American Indian Women: A Trader’s Wife

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American Indians were involved in trade for thousands of years prior to the arrival of the European and American fur traders. Traditional Indian trade was about relationships as much as it was about the material which was traded. In order to trade, a person needed to have trading partners, primarily relatives. An individual gained these trading partners through marriage and/or by being adopted into a family. The first fur traders quickly understood this and subsequently they usually married women from the tribes with whom they carried on trade.

In 1829, Fort Union, located on the boundary between Montana and North Dakota, was established as a trading post for the American Fur Company at the request of Iron Arrow Point, an Assiniboine chief. It soon became a trading center for many of the Northern Plains tribes, including the Blackfoot, Crow, Cree, Ojibwa, and Hidatsa. In order to strengthen their trade relations with these tribes, all of the traders took Indian wives, thus creating a web of alliances. This type of alliance was generally called a country marriage (le marriage á la façon du pays).  

Alexander Culbertson, the American Fur Company trader, insisted that Fort Union was a stable outpost of civilization and therefore there had to be white linen on the table as well as milk and butter. Culbertson would sit at the head of the table and the visitors and clerks would be seated according to rank.

Natawista (also spelled Natoapxíxina, Na-ta-wis-ta-cha and Natoyist-Siksina), the daughter of Kaina (Blood) chief Man’stokos (Two Suns) and sister of the chief Seen Afar, was Culbertson’s second wife. Her name translates into English as Sacred Serpent or Medicine Snake. She was fifteen years old when she was brought to him in 1840 to be married. She arrived at Fort Union in a procession of Blood and Blackfoot warriors. It is unlikely that she had selected Culbertson as her husband: it was more likely that the chiefs and Culbertson saw this as an economic opportunity. Natawista helped her husband by cultivating friendly relationships between Indians and Americans and thus enhancing her husband’s profitable trade.

The Blood, whose homelands are in Alberta, Canada, are closely related to the Blackfoot and were often close allies.

In 1846, Culbertson established Fort Lewis (later renamed Fort Benton) at the confluence of the Marias and Missouri Rivers in Montana to accommodate the large number of buffalo robes offered by the Blackfoot. Natawista became invaluable to this trade by advising her husband.

While she did not speak English, she adopted American dress and manners. At the many balls held at the trading posts, Natawista was well-gowned in European fashion and performed as a model hostess. While there were times when her taste for raw liver and calf brains was disturbing to some guests, her beauty and social skills charmed nearly everyone. Among the notable visitors who met her were John J. Audubon, Swiss artist Rudolf Friedrich Kurz, Father Pierre DeSmet, Lewis Henry Morgan, and others.

In 1843, John J. Audubon described Natawista, whom he called Mrs. Culbertson, this way:

…the Ladies had their hair loose and flying in the breeze and then all mounted on horses with Indian saddles and trappings. Mrs. Culbertson and her maid rode astride like men, and all rode a furious race, under whip the whole way, for more than one mile on the prairie; and how amazed would have been any European lady, or some of our modern belles who boast their equestrian skill at seeing the magnificent riding of this Indian princess-for that is Mrs. Culbertson’s rank-and her servant.

Rudolf Friedrich Kurz described her as

One of the most beautiful Indian women…would be an excellent model for a Venus.

Natawista and Culbertson played important roles in the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty Conference, in the 1853 Fort Benton Council, and in the 1855 Judith River Treaty Conference with the Blackfoot. While the Blackfoot were not present at the 1851 conference, Natawitsa and Culbertson helped the treaty council understand the extent of Blackfoot tribal territory. In 1854 she told the American treaty commissioners:

My people are a good people but they are jealous and vindictive. I am afraid that they and the whites will not understand each other, but if I go, I may be able to explain things to them and sooth them if they should be irritated. I know there is great danger.

Her daughters were taken from her by Culbertson and sent east so that they could be raised in American culture. We don’t know how Natawista felt about this, but there are some who feel that this created some tensions in the marriage.

