REVIEW–Four Winds Literary Magazine, Issue No. 3, Taking Back Tiger Lily

 Four Winds Literary Magazine
Four Winds Literary Magazine

By Sheena Louise Roetman

This past summer, Sovereign Bodies ran criticism of the Taking Back Tiger Lily theme for Four Winds Literary Magazine’s third issue. The criticism was valid in that it was the opinion of its author. It was not a critique of the ‘zine itself, as it had not yet been released, and was rather a statement in which Tiffany Midge disagreed with the idea of the them – she did not feel that the idea of Tiger Lily deserved to be revisited by Indian country. But all of this has been covered already.

One of the more poignant criticisms Sovereign Bodies received in response was that this piece criticizing the idea of Tiger Lily fit within the theme itself – that Midge’s criticism of Tiger Lily was revisiting the idea of her, even if only to arrive at the same conclusion.

So, as a gesture of good faith, I’m here to as-objectively-as-possible tell you what I think about the 22-piece collection of fiction, poetry and personal essays that editor Misty Shipman Ellingburg has put together under the controversial theme.

Even before all the fuss, I had seen the call for entries and was excited because people kept calling it a zine and, in my day, a zine was a black and white, taped-and-glued together, photo-copied booklet someone had hand-stapled in their bedroom in the middle of the night when they were avoiding English papers. So my first impression was, admittedly, one of disappointment because the punk rocker in me still longs for the days of using my lunch money to mail order zines from all over the world, and receive personalized little envelopes full of comics, stickers, music reviews and essays written by people just like me.

But the beauty of the Internet (and sometimes its curse as well) is access for all, and we’ve seen positive proof of this in Indian Country over the past few years. Social media in particular has lead to movements with actual, verifiable results. We have created change by using the tools we have, and this is something at which Indigenous people are particularly adept.

And I think that’s exactly the sort of beauty that Four Winds has shown, in previous issues as well as the current Taking Back Tiger Lily issue. I was genuinely blown away with the variety of the writers themselves, especially since Indian Country can be a rather small world sometimes, and I had never heard of or read half the writers who were included.

The current issue features pieces from Indigenous people from all sorts of backgrounds – different nations, of course, but also different ages, gender identities, experience levels, academic backgrounds, etc. I’ve always said that I want Sovereign Bodies to feature the variety and depth of Indian Country, and I feel whole-heartedly that that’s what Four Winds strives to do as well.

Whether you agree with the idea of the theme or not, I firmly believe that Misty’s goal was to highlight exactly that – that we in Indian Country will not always agree, but giving space to those differing opinions and ideas is what matters.

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Midwifery and Native Women: Changing Woman Initiative

Changing Women Initiative
Changing Women Initiative

By Samantha Nephew

Growing up Native, I’ve had to think about what parts of my life are “colonized” and adhere to values different than my own. Recently, I’ve been thinking about the one element that is so fundamental to life and yet status quo is hardly ever broken – birthing.

The Changing Woman Initiative in the southwest brings Indigenous identity and the values of respect and honoring women at the forefront. In cases of normal, healthy pregnancies, there should only be trust allowing our Native women to birth the way they inherently know how.

They say it’s one of life’s most profound, magical and enchanting moments – the moment when a mother holds her brand new baby in her arms for the very first time.

Now, I wouldn’t necessarily know that as I’m 26 and childless, but I’ve made my interest in birthing practices, pregnancy and child bearing known. There is so much beauty in the power of giving life. And to do so with the power of your heritage and history of resilience at your side – that’s what makes the Changing Woman Initiative so powerful, and it should be a model of birthing emulated throughout all of Indian Country.

Nicolle Gonzalez, Executive Director and Nurse-Midwife at Changing Woman Initiative, says she’s taken on this project because she wanted to “help renew cultural birth knowledge to empower and reclaim Indigenous sovereignty of women’s medicine through women’s stories and life ways.”

