groups are named differently in Canada and the US.

The Wiki with List of First Nations peoples mentions:
The following is a partial list of First Nations peoples of Canada, organized by linguistic-cultural area. It only includes First Nations people, which by definition excludes Metis and Canadian Inuit groups. The areas used here are in accordance to those developed by the ethnologist and linguist Edward Sapir, and used by the Canadian Museum of Civilization.[1]
And for the US there is List of federally recognized tribes in the United States
This is a list of federally recognized tribes in the contiguous United States of America. There are also federally recognized Alaska Native tribes. As of 19 February 2020, 574 Indian tribes were legally recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) of the United States.[1][2][3] Of these, 231 are located in Alaska.
See also: Tribe (Native American) which has:
In the United States, an American Indian tribe, Native American tribe, Alaska Native village, tribal nation, or similar concept is any extant or historical clan, tribe, band, nation, or other group or community of Native Americans in the United States. Modern forms of these entities are often associated with land or territory of an Indian reservation. "Federally recognized Indian tribe" is a legal term of art in United States law with a specific meaning.
There can be disagreement on the name, so there is: Native American name controversy
The Native American name controversy is an ongoing discussion about the changing terminology used by the Indigenous peoples of the Americas to describe themselves, as well as how they prefer to be referred to by others. Preferred terms vary primarily by region and age. As Indigenous peoples and communities are diverse, there is no consensus on naming, aside from the fact that most people prefer to be referred to by their specific nations. Historically, until late in the 20th century, most Indigenous people in the Americas were collectively called "Indians." The distinct people in the Arctic were called "Eskimos." Both terms have declined in usage in formal speech.

When discussing broad groups of peoples, naming may be based on shared language, region, or historical relationship, such as "Algonquin-speaking peoples", "Pueblo-dwelling peoples", "Plains Indians", or "LDN peoples" (Lakota, Dakota and Nakota peoples).
The article, Native Americans in the United States, mentions:
Native American identity has historically been based on culture, not just biology, as many American Indian peoples adopted captives from their enemies and assimilated them into their tribes.
Still one consideration might be a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood
A Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood or Certificate of Degree of Alaska Native Blood (both abbreviated CDIB) is an official U.S. document that certifies an individual possesses a specific fraction of Native American ancestry of a federally recognized Indian tribe, band, nation, pueblo, village, or community.[1]
A CDIB can show only the blood degree of one tribe or the total blood degree from all tribes in the filer's ancestry. Some tribes require a specific minimum degree of tribal ancestry for membership, which might require the first type of certificate, while some federal benefits programs require a minimum total Indian blood degree so an individual might require the second type of certificate to qualify. For example, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians requires at least 1/16 degree of Eastern Cherokee blood for tribal membership, whereas the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Higher Education Grant for college expenses requires a 1/4 degree minimum.[2] A Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood does not establish membership in a tribe. Tribal membership is determined by tribal laws and may or may not require a CDIB or may require a separate tribal determination of ancestry or blood degree.[3]
In the above description, 1/4 would correspond to the equivalent of one grandparent, while 1/16 would be one great-great-grandparent.

Many stories have a setting related to an Indian reservation
An Indian reservation is an area of land tenure governed by a federally recognized Native American tribal nation under the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, rather than by the government of the state in which it is located. The 326[1] Indian reservations in the United States are associated with specific Native American nations, often on a one-to-one basis. Some of the country's 574[3] federally recognized tribes govern more than one reservation, while some share reservations, and others have no reservation at all. In addition, because of past land allotments, leading to sales to non–Native Americans, some reservations are severely fragmented, with each piece of tribal, individual, and privately held land being a separate enclave. This jumble of private and public real estate creates significant administrative, political and legal difficulties.[4]

The collective geographical area of all reservations is 56,200,000 acres (22,700,000 ha; 87,800 sq mi; 227,000 km2),[1] approximately the size of the state of Idaho. While most reservations are small compared to U.S. states, there are twelve Indian reservations larger than the state of Rhode Island. The largest reservation, the Navajo Nation Reservation, is similar in size to West Virginia. Reservations are unevenly distributed throughout the country; the majority are west of the Mississippi River and occupy lands that were first reserved by treaty or "granted" from the public domain.[5]

Because recognized Native American nations possess limited tribal sovereignty, laws on tribal lands vary from those of the surrounding area.[6] For example, these laws can permit legal casinos on reservations located in states which do not allow gambling, attracting tourism. The tribal council, not the local government or the state or federal government, generally has jurisdiction over the reservation. Different reservations have different systems of government, which may or may not replicate the forms of government found outside the reservation. Most Native American reservations were established by the federal government; a limited number, mainly in the East, owe their origin to state recognition.[7]

The term "reservation" is a legal designation. It comes from the conception of the Native American nations as independent sovereigns at the time the U.S. Constitution was ratified. Thus, early peace treaties (often signed under conditions of duress or fraud), in which Native American nations surrendered large portions of their land to the United States, designated parcels which the nations, as sovereigns, "reserved" to themselves, and those parcels came to be called "reservations".[8][9] The term remained in use after the federal government began to forcibly relocate nations to parcels of land to which they had no historical connection.