When Culbertson retired from the fur trade, she went with him to live on a large estate near Peoria, Illinois. Here Natawista was baptized as Nelly and the couple was married by a Catholic priest in an ornate ceremony that hit the social column in the local newspaper. She enjoyed the fast horses and the private paddock of buffalo on the large estate. At one point she pitched a tipi on the front lawn of her magnificent mansion, much to the dismay of the neighbors.

The Civil War ruined Culbertson’s fortune and so they moved back to Fort Benton, Montana where they struggled to make ends meet. In 1870, the army attacked a peaceful Blackfoot camp in what came to be known as the Baker Massacre. Many Blackfoot fled to Canada for sanctuary. Natawista also fled north to her Blood people in Alberta. In 1877 she accepted treaty status as a Blood Indian in Canada. There she died in 1893 and was buried at the Catholic Church in Stand Off. Natawista Lake, also known as Janet Lake, in Glacier National Park is named for her.

Natawista’s story leaves us with many unanswered questions about Indian wives, country marriages, and the frontier. We don’t know to what extent she was a slave-wife or a concubine. We do know that she was an important part of her husband’s fur trading business, but she does not appear to be a true business partner, nor does the marriage appear to have been based on romance. Her story was a common one during the nineteenth century and most of the women involved have been forgotten by history, and in some cases, by their families.  

American Indian Women: The Leaders

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The United States government and American historians have been as reluctant to acknowledge women leaders among Indian nations as they have been acknowledging women warriors. The fact is that many Indian nations have had women leaders. In the many treaty councils which the United States held with the Indian nations, it was unusual for the United States to allow Indian women to speak.

In 1831, when the Sauk returned to their traditional village of Saukenuk in Illinois, the Americans called up a force of 700 militia volunteers to protect the citizens of the state from the Sauk invasion. The Sauk were determined to remain peaceful and met in council with the Americans. The Americans wanted the Sauk to move to new lands west of the Mississippi River. Black Hawk informed General Gaines that the women own the fields, not the men. The Sauk then selected a woman to speak for them. She told the Americans that the women owned the fields, not the tribe, and that the women had never sold any of the land nor consented to the transfer of it to the United States. Gaines simply dismissed her comments saying that the President did not send him to make treaties with women nor to hold council with them.

Some of the Indian women leaders which have been recorded by the Europeans are briefly described below.  

In 1656, Anne, also known as Queen Anne, assumed leadership of the Pamunkey in Virginia, a tribe which was a part of the Powhatan Confederacy.

In 1674, Awashonks became the sachem of the Saconnet band of the Wampanoag in Massachusetts.

In 1760, Spanish priest Gaspár José de Solís encountered a Caddo village in Texas, which was governed by a woman whom he calls Santa Adiva. He reported that she was married to five men, lived in a large house, and that people from other Caddo villages brought gifts to her.

In 1785, Toypurina (Gabrielino) convinced Indians from six California villages to participate in a revolt against the San Gabriel Mission. Toypurina was a medicine woman who was considered to have killed people with her magic, but the priests and soldiers had been warned and the insurgents were arrested. At her trial, Toypurina denounced the Spanish for trespassing on and destroying Indian lands. Most of the Indians were sentenced to 20 lashes and Toypurina was deported to the San Carlos Mission.

In the 1780s, Net-no-kwa was an Ottawa who was living among the Ojibwa. She was acknowledged as a powerful traditional leader. Her hunting dreams gave her the power to help her people find food during times of scarcity. She was also a participant in the Midewiwin Society (a formal, religious and healing society) which enhanced her authority.

In the late 1700s, Blue Robed Cloud, Ojibwa, was a spiritual leader who had received great power from a vision during her first menstrual vision quest. This power was used to help male hunters in finding game.

In 1809 Kauxuma-nupika (“Gone to the Spirits”), a Kootenai woman who had been married to a non-Indian for a year, returned to her people in Montana and British Columbia and announced that she had been transformed into a man. He/she claimed to have acquired great spiritual power, including the power to foretell the coming of diseases. Kauxuma-nupika became both a spiritual and political leader and was acknowledged as a chief by the non-Indian traders.  

