Most people around here -- kids and adults -- know that the city of Washington was named for our first president, George Washington.
Fewer know that Virginia was named for the "virgin queen", Elizabeth I of England; that Maryland was named for Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of King Charles I of England; and that the District of Columbia was named, indirectly, for Christopher Columbus.
And fewer still could tell you that at least 25 of the 50 states trace their names to Native American words, ideas or places.
That's something to think about this Thanksgiving weekend while we, as a nation, commemorate the Pilgrims' settlement of New England.
It's important to remember that European settlers displaced native peoples in the 1700s and 1800s, and that Indians, whose ancestors had lived on the North American continent for centuries, were stripped of their land and largely confined to reservations from coast to coast.
Stories like this leave me feeling angry and helpless (although not quite as much as Mary Crow Dog's book Lakota Woman).
I was born in 1962. Raised in a middle-class family where politics weren't discussed when children were present, I grew up blissfully unaware of the existence of racism, political injustice, social problems, and human rights violations until I read Othmar Frank Lang's book "Wenn Du verstummst, werde ich sprechen" at age 15 or 16. I was an active member of Amnesty International in my mid- to late teens but dropped out when I started vocational training and hit my partying phase, which meant hanging out with American GIs from McNair and Andrews and my then best friend C. in my every spare minute - a time I wouldn't miss for the world; I never had such a close friendship again with anybody. Ever. But I'm digressing.
Now I find myself interested in human rights issues once more, and much to my horror, the violations seem just as severe as they were in the late 70s. There is so much injustice, so much cruelty. So many struggles... Good grief! What have I been doing these past 28 years? What was I thinking? Why have I been aloof for so long? It feels like waking up from a 100-year-sleep to a weakened body, an atrophied brain, and a muddled mind.
What can I, a middle-aged non-American woman who severely lacks sophisticated communication skills and argumentative power, do? Sign petitions, make donations, send letters or e-mails to those in power - that is all nice and dandy, but I'm still alone. Finding like-minded people in this area is going to be tough, but they are out there. I know this because good luck has let me cross paths with B. who works for The Nature Conservancy and, upon learning that I was interested in American Indian culture, promptly made the acquaintance of a local Muskogee leader and put me in touch with him.
The Universe works in mysterious ways. Let's hope that it'll help me find a common denominator in all those my diverging interests.
My knowledge on this issue is not the most up-to-date one, mainly because reading about it upsets me to the point that I want to commit horrible acts of violence against all those Bible-toting and other idiots who keep undermining a woman's right to choose.
However, occasionally I come across an enlightened piece of information such as this one, which explains why the right to abortion is a First Amendment (Religious Freedom) issue. Well worth the read! I found this particular Website when googling "keep abortion legal" after I read a deeply unsettling report by Amnesty International about sexual violence against American Indian and Native Alaskan women. I had found the link to this report in a brief article about Pretty Bird Woman House, a shelter for abused women on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation (linked via
If you want to Join Voices with our American Indian and Native American sisters in the fight against violence, click here.
Chris Eyre's "Skins" fascinated me so much that I bought the book, written by Lovelock Paiute poet/novelist Adrian Louis, and read it in two days. Despite its flaws - pubertal vulgarity in the narrative that didn't really fit the middle-aged characters (talk about some cringeworthy euphemisms!), sloppy POV, many redundancies, overuse of adjectives and alliterations - I loved the book for its sheer raw gripping power.
Before I watched the movie, I never knew that the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is the poorest county in the United States. I had no idea that in the world's richest nation people exist in third-world conditions. It is appalling!
Fortunately there is a way to lend a helping hand through Friends of Pine Ridge Reservation. On their Website, you can find lists of items that are needed for a number of projects on the reservation, for example school supplies, CDs or books (which can be ordered and shipped directly to Pine Ridge via Amazon).
I ordered two books for one of their projects and will buy more as my budget allows.
I appeal to all of you to do the same.
Let's share our love of books by giving books to the less fortunate!