Honoring the Hearts of Our Nations
by Vivette Jeffries-Logan & Marshall Jeffries
“The woman is the foundation on which nations are built. She is the heart of her nation. If that heart is weak, the people are weak. If her heart is strong and her mind is clear, then the nation is strong and knows its purpose. The woman is the center of everything.”
-Dr. Art Solomon, Ojibwe (1914- 1997)
Recent growth of the Idle No More movement has planted hope in the hearts and homes of Indigenous communities across this continent. Elders and leaders have noted the arrival of the long-awaited Seventh Generation. The power of this moment, however, is matched by our responsibility to build our futures on foundations older than those imported from Europe. Brutal insertion of patriarchy and the violence that allows it to flourish has undermined the centrality of women in our communities. In her book Conquest, Andrea Smith tells the story of the systematic raping of our women, our communities, our cultures, and our dignities; in effect, the colonizer has successfully repressed our communities for centuries by controlling our women through the many forms of violence, and eventually, encouraging our own Indigenous men to value their own power over that of our women. The violence embedded in our larger national cultures (i.e. US and Canada) has been reflected at alarming rates in our own tribal communities.
Far too many social movements have made the mistake of relying on this same patriarchal power structure in their attempts to make change. Additionally, within social movements meant to empower women, Indigenous women and other Women of Color have found that whiteness and patriarchy go hand in hand as they have found themselves silenced by white women. However, unlike any movement we have seen before, Idle No More has brought the concepts of decolonization and reparation into the public view. As the name suggests, the movement is a vehicle for Indigenous peoples and their allies to take a stand against the continued exploitation of Indigenous land and resources, as well as the larger ideological systems that benefit from that exploitation, i.e. colonialism and capitalism. The goals of this movement and the visibility Indigenous people have gained as a result, marks the turning of a new leaf in the history of this continent.
Together, we (globally) have stood by as Chief Spence has courageously carried out a hunger strike in order to demand meetings with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other Canadian officials. We have seen the thousands of powerful images of women and families participating in demonstrations and round dances all over the continent. It seems that many of our communities are re-membering the power and potential that our women have had for time immemorial. We have seen Indigenous people from the many nations and of a variety of skin tones drumming, dancing, and praying together in ways we have never seen before. While we celebrate our awakening, we must remain connected to our roots; for many of us, these roots are based in matriarchal and matrilineal tradition and women-led clan families.
The challenge now faced by the Indigenous peoples of this continent, particularly as it relates to Idle No More and the continued existence of our cultures, is to remember that our traditions pre-date the use of forms of violence and subjugation that colonialist governments have used to disempower women (and by doing so, disable our communities). Indigenous men, especially tribal and State leaders, must confront the silencing and undermining of women that occurs in so many of our communities. Decisions made by our women, though often more reflective of the concerns of the community than those made by men, are often approached with mistrust or outright objection. One example was the group of Grand Chiefs that called into question Spence’s decision to carry out a hunger strike that compromised her own health. These Chiefs urged her to end the strike, despite the fact that she had her own community as well as a whole global community of Indigenous people behind her. The decision that she was making for her ancestors and those yet to come clashed with that which would be considered legitimate protest in the mainstream. Despite the fact that her community and Nation, as well as many Indigenous people and their allies understood her purpose and supported her choice to protest in this way, Spence was publicly challenged by these men.
As the late Dr. Art Solomon so eloquently explained, our women are our heart and soul. When his words once again reflect the lived experiences of ALL of our communities, and our allies hold the same respect for our women as we do, we will be on the path to liberation. Like Mother Earth, our women have been neglected. As we place our earth mother in the center of our change-making efforts, so too should we place our own mothers and daughters. As Indigenous people stand up for our rights and the rights of our earth mother, we must no longer be IDLE when faced with the many forms of patriarchal violence that have shaped our collective past.
Vivette Jeffries-Logan (Kanahabnen Tabunitckia, translation: Morning Star) is a member of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation (OBSN)–the Indigenous people of Orange and Alamance Counties in North Carolina. She served as an elected Tribal Council member and is also Founding Director of the Tribal Health Circle, which seeks to restore the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health of the Occaneechi people. Vivette is also a member of the dR Works Collaborative and the Director of Training and Technical Assistance at the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCCADV). Vivette earned a BA in Psychology and Community Studies from Guilford College in 2006.
Marshall Jeffries (Oninewa Itai, translation: Stands Strong) earned his BA at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC, and an MA at Georgia State University, where he is currently pursuing a PhD in Sociology. His area of concentration is race studies, with his research focusing on Indigenous Social Movement mobilization, culturally accountable pedagogy, and decolonization. He is a member of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation (OBSN) Health Circle and the Organizer of Healing Wounds Prayer Circle in Atlanta, a program of Southerners on New Ground.