American Indian Women: The Warriors

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When the Europeans first began arriving on this continent they were amazed that Indian women were very much unlike European women. Indian women were not subservient to men, they often engaged in work – such as farming and warfare – which the Europeans viewed as men’s work, they had a voice in the political life of their communities, and they had control of their own bodies and sexuality. Unlike the patriarchal European societies, Indians were often matrilineal, a system in which people belonged to their mother’s clans or extended families. When Indian people spoke of a neighboring tribe as “women” or as “grandmothers”, the Europeans often misinterpreted this compliment as a derogatory statement.  

During the nineteenth century Indian women, and particularly Indian women leaders, were invisible to the American government. Some Indians have gone so far as to say that the Americans were so afraid of Indian women that they would not allow them to sit or speak in treaty councils with the United States government. Even today, Indian women are conspicuous by their absence in American history.  

When asked to name some famous Indian women, most people have difficulty in recalling anyone other than Pocahontas and Sacajawea. Both of these women have legends which are more based in non-Indian fantasies about Indian women than in the reality of their accomplishments. For both, their fame is based on their association with non-Indians.

Europeans have always viewed war as “men’s work” and their interpretations of Indian warfare, as seen through the writings of non-Indian historians and anthropologists, assume that only Indian men were warriors. They often fail to see that women warriors were common among Indian people. This does not mean that women warriors became like men or that they were lesbians. Women warriors went with their husbands on the war party. Some of the examples of nineteenth century women Indian warriors are briefly described below.  

Fallen Leaf (often called Woman Chief by the Americans): While Fallen Leaf was a Crow warrior, she was actually born to the Gros Ventre nation and was captured by the Crow when she was 12. After she had counted coup four times in the prescribed Crow tradition, she was considered a chief and sat in the council of chiefs. In addition to being a war leader, she was also a good hunter and had two wives.

Running Eagle: she became a Blackfoot (Piegan) warrior after her husband was killed by the Crow. To avenge her husband’s death, she sought help from the Sun and was told “I will give you great power in war, but if you have intercourse with another man you will be killed”. After this she became a very respected war leader and led many successful raids on the large Flathead horse herds west of the Rocky Mountains. She was on a raid in Flathead country when she was killed. She had had sexual relations with one of the men in her war party and for this reason lost her war power.

Colestah: In the 1858 battle of Spokane Plains in Washington, Yakama leader Kamiakin was nearly killed when a howitzer shell hit a tree and the tree branch knocked him from his horse. Riding into battle with Kamiakin was his wife Colestah who was known as a medicine woman, psychic, and warrior. Armed with a stone war club, Colestah fought at her husband’s side. When Kamiakin was wounded, she rescued him, and then used her healing skills to cure him.

Buffalo Calf Robe: In the 1876 battle of the Rosebud in Montana, American troops under the leadership of General Crook along with their Crow and Shoshone allies fought against the Cheyenne and Lakota Sioux. The Shoshone and Crow shot the horse of Cheyenne Chief Comes in Sight out from under him. As the warriors were closing in to finish him off, Buffalo Calf Robe (aka Calf Trail Woman), the sister of Comes in Sight, rode into the middle of the warriors and saved the life of her brother. Buffalo Calf Robe had ridden into battle that day next to her husband Black Coyote. This was considered to be one of the greatest acts of valor in the battle.

Moving Robe: One of the best-known battles in the annals of Indian-American warfare is the 1876 Battle of the Greasy Grass in Montana where Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer was defeated. One of those who lead the counterattack against the cavalry was the woman Tashenamani (Moving Robe). In the words of Lakota warrior Rain-in-the-Face:

“Holding her brother’s war staff over her head, and leaning forward upon her charger, she looked as pretty as a bird. Always when there is a woman in the charge, it causes the warriors to vie with one another in displaying their valor.”

It is evident from the words of Rain-in-the-Face, that having a woman lead an attack was not unknown to Lakota warriors.  

