“A Nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground.”
“The three-month, 1,300 mile-long flight took Nimíipuu across the Bitterroot Mountains on the Idaho Montana border, through Yellowstone National Park, then north through Montana. While seeking the help first from the Flathead and then the Crows, the final objective was to find safety with Hunkpapa Sioux Chief Sitting Bull after crossing the U.S. Canada border. Although normally friendly to the Nimíipuu, neither the Flathead nor Crows wanted any part in this war. Some 750 non-treaty Nimíipuu were involved, only 250 of them were warriors, the rest were women, children, and elders. After their skillful victory at White Bird, the Nimíipuu and the U.S. Army were involved in five additional battles.”
Today marks 136 years since the War of 1877 for the NiMiiPuu Nation. In commemoration, I’ve been thinking about what my ancestors and those of others from my home community endured during the War of 1877. As a woman I have a deep sense of pride and awareness that is deeply rooted in knowing I am a mother, daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, Aunty, friend, and community member to a beautiful Nation of people.
It is through oral and family history that I know I am a descendant of Delaware Tom who was a Lenape fur trapper that came out west with the Northwest Fur Trade Co. I learned we get our settler colonial roots from his father who changed his last name after he immigrated from South Russia. I have also learned my ancestor, upon his arrival into Nimiipuu territory, along with several other eastern Natives, from the Iroquois and Ojibway nations, had warned Nimiipuu of the encroaching white settler colonials, based on their personal experiences in the east coast.
As we commemorate our fallen warriors, both men AND women, children, elders, our ancestors look to us to see we honor them in whatever way we can, especially through how we are living. I am conscious and aware that praying, singing, smudging, hunting, gathering, and just walking on and throughout my ancestral homelands honors them. But so does how I treat my own family, friends, extended relatives, and community members.
This day reminds me we all stand together when honoring our ancestors and we can set aside our differences knowing we all believe in one creator. We also know the memorial is for all of us, as descendants and existing NiMiiPuu himyuuma. We are indeed descendants of great warriors. Our ancestors fought valiantly, with the strength and spirit of their ancestors.
136 years ago is not that long ago when we put kinship and family into perspective. If my Elé (paternal grandmother) could recall her mom and her grandmother tell stories and was allowed the privilege to pass that knowledge down, that really isn’t far back at all.
While my given name is renee, my real name which is how my ancestors know me is a name that belonged to my grandmothers great-grandmother. She was the mother to the woman who birthed the two men in the photos. I know they fought for her and the many other women and children of our Nation. Sadly, there was no photograph taken of her and it seems men seemed to be the most photographed people for most Nations during the 19th Century.
Today I know my family is proud of our ancestors and yet we also endure the colonial settler historical trauma associated with war, reservation, boarding schools, loss of language and culture due to federal assimilation policies, not to mention substance abuse, and disconnection set backs that have divided many other families and communities throughout Indian country. All in all, no matter how hard the struggle has been, we as Nations are still here and will remain.
In my blog thoughts out loud I want to acknowledge my ancestors. To the women who birthed the men who are here today, those who lived yesterday, and to the future of our Nations children and those yet to be born. It is through the women of our Nation that we exist. Yes, men help with the procreation, they are equally important, but women are the ones who carry the child in womb for nine months and that evolutionary biological process passes on thousands of years of Indigenous knowledge that can not be refuted. Although Euro white settler colonizers have told us that is not true, we as Indigenous people know the truth.
Let us continue to live our lives accordingly and be the strong Nations that we are through songs, ceremony, and the spirit of our ancestors. As we hear the Chief and NiMiiPuu flag songs, let us be reminded we are descendants of greatness and emulate that same spirit through our desire to remain true to the vision our ancestors had for us.