100+ NATIVE AMERICAN WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD, by KB Schaller (Peppertree Press, LLC., 2014, Sarasota, Florida, 213 pages).
Book Review by Dennis Moore
“Be ashamed to die before you have Won some battle for humanity.”
- Horace Mann (1796-1859), spoken to a college graduation class a few weeks before his death.
September 26, 2014 (San Diego's East County)--Generally when we think of Native American women and their contributions to history and society, Pocahantas and Sacagawea come to mind. That is, until this groundbreaking book by Cherokee/Seminole heritage author KB Schaller, M.Ed., 100+ Native American Women Who Changed The World. Warriors, educators, an aerospace pioneer, a Catholic saint…100+ Native American Women Who Changed the World is a stellar collection of historical and contemporary women of indigenous heritage who have contributed to the survival and success of their families, communities – and the United States of America. This book is destined to be in classrooms throughout the country.
The author is a member of the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA), guest blogger on Native issues, a columnist, historial researcher and illustrator for Indian Life newspaper. Her biographical collection 100+ Native American Women Who Changed the World is a winner of a 2014 International Book award, Women's Issues category, and a 2014 Gold Medal winner in the Florida Authors and Publishers Association President's Book Awards, Biography category. These distinctions make her eminently qualified to write this well-researched book. Schaller is also the author of two novels, Gray Rainbow Journey, winner, National Best Books Award, and the sequel, Journey by the Sackcloth Moon.
First, why a need for this book? Because, as so many other people have been, Indian women have been marginalized and under-appreciated. Schaller gives women, and particular Native American women, their just due. Some feel that this book is long overdue, as Carole Di Tosti, PhD, specifically states: “This collection of 100+ Native American women movers and shakers has long been overdue.”
In further regard to the aforementioned Pocahantas, if not for Schaller’s well researched book, I would not have known that this colonial figure and peacemaker’s descendents through her son, Thomas, include Edith Wilson (wife of President Woodrow Wilson), Nancy Reagan (wife of President Ronald Reagan), and several other high profile personalities. This is another reason why this splendid book is essential reading material in our schools and classrooms across the country.
This book has spurred my interest in doing some research in my own family tree, resulting in the revelation that my niece, Tahshawna MedicineCrow, is of the Sioux heritage and Lakota tribe, which are part of a confederation of seven related Sioux tribes. I recall fondly taking a bus with her and her father, my brother, Jerome from Denver to Chicago several years ago. We got to know each other well on this bus trip and I trust that we will stay in touch with each other.
Schaller pays homage to these Native American women in her book by providing us with brief profiles of selected heroines, such as:
Wilma Mankiller (1945-2010), Activist, Political Leader
- First female principal chief of Cherokee Nation
- Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom
Born in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, Wilma Pearl Mankiller was the sixth of eleven children born to Charley Mankiller (Cherokee) and Clara Irene Sutton (Dutch/Irish heritage). The Mankillers lived in extreme poverty. In 1956 under the Bureau of Indian Affairs Indian Relocation program, the family moved willingly to San Francisco, where Wilma became involved in the Indian Center, but the family continued to struggle in their new home because of racial discrimination and declining finances. Mankiller became politically active in the 1960s, and an advocate for American Indian people. For five years, she was a volunteer to the then-poverty stricken Pit River Tribe. She joined Indians of All Tribes (IAT) when 80 to 90 of them, mostly Indian college students, occupied Alcatraz Island to demand “the return of Alcatraz to Native American Indians and sufficient funding to build, maintain, and operate an Indian cultural complex and a university.”
LaDonna Harris (b. 1931), Activist
- Received appointments during five U.S. presidential administrations
- Founder, President, Americans for Indian Opportunity
Comanche activist LaDonna Vita Tabbytite Harris was born February 15, 1931 in Temple, Oklahoma to William Crawford of European descent, and Lilly Tabbytite. When her parents separated shortly after her birth, LaDonna was reared in Indian country during the Great Depression by maternal grandparents John and Wick-kie Tabbytite on a farm near tiny Walters, Oklahoma. Her grandfather, part of the last efforts to resist the United States’ intrusion on Comanche lands, told stories of those times to young LaDonna. No doubt, they influenced her life as a Native peoples’ advocate. In 1970 LaDonna Harris founded and still serves as president of Americans for Indian Opportunity, a global organization for the economic, political and cultural rights of indigenous peoples. The organization’s website refers to her as “a remarkable statesman and national leader who has enriched the lives of thousands.”