American Indian Women: Mary Musgrove

When European colonists first began arriving in North America they were often startled to find that American Indian women were not the property of their husbands. The Europeans were often shocked by the fact that American Indian women freely expressed their sexuality, that they took active leadership roles in their societies, and there were few limits and what they could do. In the subsequent centuries, American Indian women do not often appear in the standard histories. What follows is a short biography of a Creek woman who was both an entrepreneur and a leader.  

Among the Southeastern tribes, such as the Creek, tribal membership was traditionally determined by the mother. In a matrilineal culture, people belong to their mother’s clan. In Creek culture, blood relations were determined through the mother’s line and the father was not considered a blood relative, but rather a relative by marriage. Thus when European traders married into the Southeastern tribes, their children acquired tribal citizenship. When the English trader Edward Griffin married a prominent Creek woman, his daughter, born about 1700 and later known as Mary Musgrove, was considered to be Creek. Since her mother was a member of the Wind clan, Mary was also a member of the Wind clan.  Her Creek name was Coosaponakeesa.

Mary’s mother was related to the prominent Creek leaders Brims (she was his sister) and Chigelli. Later in life, using the European concept that leadership must be based on royalty, she would claim to have royal heritage.

Coosaponakeesa grew up in the Creek village of Coweta in present-day Georgia. While her first language was Creek, like many other Southeastern Indians of this time, she also learned English.

Since her father was a trader, Coosaponakeesa was able to observe and learn about the deerskin trade and about the differences between Indian and European colonial customs.

In 1710, following the death of her mother, her father took custody of her. Coosaponakeesa was taken to South Carolina to be baptized and educated in the principles of Christianity. After her father read her a story of a royal woman from the bible, she decided that she would be named Mary and she was therefore baptized with this name. She returned to Coweta in 1715.

In 1717, Coosaponakeesa, also known as Mary Griffin, married John Musgrove, the son of Captain John Musgrove, Sr. and a Creek woman. Captain Musgrove, a trader and planter, had been sent by the Governor of South Carolina to negotiate a treaty with the Creek Nation and had become friendly with the Creek leader Brims. Thus the marriage of Brims’ niece with Colonel Musgrove’s son was seen as a political alliance.  

Following her marriage she took the name Mary Musgrove. The couple set up a trading post near the Savannah River. Being fluent in both Creek and English, she worked with her husband as an interpreter. In addition, her kinship ties brought business into the trading post.

Mary had three sons with John Musgrove, none of which lived to adulthood.

In 1733, James Oglethorpe and a group of trustees were granted a charter by King George II to start a settlement colony in Georgia. Mary soon became Oglethorpe’s primary interpreter. The establishment of the new colony allowed the Musgroves the opportunity to expand their business enterprises. The English formally granted John Musgrove land at Yamacraw Bluff on the Savannah River, about four miles upstream from the new town of Savannah.

As the principal interpreter for James Oglethorpe, Mary was in a unique position to act as a cultural liaison between the English and the Southeastern tribes. She was instrumental in the peaceful founding of the colonial town of Savannah. She not only translated words, but she taught the English (primarily Oglethorpe) about Indian ways and how to get along with the Indians. From the English she received financial compensation for her work as well as some prestige as their primary interpreter. She continually used her position to foster peace between the English and the Creek leaders.  

Mary was also an important liaison between the English and other Southeastern tribes. In 1736, for example, she was Oglethorpe’s interpreter in a council which was held with both the Creek and the Chickasaw.

When John Musgrove died in 1735, Mary moved the trading post to Yamacraw Bluff. The trading post, known as the Cowpens, became one of the major centers for the deerskin trade between the English and the Indians.

Mary Musgrove remarried in 1737. Her new husband, another Englishman, was Jacob Matthews. Matthews had been an indentured servant to John Musgrove. He was several years her junior. The couple was married in a European-style wedding officiated by an Anglican minister. They established another trading post at Mount Venture on the Altamaha River. Jacob Matthews was not highly regarded by the English colonists who viewed him as a drunk and an opportunist.

In 1737, Creek leader Tomochichi transferred several tracts of land to Mary. She had requested the transfer to facilitate her livestock business. In Creek culture, women were allowed to have property separately from their husbands. The British, however, refused to acknowledge this internal transfer of Creek land. While the British utilized her services as a translator, they had difficulty acknowledging a woman’s right to own property. The British also decreed that the Creek Nation could only cede land to another nation, not to an individual.