A few stories with comments
Having set the stage, below are a number of authors, their names, affiliation, the title of their short story, tthe page number in the hard cover edition from 1997.

1. Janet Campbell Hale, Coeur D'Alene: The Only Good Indian, p. 123
The family of the writer descended from the founder of Fort Vancouver, John McLoughlin, in what is now British Columbia, perhaps better known as the "Father of Oregon",

Since I have been to Vancouver, and stayed in the area for a few months, this story was like coming full circle, and learn something new about what went on before in a location, I had visited. Perhaps it was even more than one circle, considering that the inspiration of the book began in Vancouver: Joy Harjo writes in the beginning:
This anthology is a journey that began in 1986 when I accepted an invitation to present my work as part of an international conference on education in Vancouver, British Columbia.

2. Velma Walls, Athabascan: Two Old Women, p 190
In the far North, two women, no longer able to match the pace of their band, are left by their people to fend for themselves in the bitter cold of winter. This story follows them through the first night, where they managed to catch a hare, and the morning where they wake up to reflect on their past and on their present options. At the end, they decide not to give up but to try to carry on. It may not last so long, but they have overcome resentment, selfpity and that gives them new energy. Here is the last paragraph:
Ch'idzigyaak stared for a long time at her friend and knew that what she said was true, that death would surely come if they did not try to survive. She was not convinced that the two of them were strong enough to make it through the harsh season, but the passion in her friend's voice made her feel a little better. So, instead of feeling sadness because there was nothing further they could say or do, she smiled. "I think we said this before and will probably say it many more times, but yes, let us die trying." And with a sense of strength filling her like she had not thought possible, Sa' returned the smile as she got up to prepare for the long day ahead of them.

3. Leslie Marmon Silko, Laguna: Angelita La Escapia Explains Engels and Marx, p. 195
This is an interesting title, but what I will remember more, is what I found about the concept of time, when I looked up her Wiki:
During an interview in Germany in 1995, Silko shared the significance of her writings as a continuation of an existing oral tradition within the Laguna people. She specified that her works are not re-interpretations of old legends, but carry the same important messages as when they were told hundreds of years ago. Silko explains that the Laguna view on the passage of time is responsible for this condition, stating, “The Pueblo people and the indigenous people of the Americas see time as round, not as a long linear string. If time is round, if time is an ocean, then something that happened 500 years ago may be quite immediate and real, whereas something inconsequential that happened an hour ago could be far away.” [8]

4. Elizabeth Cook Lynn, Crow Creek Sioux: Aurelia, p. 222
The main character is a young woman, whose grandmother Aurelia passes away. Aurelia's maternal grandfather was clever, but he also made choices that benefitted himself more than his wife or his people. The results were not good, and they followed his descendants. At the funeral the granddaughter of Aurelia is disturbed by the behavior of her relatives and:
she was even more certain that the discordant nature of her family history was a curse ...
Another story that also deals with the topic of a cursed family is Susan Power, Yanktonnai Sioux: Beaded Soles, p. 375. This story has an even more sad ending, but conveys a point that past wrongs or the feelings of guilt associated with these wrongs can influence the future of the descendants negatively. Thinking about how this influencing might happen, made me recall the chapter in 30 Years Among the Dead by Carl Wickland that discusses spirits and crime.

Another story to illustrate the influences from beyond is from Elsa Barker, who wrote Letters from a Living Dead Man (1914) and is mentioned in the "Stainton Moses"and the 'Descriptions of the "afterlife" threads. In her later book, Last Letters From the Living Dead Man (1919), there is a story, Letter XVI, "A council in the forest". The storyteller relates how he meets a band of American Indians in the afterlife, gathering energies to inspire people to create destruction. Both the story from Wickland and Barker are most likely screens for an even more complex situation, since none of them mention the dynamics of STS and STO etc.

Weaved into the story by Barker, there is an analysis of the situation between American Indians and settler and steps in the direction of resolution is indicated. Also the book by Wickland has something to offer in this respect. One of the spirts that protects their work is claimed to be an Indian American spirit, Silver Star, Chippewa (Ojibwe). Another guardian spirit, actually a couple, had lived in Greenland. Even if you take these stories as fiction, there are still ideas that can form basis for discussion, but as their understandings of Christianity were different from many mainstream teachings, the circulation of the books by Barker and Wickland has probably been limited.