Maria Tallchief (Elizabeth Marie Tallchief (1925-2013)
- Performed with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo
- Awarded the Kennedy Center Honors for contributions to the arts
Ballet dancer, teacher and artistic director Maria Tallchief (Osage) was born in Fairfax, Oklahoma and was celebrated for her musicality, strength and technical precision. Her family moved to Los Angeles so that she and her sister, Marjorie, could receive the best ballet training. She joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in the 1940s. In 1946, Tallchief married George Balanchine, a Russian ballet dancer. He was also a celebrated international choreographer and founder of the New York City Ballet (1948). Tallchief joined the company in the same year. Among her most notable performances are Firebird, Orpheus, and Nutcracker. After she retired in 1966 she worked with the Lyric Opera Ballet and Chicago City Ballet which she co-founded. For her contributions to the arts, Maria Tallchief was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors also in 1966.
Elizabeth (Bessie Coleman) (1893-1926), Stunt Pilot
- First American of any gender or ethnicity to earn an international aviation license
Bessie Coleman was born in Atlanta, Texas and was the tenth of thirteen children. Her parents, George (Cherokee heritage) and Susan Coleman were sharecroppers. When she was two years old, the family moved to Waxahachie, Texas, and lived there until Bessie was twenty-three years of age. Her father left Texas where he found the racial climate unbearable for people of color and returned to Oklahoma – known then as Indian Country – where he hoped to find better opportunities. Bessie’s mother and the children stayed behind. At the age of twenty-three, she moved to Chicago and lived with her brothers while she worked as a manicurist. It was there that she first heard pilots who had returned from World War I speak about flying airplanes. The vision enthralled her, but because of her race and gender, she was unable to find a flying school that would accept her. When Chicago Defender newspaper editor, Robert S. Abbott, heard about her desire to pilot an airplane, he connected her with the French Flying School. Bessie seized on the chance. To learn the language, she enrolled in a French course at the Berlitz School in Chicago, and on November 20, 1920 sailed for France. On June 15, 1921 she became the first American of any gender or ethnicity to earn an international aviation license from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. Bessie Coleman has a special place in the hearts of Chicagoans, as well as the rest of the country, for as a Specification Engineer for the City of Chicago Department of Aviation at O’Hare International Airport, I would routinely drive down and across “Bessie Coleman Drive” which was commemorated and named after her at the airport. Ironically, just this past Sunday prior to going to my church in Los Angeles, I stopped by the famed and historic “Liemert Park Village” just down the street from the church, and looked up to see a large banner of Bessie Coleman on display at the park, along with Nat King Cole and other African-American luminaries. Clearly, Bessie Coleman is revered all over the country, if not the world.
The Fort Shaw 10: Championship Basketball Team
- They played before thousands at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.
The girls from Fort Shaw, the small Montana “country” boarding school were undefeated. But for the world championship, their basketball team faced the tough, “big city” St. Louis All-Stars, also undefeated, in a best-of-three highly touted competition. Of itself, the Montana girls’ unlikely advance to the finals was not the stuff of legends, except that they were Native American Indians from off-reservation Fort Shaw Boarding School. And in an era of “political correctness,” their opponents were Anglo-Americans. Flora Lucero, Rose LaRose, Genevieve Healy, Belle Johnson (Captain), Genie Butch, “tiny” Emma Sansaver, Nettie Wirth, Katie Snell, “big” Minnie Burton and Sarah Mitchell made up the Fort Shaw 10. Ages 15-19, they hailed from seven tribes across Idaho and Montana (some of them not historically friendly toward one another). But on the Fort Shaw team, the Assiniboine, Lemhi Shoshone, Gros Ventre, Piegan, Chippewa-Cree, Chippewa, and Shoshone-Bannock proved that in team sports, one could set aside ancient tribal animosities to focus on the individual, and winning. They played the kind of full-court boys’ rule basketball that had stunned all their previous opponents. In the first face-off, they delivered the All Stars a crushing 24-2 loss. In Game Two, energized St. Louis’ young women attempted an aggressive comeback. It was not enough. The Fort Shaw juggernauts defeated them again, this time by a score of 17-6 to claim the World Championship at the 1904 World’s Fair.
Sacagawea (ca. 1788, ca. 1812), Explorer, Interpreter
- Her knowledge ensured the success of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
- Became Honorary Sergeant, Regular Army
Like Pocahontas, many myths have sprung up around Sacagawea (whose name means Boat Launcher or Bird Woman in the Shoshone and Hidatsa languages), but what is known about her is that her skills enabled the success of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. There are actually several spellings of the name of the only woman on the expedition: Sacagawea, Sacajawea, Sakakawea. She was born in Lemhi County near present-day Salmon, Idaho and was the daughter of a Shoshone chief. When she was around age 13, the Hidatsa, enemies of the Shoshone, captured Sacagawea and several other Shoshone girls during a battle between the two tribal nations. Sacagawea was sold to French-Canadian trapper Toussaint Charbonneau and made one of his wives.