In 1739, James Oglethorpe held a large council with the Creek in Georgia. As usual, Mary assisted him in the translations. As a result of the council, the Creek reaffirmed their land grants to Georgia and the Georgians promised to respect Creek boundaries and territories.

Jacob Matthews died in 1742. Two years later, Mary married the Reverend Thomas Bosomworth. While Mary was a successful trader with vast land and livestock holdings, the class-conscious English colonists felt that Bosomworth had married below his station. His status coupled with her cultural skills proved to be a powerful combination. Together they traveled to the Creek villages with messages from Oglethorpe and the English King. They brought back to the English leaders the messages from the various Creek leaders. They often hosted both Creek and American visitors in their home. In general they mediated between the Indians and the colonists.

Mary and Thomas set up a new trading post at the Forks (the confluence of the Ockmulgee and Oconee Rivers). Thomas brought six African slaves with him to the new post.

In 1743, Oglethorpe left Georgia and returned to London. He left Mary £100, an unfulfilled promise of £100 per year, and the diamond ring from his finger. While Oglethorpe had relied on Mary to keep the Creek leaders allied with English interest, the English leaders who followed him did not trust her, in part because she was a woman.

The Creek chief Malatchi granted Mary and her husband three islands: Ossabaw, Sapelo, and St. Catherines. Once again, the British refused to acknowledge these grants.

In 1745, Mary Musgrove Bosomworth petitioned the Georgia Trustees for recognition of Tomochichi’s cession of a tract of land to her. She also asked for back payment for the 12 years which she served the colony as an interpreter. The Trustees refused to recognize her land claim. With regard to her claim for back payment, they decreed that a debt owed by her husband must be paid before any settlement could be made.  

In 1747, Creek leader Malatchi acknowledged to the British colonial authorities the land claims of his cousin Mary Musgrove.

In spite of their dispute with Mary over land claims and back pay, the English colonial officials still needed her help. In 1747 they asked her to lead an expedition to ameliorate a dispute between the Creek and the English settlers in South Carolina and Georgia. The English officials, however, felt that they could not have a woman lead such an expedition and they instead appointed her brother-in-law as the official leader.  

In 1749, Mary and her husband decided to travel to England to directly petition for compensation for her services to the colonies. A rumor soon circulated through the Creek villages that she was going to England under duress. Some rumors claimed that she was going in chains. In response to the rumors, Creek leader Malatchi traveled to Savannah to check on his cousin. The British, ignorant of the role which women play in Creek culture, assumed that Malatchi wouldn’t travel so far just to check on the status of a woman. They thus ignored his arrival which was an insult to his position as a Creek leader.

With feelings rising on both sides, the Creek leaders were treated to a customary dinner. During the meal, Mary Musgrove announced that she was the “empress” or “queen” of the Lower Creek, and that she was a British ally rather than a subject. The British refused to accept this claim and Mary Musgrove and Malatchi left in anger.

Following the incident at Savannah, about 200 Creek under the leadership of Malatchi met with the British governor and presented to him a paper stating that Mary Musgrove was their queen. The British simply dismissed her as “an insignificant squaw.” She refused to leave the council and began shouting. After a confrontation with the Creek warriors, the enraged British had the colonial magistrates arrest her. Her husband, Thomas Bosomworth, publicly apologized for her and promised that there would be no future outbursts.

By 1752, Mary and Thomas went to Charles Town in South Carolina to find transportation to England so that they could plead their case in person before the Board of Trade. However, the governor of South Carolina delayed their departure by asking for their assistance in establishing peace between the Creek and the Cherokee.

They finally traveled to England in 1754 and were able to present Mary’s case directly to the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade referred the case to the Georgia courts.

In 1755, Mary Musgrove identified herself to the British colonial authorities as the head of the Creek Nation. She reminded the British that in Creek culture, inheritance is through the female line. Thus her “royalty” came from her mother who was the brother of the Creek mico Brims and the Creek war leader Chekilli. Her father was English.