Centers like Changing Woman Initiative takes the medical, passive approach to child birthing out of the equation. Trust in the woman with the aid of her midwife is the ultimate approach here. Now that’s empowerment.

The impact of this center could be great for Native women in the densely populated Southwest where the Navajo Nation alone has over 300,000 peoples (as determined by a 2010 census report). In contrast, according to Gonzalez’s GoFundMe page, there are only 15 Native American Nurse Midwives in the United States. Examples like the Changing Women Initiative will hopefully influence other Indigenous people to follow suit. A need was certainly determined here.

What better way to keep our cultures and traditions alive by starting at the very beginning of our children’s lives?

As a firm believer in reproductive rights and justice, Indigenous sovereignty and cultural knowledge, I am a huge fan of this holistic birthing center designed with Native values at its core. I stand with women who want to decolonize their births.

Historical Trauma, Racism and Eating Disorders in the U.S.

By Gloria Lucas

During my eating disorder healing journey, I felt the need to find out why I developed an eating disorder. With the common belief that only white women develop eating disorders in the U.S., I was not what people considered a typical case. As a Xicana (American-born woman with a Mexican-Indigenous descent) who didn’t develop anorexia but bulimia and binge eating, I just felt that my reasons for developing an eating disorder had a deeper root.

While reading, “A Hunger So Wide And So Deep: A Multiracial View of Women’s Eating Problems” by Becky Thompson, it really made me think about the connection between history and eating disorders. In her book, Thompson talks about the lack of body autonomy black people experienced during slavery and how the legacy of slavery still impacts the black community today. When I read this I asked myself, how has colonialism impacted me? As a person with migrant parents that experienced the vast impact of acculturation and systemic racism, how much of my parent’s trauma have I embodied? Having an Indigenous lineage from a country that was violently impacted by European colonialism, I wondered how much trauma had accumulated in my body over the generations that, in return, influenced me?

These questions led me to research historical trauma (also known as intergenerational trauma), which is, “is a constellation of characteristics associated with massive cumulative group trauma across generations, similar to those found among Jewish Holocaust survivors and descendants (Brave Heart).” For the most part, historical trauma research has been coined and carried out in Native American populations, but I feel that this information is applicable to Indigenous people of Mexico, Central America and South America because we have experienced similar European colonization. Historical trauma responses include “anxiety, intrusive trauma imagery, depression, elevated mortality rates from cardiovascular diseases as well as suicide and other forms of violent death, psychic numbing and poor affect tolerance, and unresolved grief (Brave Heart).”

Considering there are some similarities between eating disorders and historical trauma,there is very little research or information linking both subjects together. Why? Research ignorance and bias. For the past 30 years, media and medicine have portrayed eating disorders as only affecting white, privileged, cis-gender women and this stereotype has dominated research. As it is, eating disorder research in non-white communities is scarce. It goes without saying that systemic racism also plays a large role in academia, medicine and medical research and that certain lives have more value than others due to sociopolitical class.

What is really alarming about current professional eating disorder education is that there is no coverage on the role that systems of oppression have on people with marginalized identities. US culture has a really hard time addressing social issues like racism and transphobia and this is reflected heavily in the eating disorders world.People of color and Indigenous people experience high levels of institutional racism and this plays a role in people’s mental health. This is alarming because not acknowledging racism and the impact of other forms of social systemic discrimination in people’s life means not fully accepting people’s experiences. Ultimately, when providers do not grasp oppression they limit the quality of their services, therefore impacting the client’s overall success and recovery.

We are in a time and age where we need to put discomfort aside and start having conversations about the violent impact of inequality. One step that everyone can take to help people’s journeys to healing is educating oneself by doing more active listening. Providers can find a great check-off list here if they are interested in making their services more culturally relevant to all. Medical research and employment in the eating disorder field needs to more accurately reflect the kinds of people that struggle with eating disorders while respecting the importance of community-led work done by people with marginalized identities.

