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Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wilma Mankiller leaves us

Damn, we just lost another great one. At the bottom of this blog, like foundation stones, I've been adding, when I learned of their deaths, small tributes to extraordinary people who have been inspirations in my life. Now another - Wilma Pearl Mankiller, Cherokee chief and American national leader.

Recently I'd added a Mankiller quote to my blog banner -"We must trust our own thinking"- because that bit of wisdom echoes the very first epiphany I remember having as a child: the rock-solid realization that although people often told me I was wrong in my understanding, almost always, in time, my own understanding proved to be right after all; and so I learned that although my thinking isolated me from others, I could trust it. I realized that when other people invalidated my insight or certain knowledge, it wasn't even usually about me (well, except maybe in the case of bullying siblings!); rather, had to do with their need to hold something different in their minds. They had some other priority that was more important to them than their relationship with me.

It was a lonely thing to learn, but character-building (perhaps), and in any case I could not have stifled my own thinking if I'd wanted to. Since I couldn't trust what others told me, I learned to figure things out for myself, and trust my own judgment, and bide my time. And enjoy my own company. It's no easier as an adult, of course, to be patient with those who don't see what I do, and socially I'm Aspie to the core, lacking the brain circuitry for good social skills. Those with a charisma gene, on the other hand, can pull others into their orbits, and if these people are leaders like Wilma Mankiller, it's a good thing. They're the ones who will move the species forward, if that's possible, or at least improve the world for the rest of us for a time. And the rest of us are inspired by them to do what we can in our much smaller ways.

When I first heard of Wilma Mankiller many years ago, it was at a time in my life when I was coming back to myself after being battered, and her name sang out to me - how beautifully fierce! Of course it was a coincidence, a patronymic, but still. She said herself that "I've run into more discrimination as a woman than as an Indian," so that name must have been a double-edged sword for her in her political life; she came before the public eye at a time when there was great fear of women's liberation in the culture at large. She must really have gotten tired of explaining her name to journalists. But ultimately its mythical resonance - a warrior's title - just fits her historical stature. Here's a brief obit, and this tribute vid by Aphrodisiastes on YouTube (I usually hate "Amazing Grace" but somehow it works for me here when given an American Indian - is this version Cherokee? - treatment; and the vid has some fine quotes).




This blogger presents a nice brief review of Mankiller: A Chief and Her People, her memoir (updated version published in 2000), saying that
The book’s introduction explains that each of the book’s 13 chapters begins with a Cherokee tale that demonstrates the culture’s belief in the unity of all living things, the central importance of animals, and the power of story. From these beginnings, Mankiller weaves her own experiences and that of the Cherokee Nation as a whole.
I haven't read that or Mankiller's other book, Every Day Is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women (will I ever get around to it?) but here's the Booklist review:
Author and activist Mankiller has garnered the thoughts of 19 Native women on questions such as the meaning of spirituality, the importance of sovereignty, and what it means to be an indigenous woman today. Mankiller chose her participants well, for these women--a physician, an attorney, ranchers, professors of American Indian studies, an urban planner, a cultural anthropologist, artists, poets, musicians, and an Onondaga Clan Mother--really do have something to say. Spirituality, which connects all indigenous peoples, means respect for the earth and all living things. Land is crucial to all tribes, as shown by the Dann sisters, Shoshone ranchers struggling to defend the sacred ceremonial grounds of their ancestors, and Sarah James, who fights for her Gwich'in tribal rights to protect caribou birthing grounds from oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Profound yet simple words from strong women working hard to perpetuate their culture, and who have a lot to share, and who need to be heard. - Deborah Donovan
And Here's a wonderful blog about that book by the artist Whitney Rae Palmer. Gosh, the places the spirit of Mankiller is taking me now.

So yes, we just lost another great one. But how lucky we were to have had her. May many more Mankillers, small and large, follow in this extraordinary woman's footsteps.


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And then some lingering thoughts in a lighter vein... This photo fascinates me. Is Wilma in fancy dress for a pow-wow? Did she make it herself, as is the custom? (I suspect it is like that; the red, white and blue trim  must reference her political life?) I love that she's wearing what look like Keds with the dress (but a closer look reveals them to be moccasins styled rather like the iconic American shoe). That she's smiling. It teases me with girlish fancies that still lurk in my mind somewhere, from before the Fall - perhaps incorrect in others' eyes, but positive to me nonetheless: baskets full of flowers and shells; Red Riding Hood; happy times in the woods; Avalon and Sherwood Forest, overlain with the women called Pocahantas and Sacajaweah (who in mainstream American culture enjoy culturally persistent heroine status, in spite of the many factual inaccuracies heaped upon their memory), and even Star Trek's Captain Kirk's healing idyll with his beautiful, anachronistic Indian princess on that planet that was being bombarded with asteroids. She saved her people too.
No big bad wolf will fool this woman.
I like her a lot.

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