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Native American Women: Governance & Survivance

Thursday, March 29, 2018 - 6:00pm to 8:00pm

Gittis Hall, Room 1
University of Pennsylvania Law School
3501 Samson Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Native American Women: Governance & Survivance:
The Native American & Indigenous Studies Initiative at Penn hosts an evening panel discussion on some of the traditional, historical, and contemporary roles and experiences of individual Native American women as culture keepers, wartime leaders, political chiefs, and medicine women.

Guest Speakers:

Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel (Mohegan), is the author of Medicine Trail: The Life and Lessons of
 Gladys Tantaquidgeon (University of Arizona Press 2000), in addition to many novels based on Northeastern Native histories. Zobel serves as both the Mohegan 
Tribal Historian and Medicine Woman.

“Role of Gladys Tantaquidgeon as a 20th Century Medicine Woman”
The role of Mohegan Medicine Woman is to look out for the health of the tribe, Indian Country, America, and the world. That function is carried out through attention to and passing on of interpretation of dreams, visions, politics, history, traditional stories, and constant rebalancing things for healing and good medicine. Ways to promote healing and good medicine include the making, protection, and re-securing of sacred objects and papers, the education of tribal people and others in those things, the restoration of indigenous philosophy through language restoration and decolonization, attention to signs and omens,  the ongoing maintenance and reconnection of diverse tribal peoples and objects, the support of traditional and adaptive tribal leadership positions, the protection of sacred sites, and a strong focus on the spiritual force of the universe including acknowledgement of the pipe, the fire, the drum, names, floral, faunal, fungal medicines, and celestial connections. Most of all, it involves a belief that broken things can be made whole again through an open ear to the ancestors and the great spiritual force of the universe, the one great wholeness of being of which we are all a part but which takes many forms. Gladys Tantaquidgeon’s field work with Frank Speck, her writings, and her creation of and teachings at America’s oldest Native owned and operated museum provided her with a cutting-edge 20th century venue for the sharing of these medicine beliefs and thus the promotion of tribal sovereignty in the heart of colonial New England.

Karenne Wood (Monacan), Director of Virginia Indian Programs at Virginia Humanities, will speak about the events leading up to the very recent news of six 
Virginia Indian tribes being granted federal recognition, in a surprise vote of Congress in 2018.

“Speaking with One Voice: Virginia Indians and Federal Recognition”
The story of Virginia Indians today is primarily one of invisibility. Our histories and identities as Native peoples have been marginalized, repressed, and misrepresented to the point that most Americans identify us only with Pocahontas. How did this come about, and how have Virginia Indians managed not only to survive as distinct peoples but also to recently achieve federal acknowledgment as a group of six distinct tribes? This presentation examines the continuing presence of Native peoples who welcomed and sometimes helped the English colonists, creating their first successful settlement in this hemisphere at Jamestowne, their relationships with one other and their homeland, the 19-year struggle they engaged in to acquire official visibility, and the situation of several tribes who remain unsuccessful in that pursuit. We will look briefly at the critical involvement of Native women leaders throughout our history, and the recent work of our women who refused to remain silent.

Alyssa Mt. Pleasant (Tuscarora) is an Assistant Professor of Native American Studies in the Department of Transnational Studies at the University at Buffalo (SUNY) and Program Director of the Native American Scholars Initiative at the American Philosophical Society. She will speak on the role of Jigonsaseh, an influential clan mother who played a significant role in the development of the Haudenosaunee Great Law of Peace.

“Seeking Her Rightful Place: Jigonsaseh and Haudenosaunee Women’s Leadership”
The Haudenosaunee or Iroquois people have a high profile in Indian Country and are well-known to scholars of Native American and Indigenous Studies. Similarly our socio-political structure, often referred to as a confederacy, and the outlines of the Great Law of Peace are also familiar to many. That said, one aspect of the oral tradition surrounding the Great Law that is frequently overlooked is the significant role of a woman named Jigonsaseh. This talk explores her role and its larger significance for Haudenosaunee women’s responsibilities for leadership and governance.

Lisa Brooks (Abenaki), is an Associate Professor at Amherst College and author of Our Beloved
 Kin: A New History of King Philip's War (Yale University Press 2018), will discuss the historical 
role of Weetamoo, a 17th century female Wampanoag sachem during King Philip's War.

“Our Beloved Cousin and Kinswoman: Weetamoo, Saunkskwa of Pocasset”
Weetamoo was an influential Wampanoag diplomat, building alliances and protecting land both before and after the seventeenth century colonial conflict known as King Philip's War. She was one of many female Indigenous leaders in the Native northeast, but she was also a "beloved kinswoman" in a wide network of relations. This presentation will focus on Weetamoo's diplomacy and leadership both before and after the war, drawing on research for the recently published book, Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip's War. It will also raise questions about the challenge leaders like Weetamoo posed, both to Puritan settlers and historians who have written about colonial New England and King Philip’s War.

Marilynn Malerba (Mohegan), lifetime Chief of the Mohegan Tribe, to discuss her role as a 21st century female chief. Malerba is Secretary to the Board of Directors of the United South and Eastern Tribes. She also serves on tribal advisory committees for federal agencies, including the US Justice Department's Tribal Nations Leadership Council, Treasury Department, Indian Health Services and National Institute of Health.

"Raising Our Voices"
As Native American Women, it is our tradition to be engaged at all levels of governance to ensure we keep faith with those who have come before us and those we have yet to meet.  Our ancestors persevered despite all odds and now we must continue to move federal policy to ensure that the trust and treaty obligations agreed to so long ago by the United States are met in spirit and law.  This can only occur with continued education of our legislators, political will and a united indigenous voice.  The goal of this discussion is to share the issues facing our native nations to ensure strong advocacy efforts that will enhance the next generations equitable access to social justice.


Funding provided by the Center for Global Women’s Health, Penn Cultural Heritage Center, Department of Linguistics, and School of Arts and Science Dean’s Office. Event space provided by Penn Law School, with thanks to Makenzie Way, President of Penn's Native American Law Students Association, for her assistance in scheduling. Thanks are also offered to Zhenia Bemko, Stephanie Mach, and Lise Puyo for their gracious assistance with set-up and hospitality.

For more information on the Native American & Indigenous Studies Initiative at Penn, see the NAIS website.