Connecting Diné Suicides and Wastewater Pollution

Photo Credit: Jerry McBride, The Durango Herald, AP
Photo Credit: Jerry McBride, The Durango Herald, AP

By: Shauna Osborn

For the last century, many people have had a reckless relationship with their environment. The kind of relationship that involves ignoring the Earth, botanicals and bodies of water outside their front door until some catalyst creates a change – a large damaging storm, an earthquake, wildfires, a drought or a health mandate from their therapist or spiritual advisor. You know, something powerful, potentially dangerous and out of the ordinary.

This is not the way Indigenous folks relate to their environment. Despite the inherent differences in the views from tribe to tribe, traditional tribal views all include a strong connection to the ecosystem that the tribe relies on to survive. This is especially true of tribes like the Diné, who celebrate their relationship with the Earth through agricultural practice and care of livestock.

Farming communities are emotionally attached to their land, plants and water. It is impossible to follow a calendar based on the life cycle of plants – to have your future, food and livelihood all related to the condition of these elements – and stay detached. So when Russell Begaye – the Navajo Nation’s president – made a media statement in which he expressed his concern that the destruction caused by the Colorado’s Gold King Mine spill last August may be contributing to the recent Diné suicides, it should not come as a surprise.

The disaster last August, when EPA personnel tried to clean out an abandoned mine, spilt millions of gallons of wastewater into Colorado’s Animas River. That spill turned the river a nasty yellow and caused widespread contamination on Navajo land. The prolonged conflict over funding clean-up efforts intensifies the daily struggles that members of the Diné community already face.

The Navajo Nation’s water has been poisoned since the 1950s by uranium mining, coal mining and dirty coal-fired power plants. With the additional wastewater contamination from the spill last August, the condition of the Navajo Nation’s water supply is more horrific than the current problems in Flint, Michigan. Yet, like most Indigenous environmental concerns, there is rarely any media coverage focused on Diné land and water pollution.

Without even knowing what side effects each of the pollutants in the wastewater will bring, it is not difficult to imagine the negative impacts that heavy pollution to your water supply will manifest in a poverty-stricken community with already existing high suicide rates. Crops will be negatively affected. All the livestock is at risk of illness or death. There is a lack of fresh water to drink, wash and cook. Mental and physical health of the community members will deteriorate.

Despite all of the above, the focus right now should be on clean water access and preventative care strategies for the depression that several Diné community member’s battle. The arguments fueled by several tribal representatives against Begaye’s statement surrounding why Diné suicide rates have increased are not solving anything.

 

 

Two-Spirit People, Body Sovereignty and Gender Self-Determination

By Alexandria Wilson

This article was originally published in Red Rising Magazine on September 21, 2015. An academic version along with a video presentation are available here from the Journal of Global Indigeneity.

As Cree people, we understand that the nature of the cosmos is to be in balance and that when balance is disturbed, it must and will return.

Restoring balance

Two-Spirit identity is one way in which balance is being restored to our communities. Throughout the colonial history of the Americas, aggressive assimilation policies have attempted to displace our own understandings, practices and teachings around sexuality, gender and positive relationships and replace them with those of Judeo Christianity. To recognize ourselves as Two-Spirit is to declare our connection to the traditions of our own people.

As a self-identifier, Two-Spirit acknowledges and affirms our identity as Indigenous peoples, our connection to the land and values in our ancient cultures that recognize and accept gender and sexual diversity.

The recognition and acceptance of gender and sexual diversity is reflected in our languages, spirituality and cultures. Our Cree dialect does not include gender-distinct pronouns. Rather, our language is ‘gendered’ on the basis of whether or not something is animate (that is, whether or not it has a spiritual purpose and energy).

Cultural disruption and “Skirt Shaming”

Today some of our Elders and spiritual teachers have adopted and introduced understandings and practices that were not necessarily part of their own cultures prior to colonization and the imposition of Christianity. For example, a recent celebration in a community included a sweat lodge ceremony. When Two-Spirit and other participants arrived to take part in the ceremony, the person leading the ceremony demanded that some in the group change their clothing to conform with what he perceived their gender to be and added the warning that if he suspected that they had dressed inappropriate to their perceived gender, they would be required to prove their gender identity to him. In the face of this direct assault on their body sovereignty and gender self-determination, some people left the ceremony.