5. Arlene Fire, Dakota: Hard-to-Kill-Woman, p. 301
This is like an autobiographical account of her first Vision Quest in 1986. She mentions the interactions she had with her ancestors, at least that was her impression. I wondered if her experiences with ancestors, could be how it might have been for more people in the past also in other places. She writes at the end:
There isn't that much difference for a woman and a man in the Vision Quest. It comes to you, like something kept telling me, there's things that I have to do, there's things that should be done, and why are you waiting, what are you waiting for? These come to you like in a dreams, like I'll just be sitting there and no one's around and someone'll call me, and I'll look. I'll look in that direction just as plain as day, and there's no one. A lot of different things, a lot of little things add up. someone'd call me and i'd get up and I'd say, "What?" They'd say, "Remember you had something to do? Did you forget?" They'd always talk to me in Indian, never talk to me in English. I wouldn't understand it at first so I'd pray about it in Indian, get tobacco out and make tobacco ties and ask for an answer, ask them to show me what it is I should do. They'd show me little pictures, like a filmstrip, right in front of my eyes, just one right after the other, and I could see myself doing different things, and the Vision Quest was one of them. I said, I can't believe this, this is too hard for me, but they would wake me up at night, and I would see these little pictures go by. So I stopped being afraid and I said, "Okay, I'll do it, 'cause that's what's important and I need to do that and it's going to help someone, plus I'm going to be helped. It's going to be hard and I don't even know how to do some of those things, but I'll do it.
The author is actually very careful during her quest and remains rational. From the description alone, it can be difficult to see what exactly is taking place, how much is her, how much are good guides, and how clear the communication is from negative forces. A shift to New Age COINTELPRO, does not seem to be far away. While she tells her story, she does not encourage others. In the second paragraph of the short story, there is:
One of these men that was always chasing me, he told me, "You shouldn't go up." 'Cause he went up and something happened. He must not have been ready, because the spirits took him and they drug him down the hill he was on, and they just rolled him. There was cactus on him, cuts on him, and he was just wandering around the hill in a daze. He wasn't even himself. It took him a while to come back to his own sanity, so he was trying to tell me not to do it.

6. Luca Tapahonso, Navajo: All the Colors of Sunset, p. 318
This story is about loosing a grandchild and healing the resulting trauma.
Early in the morning, we went to his house west of Many Farms - word had already been sent out that we were coming. The ceremony lasted for four days and three nights, and parts of songs and prayers had such ancient sacred words I wasn't sure if I understood them. When the old man prayed and sang, sometimes tears streamed down my face as I repeated everything after him - word for word, line for line, late into the night - and we would begin again at daybreak the next morning. I was exhausted and so relieved. I finally understood what my grief had done. I could finally let my grandchild go.
I don't know what a psychologist would say to this story, but if it worked.

7. Beth Bran, Mohawk: Stillborn Night, p. 353.
Describes the trauma relating to a giving birth to a stillborn child.
This story is perhaps even more relevant now, than it was when the book was published. Here are a few headlines showing the topic of stillborn children has become more common, though I begin with those that deny it:
Fact check: COVID-19 vaccines are not causing a rise in stillbirths in Canada from November 25, 2021
Perhaps in response to:
VAERS Data Shows Dozens of Miscarriages, Stillbirths After COVID-19 Vaccination, Link Unconfirmed By Steven Li, MD | March 8, 2021
But then in December there was this article:
Areas of Canada with high covid “vaccine” uptake see 28X increase in stillbirths from Sunday, December 12, 2021
Of couse the Native American and First Nations are not excluded from such risks.
In Canada for instance, the Assembly of First Nations was enrolled to promote what was expected:
Listen to insights from First Nations women, youth, Elders and Knowledge Keepers as they reflect on the past year and share hope for the future during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the US it was allegedly also easy:
Covid-19: How Native Americans led the way in the US vaccination effort
Despite obstacles, Native Americans have the nation's highest COVID-19 vaccination rate
However, a search engine preview of what takes place behind the paywall of the New York Times shows White Evangelical Resistance Is Obstacle in Vaccination Effort
At least one Native American people share the position of the White Evangelicals:
On One Native American Reservation, Vaccine Hesitancy Has Long Historical Roots
On the Cheyenne River Reservation, the same government that for centuries brutally suppressed Lakota independence is now managing the Covid-19 vaccine drive.
Above, I inserted two links to explain the location and the group of people, they were not there in the original.

