Sharon M Day gave this talk on International Indigenous Women’s Day 2022 at the University of Minnesota, Humphrey School for Public Affairs.
Boozhoo, Nagamoo Mahingen Indishinikaz. It’s an honor to be here this morning and with such a distinguished guest as Dr. Henrietta Mann. Dr. Mann is one of the kindest graceful woman I know.
I want to speak with you about 3 specific topics:
- Our grandmothers
- Our connection to our grandmothers and
- How that has sustained us to be here today.
I will begin with my grandmother, Effie Day. She was my father, Clyde Day’s mother. She was the only grandparent I knew on either side of the family. My grandmother was a tiny brown skinned woman who didn’t like to speak English much. She never said an unkind word about anyone. She walked with a cane, and always wore a skirt and a scarf went she left her house. She experienced great tragedy In her lifetime, losing her husband, and 3 sons to violence. She also lost a daughter in a boating accident. She had every right to be bitter, to be angry but she was not. She was the epitome of grace. Her grace came from her faith. She believed in the creator and that we were all born with a purpose. She was blessed with many children, grandchildren and great- grandchildren. She was 84 years old when she left this realm. But when she was still here she always kept in contact with us. I recall getting a letter from her on Christmas eve and around Easter for many years. I’m sure I’m not the only one who received these letters. She kept the pictures of my children, her great-grandchildren in her purse. She loved them. When we moved to St Paul in 1966, she would catch a ride down with the Minister or take the bus to come and visit.
I believe we as a people have survived because of our grandparents love for us. I will give you an example. My oldest grandson’s name is Kirby. When he was a baby he had severe asthma. He was in and out of the hospital, we did everything we could to keep him healthy. No smoking, no dogs, we kept any allergens out of the house. He was doctored by an Ojibwe Medicine person at the age of 2 and has never had to use a nebulizer machine or oxygen since. Because of his asthma, we wanted to have his naming ceremony right away. So we offered tobacco to an elder who had the authority to do naming ceremonies at Bois Forte, we traveled there three times, first to offer tobacco to her, she said, I will call you when I have the name, 2nd when she told us to come, we came but she wasn’t home and the 3rd time, she said come in the morning at daybreak. When she was not there again, we were devastated. When we arrived in St. Paul 4 hours later, Papa Jay had left a message with my sister that he needed to give Kirby his Indian name. The next weekend he performed the naming ceremony. Papa Jay said he dreamt about Kirby when he was a young man, himself. I asked him, how old were you when you had that dream. He said about ten or eleven. At the time of the naming, Papa Jay was 72 years old or so. How was it that Kirby’s adopted grandfather dreamt of him 70 years before his birth? Maybe our grandparents loved us before we were born. Some of our dreams are prophetic and some of are times past. When they offered those prayers for the 7 generations ahead, this is what they are doing, sending forth the love to those yet unborn. That is the spiritual aspect. There is a physical connection as well. When we are born, as females we have all our eggs at the time of birth. There is a transfer of our blood cells to our mother and she to us, when we are in the womb. We carry the DNA of our grandmothers’ directly in our blood. So in this way, our grandmother carried us in her as well. This is evidenced by the way we tie our cradleboards. That lacing represents our DNA and connects us to our grandmothers to the beginning of time and to all future relatives into infinity.
Which brings me to the subject of Blood Quantum. It doesn’t matter what the color of your skin is, or the texture of your hair, or the color of your eyes. If you are born from ancestors who are Ojibwe. Or Lakota or Houdesaunee or Pueblo or Taino, you are of that blood. Nothing can change that. And our blood memory carries not only the trauma but all of the joy our ancestors felt.
We are in a time of great trauma. In the last year, I have lost 6 individuals close to me, going back another two years, I can add two of my teachers. Many of you have similar experiences. We are all losing people we love, people we hold dear, and the elders, our historians and teachers. Some of this loss is due to COVID, but also drug over doses, alcoholism, heart disease, and cancer. When we are losing so many of our people, why would we be pushing more people out of our nations?
The tribal governments wish to follow the laws set forth by the colonizers. We, tribal people are the Ukrainians of this hemisphere. Nothing can separate our blood lines, our heart lines, our song lines, our ceremonial lines….. we are the people of our tribal nations.
So I have been thinking in the depths of my own despair, how did the people, my great grandparents, your great -great grandparents, move forward out of despair they must have felt in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s? A time when our people had been removed to reservations. Moved to land that might have been unfamiliar to them, land that was not large enough to sustain all the people especially if they were nations that hunted and gathered? Even agrarian nations did not have enough land to grow the foods to feed the families. They were victims of massacres, biological warfare, and starvation. They killed the buffalo herds, cut down the trees….. there must have been great despair and a deep, deep depression. So how did they move forward?
Perhaps they lived their lives. They went foraging in the springtime, tapped the maple trees, they harvested wild rice in the fall and set their snares for the wabooze in the winter. They cut wood to keep themselves warm. They used the rabbit fur for mittens and the deerhide for leggings and moccassins. When they picked that odemin in the spring, and they tasted that red berry, shaped like a heart, they knew they were going to be okay. I like to think I am here today, because my great-great-grandparents loved each other, and they loved me before I was born. It is that love that moves us forward….
Today, we need hope, we need to be industrious, like our ancestors were, dream and then believe in that dream. Follow our teachings, those 7 grandmother/grandfather teachings, be kind, be loving, be generous, be courageous, be honest, be humble, learn and seek wisdom. Wisdom is different than knowledge, one can know all the most complex mathematical formula’s in the world, but unless that math helps them to know the formula to figure out how much canvas you need to cover a lodge 50 feet long and 35 feet wide and 14 feet tall, it doesn’t do you much good.
We need to reconnect with our tribal values, with the land, with the water, with the animals, with the birds, the eagles. When I wake up, I can hear the Canadian geese flying north….soon the sand hill cranes will be sounding their voices. This summer, pick some sage for your own use, give some to the elders who might not be able to venture out so easily, plant some food, even if it’s peppers and tomatoes, put your hands in the earth, harvest some wild rice. You will be glad you did. When we drink water, we are drinking the same water our grandparents and our ancestors drank since the beginning of time. We are the ancestors, and we are the ancestors yet to come. Be loving, be kind and I will try to do the same too. Migwetch.