The role of Elders in our communities includes the sharing of traditional teachings with youth that will help them understand their own experiences, including their expressions of gender identity and sexuality. However, in most of our Indigenous cultures where gender and sexual diversity were once accepted and valued, our traditional teachings, ways of being, spirituality and languages were disrupted and displaced through the processes of colonization, Christianization and assimilation. The result (as the incident described above demonstrates) is that some of our own present-day cultural teachings and practices extend the continuum of violence to which Two-Spirit people have been subject since colonization began.

“Skirt-shaming,” excluding, policing or shaming trans, Two-Spirit people and women because they are not wearing long dresses in ceremonial settings, is increasingly common and is a continuation of the continuum of violence.

Two-Spirit people are frequently subject to interconnected homophobia, transphobia and misogyny, and in the larger society they are additionally subject to structural and individual racism and classism. This has had devastating impacts on the Two-Spirit community. The suicide rate for LGBTQ Indigenous youth is 10 times higher than that of any other group. Thirty-nine percent of Two-Spirit women and 21 percent of Two-Spirit men have attempted suicide. In a recent study of transgendered and gender non-conforming Indigenous people, nearly one-quarter lived in extreme poverty, elevated rates of HIV were found and more than half of respondents (56 percent) had attempted suicide. It is imperative that Elders and others consult with or rely on Two-Spirit leaders for teachings and direction regarding gender and sexual diversity.

Coming in

There is much work to be done, then, to undo the work that has been done upon us. When we call ourselves Two-Spirit people, we are proclaiming sovereignty over our bodies, gender expressions and sexualities. “Coming in” does not center on the declaration of independence that characterizes “coming out” in mainstream depictions of the lives of LGBTQI people. Rather, coming in is an act of returning, fully present in our selves, to resume our place as a valued part of our families, cultures, communities and lands, in connection with all our relations.

Indigenous sovereignty over our lands is inseparable from sovereignty over our bodies, sexuality and gender self-expression.

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1. For the history of the term Two-Spirit, please click here.

2 Fieland, K. C., Walters, K. L., & Simoni, J. M. (2007). Determinants of Health Among Two-Spirit American Indians and Alaska Natives. In I. H. Meyer, & M. E. Northridge, The Health of Sexual Minorities (pp. 268-300). Springer US.

3 National Center for Transgender Equality. (2012). Injustice at Every Turn: American Indian and Alaskan Native respondents in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Washington, DC.

4 Wilson, Alex (2008). N’tacimowin inna nah’: Our coming in stories. Canadian Women Studies , 26 (3-4), 193-199.

 

 

Why Cultural Based Medical Care Matters

Documented studies show that the levels of care for minority patients and individuals from uncommon social groups are not equal to the care given to other patients within professional medicine. Cultural difference, language barriers, stereotypes, racism, homophobia and contradictory religious affiliations often affect health outcomes. Medical professionals who do not share a patient’s cultural background or who do not speak the same language have a harder time explaining necessary treatments, health care strategies and test results to those patients. If clear communication in the patient’s primary language is not available, if the medical professional does not treat the patient with an appropriate level of concern, if the patient feels their identity or religious choices are not approved/understood/respected by their medical team, health outcomes are affected. It becomes less likely that patients will ask questions to clarify points in their health care plan. They are less likely to follow legitimate prescriptive courses of action to address their health situation. They often become unwilling to seek medical attention or to trust medical professionals or institutions. This lack of trust in the medical profession is often passed down to their descendants as well, which in turn affects the health practices of the younger members in the family.