8. Emma LaRocque, Plains Cree and Metis: Tides, Towns and Trains, p. 361
In this autobiographical account, the writer describes how society and life has changed for her and her family. She is an activist too, or became one. When I read her story, I wondered if research an activism around the First Nations Peoples community has helped or been helped to fuel the multicultural, postmodern movement where self-asserted identity supersedes objective reality in places like Canada? It would be a development easy to understand, since the Canadian government has often been far from gentle in its policies toward First Nations, until at least the 1960ies. This brings us up to the present time, as the treatment of First Nations can find a reflection in the heavy-handed management of the Covid lockdowns, forced isolation, travel restrictions, mask mandates, strongly forced vaccination campaign and a demand for health passports in many countries. Or is that the story of "what goes around, comes around."?

9. Wilma Mankiller, Cherokee: Keeping Pace with the Rest of the World, p. 398
Grandmother Ahniwake is old and ill. All her life she has been treated by natural medicine. Now however, it is really bad and the old man of medicine is no longer, so she is taken to hospital. At the hospital it turns out, it is indeed bad, and they want to keep her for more testing, but she wants to go home and never come back to the place. Here is a passage from the beginning, which indicates learning tradtional medicine involved:
Pearl drove on and Ahniwake continued speaking. "When Charlie Christie passed on, we lost many of our medicine secrets. Charlie once told me that many young people came to him and told him they were interested in learning about medicine but that he couldn't teach them because they weren't willing to accept the pure lifestyle of a Cherokee doctor. For some healing ceremonies, the songs will not allow themselves to be sung by anyone except the purest of spirits."

Although she had heard the answer many times, Pearl asked her grandmother. "Is everything Charlie knew lost?"

Ahniwake was quick to say, "No. The way it was told to me, as long as Cherokee people continue to honor our ancestors and our creator through good living and our ceremonies, the roots, herbs and medicine songs will be available to us. When it is right, these things will be shown to our people again. They are never really lost, as long as we are not lost. I wish Charlie had passed on the medicine to help me, but when it is right his knowledge will be shown to our people again.
The above excerpt resonates with the story of an older herbalist, I met in another part of the world. I asked him how he had learned herbal medicine. He referred to a tradition in his family and mentioned that his grandmother appeared in dreams and showed him herbs and what they were used for.

In the excerpt there is also a sentiment of nostalgia, a longing for the old days. It would be easy if the old days were all good, which is not true, and is a rejection of the present in favour of a dream of the past helpful? I am reminded of the saying of the Cs that Life is relgion:
'Life is religion. Life experiences reflect how one interacts with God. Those who are asleep are those of little faith in terms of their interaction with the creation. Some people think that the world exists for them to overcome or ignore or shut out. For those individuals, the world will cease. They will become exactly what they give to life. They will become merely a dream in the 'past.' People who pay strict attention to objective reality right and left, become the reality of the 'Future.' -- Cassiopaeans, 09-28-02
Near the end, of the short story, there is the following passage, that illustrates how fire might serve a function beyond heating and bringing light for those who like Anhiwake's grandaughter had a gift. It is called fire scrying, derived from scry, when she, settled in front of the fire, and with fire as the medium, receives a vision and a message:
She suddenly felt warm, as she had often felt when she and Ahniwake were together and her eyes were drawn to a certain spot in the fire. She leaned forward and looked more closely. There, in the back of the flames, she saw Anhiwake with old man Charlie Christie on one side and Levi Buckskin on the other. Ahniwake looked very happy but Pearl began to weep. They could not speak to each other across the worlds that seperated them but Pearl knew the message Ahniwake was sending. [...]

10. Anne Lee Walker, Pawnee: Buffalo Wallow Woman, p. 533
Buffalo Wallow Woman is the story of Mrs. Smith, who, because she thinks she is Buffalo Wallow Woman goes in and out of mental hospitals. It turns out there is a reason, but few care to listen. This story was for me very moving, and there is a part that expresses an element of holistic mental health care.
"All right, Buffalo Woman, if that's who you say you are, how did you get here? Do you know where you are?" He is still brusque and impatient, but he has called me by my real name and I must reply. My body becomes more solid and earthly again. I lean toward him.
"Do you come with prayers?" I venture again in my small voice.
"What kind of prayers?" he asks
"Prayers to the spirits of those whose fate is in your hands." My voice is like the red ant again, crawling quietly across the room.
"What do you mean? I don't understand," he says while his eyes jump all over.
Many professions are guided by regulations, methods and "best practices", also professions that involve taking care of people. Proven methods and procedures have many advantageous, but what about the element of the spirit. Is there place for a question like: "Do you come with prayers?"
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