The English finally settled Mary Musgrove’s claim for past services and recognition of land claims in 1759. The settlement was a fraction of that which was owed. In exchange for St. Catherines Island and £2,100, she relinquished her claim to the other islands.

Mary Musgrove died on St. Catherines Island in 1763. While she served the British as a translator, she received little compensation for these services. While the Creek acknowledged her as a “queen,” the British refused to recognize that a woman could have political power.  

American Indian Women: Mourning Dove

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Christine Quintasket, writing under the name Mourning Dove, was the first American Indian woman to write a novel. Cogewea: The Half-Blood  had actually been completed in 1916, but it took another decade to find a publisher for it. The novel remained an obscure piece of Native American literature until it was repub¬lished in 1981.

The setting for Cogewea is the Flathead Reservation in Montana. Mourning Dove was not from the Flathead Reservation, but from the Colville Reservation in Washington. She was born in a canoe about 1885 when her mother was crossing the Kootenay River in Idaho. Her father was Okanagan and her mother was Colville.

Mourning Dove was not well-educated. As a child, she was sporadically enrolled in the Goodwin Catholic Mission School near Kettle Falls Washington. Her first experience with school was so traumatic that she became deathly ill and had to return to her reservation home. She reports that she was lonely and that she was punished for speaking only Salish.

Later she attended the Fort Spokane School for Indians and then she worked in exchange for classes at the Fort Shaw Indian School in Montana.

Sometime after she learned English, she began reading the so-called “dime novels” and these influenced her later writings.

While living in Portland in 1912, she began working on her novel and the idea of becoming a writer began to grow. In order to pursue her goal of becoming a writer, she briefly attended a secretarial school in Alberta, Canada so that she could learn to type.  

To support herself, she worked as a migrant farm laborer, picking fruit and vegetables by day then trying to write in her camp tent at night. Her life was often one of poverty and physical hardship.

She started writing using the pen name Morning Dove. According to Colville oral tradition, Morning Dove was the wife of Salmon who welcomed his return each spring. However, while visiting a museum in Spokane, Washington she happened to see a mounted bird with the label “mourning dove” and decided to use this name which added some tragic overtones to her pen name.

About 1914 or 1915, Mourning Dove met Lucullus V. McWhorter, a businessman and Indian-rights advocate, who became her literary mentor. He encouraged her to collect traditional stories and edited Cogewea. At the time of their first meeting, she had already completed an initial draft of the book. By the time she had a final draft ready for publication, World War I interrupted the publishing scene.

The influence of McWhorter is easily seen in Cogewea. At times the novel is written in the style of a dime novel romance (reflecting her early fascination with this writing form) and at other times it takes a more academic, anthropological approach to explaining Indian culture.

In 1933 her second book, Coyote Stories, was published. This is a collection of traditional Okanogan stories. However, working with an editor who was primarily concerned with reaching a non-Indian audience, these stories are presented in a fashion that would be acceptable for this audience. Thus stories about incest, transvestism, and infanticide were omitted from the collection. The alterations in the stories to make them appeal to a non-Indian audience often makes them unrecognizable to the traditional Okanogan from which they came.

Throughout her life she was active in reservation politics. In 1935, she was elected to the Colville Tribal Council, becoming the first woman to serve as a council member. She was often a public speaker on issues of tribal welfare and women’s rights. She died in 1936. Her personal and cultural memoirs-Mourning Dove, a Salishan Autobiography-was published posthumously fifty-four years after her death.  

Pretty Bird Woman House – first and last call

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This the annual fundraising diary for the Pretty Bird Woman House, a women’s shelter on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which the Daily Kos community has supported since 2007, when we came together and not only prevented the shelter from going under, but bought it an entire house. It was an incredible thing to see this community do. This is a good time to remember that, to remind ourselves of what we can accomplish when we unite instead of fight.

Christmas TiPi Pictures, Images and Photos

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the history of our involvement with the shelter, I will direct you to a post that Andy T wrote on the Pretty Bird Woman House blog, which pretty much summed up our efforts then.

the shelter, which includes a general (tax deductible) fund for the shelter, and a separate one for gift cards for the staff (not deductible).