Many tribal members will recognize this pattern – we have lived it or seen our neighbors and cousins do so. How many Indigenous people have stories of terrible medical practices utilized by Indian Health Service and other medical practitioners in the past (forced sterilization, poorly communicated and traumatic surgical procedures, impossibly long wait lists for needed medical services, etc)? How many of us still find it strange (or even scary) to be in a doctor’s office for an appointment? How many of us have had to promise other family members we would not take them to the hospital no matter how bad their ailments become?

I know several Indigenous medical professionals who turned to that line of work for reasons exactly like the above. They experienced horrible medical situations with people they cared about who were untrusting of modern medicine practitioners. They hoped to make it easier to trust modern medicine practices by learning it themselves, being someone already trusted in their community. They meld the modern medical practices learned from their studies and the traditional cultural teachings of their tribe into something new – a modernized medicine person with older herbal and tribal knowledge at their fingertips, as well as the knowledge of how to use dialysis and bypass machines. This has been wonderful news for our tribes and has helped indigenous people to get much needed medical attention.

One of the places where cultural care makes huge impact in health outcomes for patients is within pregnancy. Pregnancies where prenatal care happens more often, within a culturally sensitive environment and with medical practitioners aided by doulas often see much better results. Women who are given holistic, culturally based medical attention during their pregnancy tend to have easier deliveries. Their babies are less likely to be born preterm and are less likely to need resuscitation after birth. A recent study published in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) confirmed that a group of Indigenous pregnant women who were treated by Aboriginal midwives, grandmothers and other health professionals giving holistic medical care often had better health outcomes at the time of their delivery. It is not the first study to find such a result.

Pregnant women tend to have fewer complications with their pregnancy when they have adequate prenatal care, holistic medical treatment and the assistance of a trained doula throughout their pregnancy and delivery. This is not the model for pregnancy utilized by many modern medical institutions. Midwifery, doulas and holistic care are still not considered as common choices for modern pregnant women but studies like the one above prove why they should be. Due to the distrust many Indigenous people have of medical practitioners, as well as the distance we have to travel to visit a medical institution, we often put off seeing doctors for too long. We do not go in for the checkups we should. We do not seek treatment for ailments as we should. We put off finding out if we are pregnant for too long, then rarely go in for medical checkups. Utilizing holistic, cultural based care as well as having medical professionals who come from our tribes will help us lead longer, healthier lives from birth. It can help us all heal from past medical traumas and make our youth healthier from the start.

Skinny Shaming

Body Shaming: Shaming someone for their body type. Fat Shaming: The act of shaming someone who is overweight. Skinny Shaming: The act of shaming someone who is naturally skinny.

Body Positivity: Accepting your (healthy) body as it is and attempting to make others feel comfortable in their own skin.

Reading these definitions makes me wonder why we can’t just be body positive? When did we start shaming people for their body? Is it learned as a child? Is it a product of today’s society? What about the media? In reality, it’s probably a mix of these and more. However, I’m not writing this to dissect human behavior, but rather to shine a light on the very real issue of skinny shaming.

I’ve been on both sides of the body shaming coin. At my heaviest, in 2007, I weighed 182 lbs and stood at 5’3”, putting me at a 32.2 on the Body Mass Index scale* and medically classified as obese. Now, at my lightest, I weigh 115 lbs and stand at a whopping 5’4” (I had a late growth in my adulthood), putting me at a 19.7 on the BMI scale – medically classified as normal.

Since I’ve been on both sides of the body shaming coin – why am I focusing on skinny shaming? Because fat shaming is the most visible, and most talked about, form of body shaming. Skinny shaming, however, is often left in the dark. When I first heard the term “skinny shaming” I laughed out loud and thought, “Yeah right! Being naturally skinny would be amazing!” I didn’t understand how anyone could ever say anything bad about being naturally, healthfully skinny.