In November 1804 at the request of President Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark began an expedition known as the Corps of Discovery to survey the land west of the Mississippi which had been purchased from France in 1803. They also aimed to find a route to the Pacific Ocean. Sacagawea and her husband had been living among the Hidatsa and Mandan (near present-day Washburn, North Dakota) when the Corps of Discovery built Fort Mandan. While they were there for the winter, they met Charbonneau and hired him as an interpreter of the Gros Ventre language. Lewis noted in his journal that Sacagawea was pregnant with her first child at the time, and gave birth on February 11, 1805. Because the Corps needed someone to interpret and secure supplies when they passed through Shoshone territory, Sacagawea was also hired to accompany her husband, and when the journey commenced on April 7, 1805 she joined them, carrying her infant on a cradle board.
Although no extant images exist of her, in 2000, the U.S. Mint issued a golden one-dollar coin to further commemorate her. Modeled after the modern Shoshone-Bannock woman, Randy’ L He-Dow Teton, it characterizes Sacagawea in a three-quarter profile with her son on her back. In 2001 Sacajawea was conferred the title of Honorary Sergeant, Regular Army, by President William (Bill) Clinton.
Eula Pearl Carter Scott (1915-2005), Aviator
- Was youngest person ever to fly solo, and youngest licensed pilot in the United States.
Born in Marlow, Oklahoma near the Chisholm Trail to George W. Carter and Lucy Gibson Carter, Eula Pearl’s mother was an original enrollee of the Chickasaw Nation. By age 12, Eula Pearl, curious and adventurous by nature, had already learned to drive a car. Sometime in the late 1920s, Eula Pearl met famed aviator Wylie Post when he landed his plane in a field near Marlow. He was so impressed by her intelligence, curiosity and daring, by the time she turned 13, not only had he taught her to fly, she became the youngest licensed pilot in the United States. On September 12, 1929 she became the youngest pilot to make a solo flight.
In the 1970s Scott became one of the first community health representatives for the Chickasaw Nation, and in 1983 was the first woman elected to the Chickasaw Nation Tribal Legislature. She served three terms and also helped to oversee the enormous growth in tribal services and operations. Her life is the subject of the movie, Pearl, a Chickasaw Nation production based in part on the biography, Never Give Up: The Life of Eula Pearl Carter Scott, by Dr. Paul Lambert.
The author Schaller sums up this brilliant compilation of profiles of Native American women by including a poignant and heartfelt apology from the Wesleyan Church, which could be considered an Epilogue: “We have seen and been told that our Native American brothers and sisters ‘have something against us.’ We as a denomination, organization, or individuals cannot go back and undo what has been done. We can, however, seek forgiveness and reconciliation from our brothers and sisters today. You may not feel comfortable accepting this reconciliation on behalf of all your people, but would you accept it as an individual? As a member of the dominant race, I acknowledge many sins of the past done by my people. My people took the land without regard to the rights of those who had been its inhabitants for many generations. We destroyed the food sources and left you no choice but to accept handouts. We took the best land for ourselves and gave you, our brothers and sisters, what we felt was of no value. When we discovered there was value in some parts of what we said you could have, we took that back as well. We took your children – often by force – to ‘teach’ them. They were forced to change their language, hair, dress customs, and cultural identity. These sins not only affected your ancestors, they have been carried for generations. The anger and frustration this loss has caused each successive generation has never been resolved or reconciled. The end results of these feelings have surfaced many times in the forms of substance abuse, suicide, and family violence. As a denomination I ask you to forgive The Wesleyan Church.” Clearly, from the homage that the author pays to these heroic and industrious Native American women, they have overcome! Although the author titles this book 100+ Native American Women Who Changed The World, I am including Schaller in this grouping for bringing to the world’s attention this rich tapestry of perseverance and accomplishment. This is truly a profound book that I recommend for every school and classroom throughout our country.
The author will be discussing her book this Saturday, November 15, 2014, at the Helen B. Hoffman Plantation Library in Plantation, Florida. See attached.
Dennis Moore is an Associate Editor with the East County Magazine in San Diego and the book review editor for SDWriteway, an online newsletter for writers in San Diego that has partnered with the East County Magazine, as well as a freelance contributor to EURweb based out of Los Angeles. He is also the author of a book about Chicago politics; “The City That Works: Power, Politics and Corruption in Chicago.” Mr. Moore can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter at: @DennisMoore8.