This year, for reasons I will tell you about in the update below, I’m just doing a ChipIn for the staff. General donations (the tax deductible kind) can still be made by check, but not on-line.

I apologize for the lateness of this appeal, but like a lot of folks I’ve had a hard time this year. But there is still time to donate. It takes only a few minutes to donate via ChipIn or write a check. This year you might also want to add a couple of kids to your Christmas list. More on that below.

Shelter News

This has been a big year for the shelter, in good and bad ways.

First the good. The tribe has given the shelter a $250,000 grant to start a sexual assault response team and develop education programs. The shelter then hired 2 new staff for this purpose. They work in the Tribal Council building in Ft. Yates. Can’t get much better cooperation from the top than that! The grant signaled the tribe’s recognition of the shelter as a permanent fixture on the reservation. If you contributed to the fund drive, you can therefore be confident that your one-time donation did some permanent good.

Second, the not-so-good. Georgia Little Shield, the shelter’s director, resigned her position as of December 11 due to health issues that were becoming more and more difficult for her to manage with the kind of stress a women’s shelter director endures. She is probably going to be on Social Security disability and Medicaid.  

Right now, Jackie Brown Otter, whose sister is the shelter’s namesake, is working as the interim director until they get a new one.

A few months before Georgia resigned, a key advocate resigned, and the staff member who did the bookkeeping is also leaving. In this case, the old bookkeeper, who also did advocacy and intake work, will return.

As a result of all of this turnover, as well as my new full-time job as an office supervisor at the Census, which came after a very tumultuous year for me personally, I haven’t been in as much contact with the shelter as I had been in the past, and I haven’t been aggressive about holiday fundraising either. I apologize folks. It has just been a tough year.

So, this year I have posted a ChipIn for the staff gift cards only. I took the other ChipIn down after I realized that not only did the new staff not know what a ChipIn was, but it was not properly set up for a new director.

BUT IT’S NOT TOO LATE! If you want to donate to the shelter’s general fund, you can still send a check.

The address is:

Pretty Bird Woman House

P.O. Box 596

McLaughlin, SD 57642

You can also send clothing and other donations to that address using the USPS. To use other delivery services use this address:

211 First Ave W. McLaughlin, SD 57642.

There are four shelter staff aside from Jackie, and two volunteers. That is six people. Plus Jackie that’s seven. Plus Georgia, eight. I did a poll in this diary the first 2 days I posted it, and opinion was nearly unanimous that we should just divide what’s collected among them all. So that’s what will happen with your donation.

Georgia’s not-so-merry Christmas

Even with her terrible back pain, Georgia is now regretting not waiting a couple of more weeks to resign because with her husband being unemployed, there is now no money for Christmas presents for the children she is fostering – two grandchildren and two step nieces, all girls except for the two year old, ranging in age from 2 to 17.

So, if you are so inclined, you could do some last minute Christmas shopping for the kids. I will send her a gift card in any case. I asked Georgia what kinds of things the kids like. She sent me the following email:

Oh The 6 year old any thing tinker bell, the 9 year old any thing Hanna Montana, the 2 year old boy Cars or riding toys he has none. The 17 year old any make up such eye make up eye shadows (brown and Plum) and mascara black eye liner black. Really poor on make up she is.

The Tribe where i live lost there low energy money so those of us who did get that last year will not be getting help with propane, Man if its not one thing its another. I want to just scream.

As you can see, Christmas is not Georgia’s only problem. If you’d like to do some last minute shopping for her kids you can send the gifts to:

Georgia Little Shield P.O. Box 292 Isabel SD 57633.

(the post box number means you have to use the USPS, so I would recommend the flat rate Priority Mail boxes given the late date).

I will have the gift card ChipIn up until COB Tuesday to give anyone who still wants to donate one more chance, and then I’ll get the gift cards after work and send them off Express Mail.

Remember, if you want a tax-deductible donation, you can also send a check to the shelter.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Pretty Bird Woman House Update: It’s a GO!