Then the tables turned. I went off birth control after 10 years in April 2014, weighing in at 162 lbs, standing at 5’3” and a 28.7 BMI, which put me in the medically overweight range. In the year following, as my body adjusted to my natural hormones, I found myself sitting naturally at 115 lbs. I didn’t change my diet, I didn’t change my exercise; this change came about completely naturally. I had always dreamed of having a fast metabolism, and now I finally had one. In short, I finally had the natural, healthy body I’d always dreamed of. I was beyond happy in my newfound skin… Then the comments began.

“Damn skinny bitch.”“Why don’t you eat more?”“Is everything okay? You’re really skinny.”“Are you eating?”“What you need is a cheeseburger!”“Sure – it’s easy to find clothes when you’re just a twig.”“Wow! Look how skinny your wrists are! You should eat more.”

The list really goes on and on. After a while I started to wonder if maybe I was too skinny. My wonderful husband assured me I wasn’t – and I felt healthier than I had ever been in my life. Sadly, none of that mattered to those who made these remarks. After a few months I finally said,  “Screw what people say – I’ve spent my entire life trying to be comfortable with my body and now that I finally am, I won’t let anyone take it away.”

My purpose is to shed light on the very real and detrimental act of skinny shaming and to dispel myths like “thin privilege.” The very idea of thin privilege is, in and of itself, skinny shaming, and I hadn’t heard of the concept at all until I came across an article on Bustle – “Why Fat Shaming And Thin Shaming Are Different.” I came across the following paragraph:

“When it comes to thin shaming, the sufferers usually walk away with their thin privilege intact. They’ll step aside from an insult and into a society and media that celebrate their body. Although that doesn’t mean the insult doesn’t hurt, it does mean the insult doesn’t usually stick in the same way. When a fat person gets fat shamed, the shame often sticks, reverberating through childhood abuses, families’ weight commentary, and a constant attack on fat bodies by the general public. We have to look within ourselves to recover from it, because there is no such thing as fat privilege.”

I then found “22 Examples of Thin Privilege” on Everyday Feminism. I’ve chosen to address the top six I hear – as a skinny person – most often:

1. “You’re not assumed to be unhealthy just became of your size.” Yes, you are. “Unhealthy,” as in underweight. People automatically assume you have an eating disorder when you’re naturally thin.

2. “When you’re at the grocery store, people don’t comment on the food selection in your cart in the name of “trying to be helpful.” Oh yes they do! Instead of “You don’t need that” or “Maybe you should get the light one,” it becomes, “Of course you’re skinny – look how healthy you eat.” (As if it’s a bad thing to be eating healthy…) or “The steaks are over there – you should go grab a few.”

3. “You don’t receive suggestions from your friends and family to join Weight Watchers or any other weight-loss program.” You’re right – we don’t. Instead we get suggestions on how to gain weight, exercises to “bulk up” or “put some meat on those bones.”

4. “You can eat what you want, when you want, in public and not have others judge you for it or make assumptions about your eating habits.” I have a harder time eating in front of people being thin than I ever did being overweight. If we’re not too hungry and grab a snack-sized meal, we’re assumed to be anorexic. If we have a hollow leg that day and eat everything in front of us, we’re met with the remark “Look! She’s finally eating,” exclaimed loud enough for everyone to hear and often making sure everyone at the table knows we’ve eaten a larger portion than usual. (Which, in turn, leads people to question if you’re bulimic if you happen to head to the bathroom anytime in the next hour after a large meal.)

5. “Your body type isn’t sexually fetishized.” Let’s be honest here – as women – every body type is sexually fetishized. This is lateral oppression. We are all in the same fight, stop putting divides up and work together.

6. “You can choose to not be preoccupied with your size and shape because you have other priorities, and you won’t be judged.” If this were true, skinny shaming wouldn’t exist and I would not be writing this article.

Please – let’s stop the body shaming and move forward into body positivity. If all this energy we put into body shaming were put towards body positivity, just imagine the possibilities. So here’s to happy, healthy bodies and loving the skin we’re in.

*Disclaimer: I don’t always support the use of the BMI scale as it doesn’t account for those with above average muscle mass. However, it is a good measure of health for the “average” person.