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Cross posted from the Daily Kos

First of all, I want to express my deepest gratitude to all the Kossacks and other members of the netroots community for your commitment to the survival of the Pretty Bird Woman House.  Helping this shelter has been one of the most gratifying things I’ve ever done, and some of that has to do with the outpouring of caring and compassion that I witnessed while I was doing this project.

This morning I received an email informing me that the McLaughlin City Council had unanimously approved the shelter’s petition to operate in the house it wants to purchase. This was a wonderful accomplishment given some initial misgivings that some of the City Council Members had expressed.  

For those who haven’t been following the story of the Pretty Bird Woman House, instead of pointing you to the numerous (and I mean NUMEROUS)diaries that Kossacks have written on the subject since May, I will simply direct you to the Pretty Bird Woman House blog, since it contains links to many of those diaries in addition to the essays that Andy T and I wrote as part of the fundraiser.

Here’s the situation in a nutshell: On December 28th, a full month early, we met our goal of raising the $70,000 that we figured the shelter needed for a new house and security system. By that time, Georgia Little Shield, the director, had placed a bid on a house near the police station. The closing would have taken place on January 4th.

Unfortunately, while all this was happening, the City of McLaughlin had passed an ordinance that required nonprofits seeking to establish a shelter or boarding house in a residential neighborhood to get the City’s permission first. This action was in response to drunk and disorderly conduct by the men in a homeless shelter in another neighborhood,

On January 7th, the City Council held a hearing on the shelter’s petition. There was some initial opposition to the shelter by some of the Council members and neighborhood residents, so they put off voting on the issue in order to gather more information and give people more time to consider the issue.

This made us all very uneasy, and I for one was waiting on pins and needles for the final decision.

But as with everything involved in this project, the best in people finally came out.

Last night, the Council unanimously voted to approve the shelter’s request. Unlike the first meeting, only positive remarks were made about the shelter staff and its future residents. As Georgia just told me:

At that meeting, everybody was for us, nobody spoke up against us.

This included the Chief of Police, who testified that the police really need the shelter to help them with women who are victims of domestic violence.

So, in the end, it seems that the mayor recognized that the shelter’s opponents just needed more information, and that his move to postpone the vote was a wise one. Here’s what he told the Rapid City Journal today.

“I think it’s going to be good. I think their hearts are in the right place,” Dumdei said of shelter officials. “Everyone’s trying to do what’s right. We just wanted to make sure that we had public input and everybody understands it.” …snip…

Dumdei said it was important to give citizens time to ask questions and feel comfortable with the planned relocation of the shelter, which is the only domestic-violence sanctuary on the Standing Rock reservation.

Amnesty International also provided a letter in support of the shelter, which the mayor cited at the meeting. Here is part of that letter (sorry I don’t have a link, it was emailed to me):

Programs run by Native American and Alaska Native women are vital in ensuring the protection and long-term support of Indigenous women who have experienced sexual violence. Shelters operated by Native American women are particularly important in order to provide the culturally appropriate supportive environment needed.  However, lack of funding is a widespread problem all over the US, including in South Dakota – and in many locations no such support is available. In our report, we highlighted the work of Pretty Bird Woman House, a sexual assault and domestic violence program on the Standing Rock Reservation. At the time of Amnesty International’s report in April 2007 Pretty Bird Woman House did not have funding for direct services for its clients, but helped women to access services off the Reservation. Amnesty International believes that it is imperative that the Reservation have its own shelter.


The support that Pretty Bird Woman House has received from individuals all over the US is indicative of the response that Amnesty International has seen to this issue in general. Many people feel deeply touched by the injustices suffered for decades by Native American women, and want to help. Authorities at all levels are responding as well – at the U.S. Senate level, legislation will be introduced within the next few weeks. In Oklahoma, state laws ensuring the availability of rape kits for all women have already been passed.

The advocates, who have been running Pretty Bird Woman House for the past years with few funds but a lot of determination, have been fighting alone for too long. It is time that we stand up together and say no to violence against women – and time to support a shelter which will make all the difference in the world to women at a time when a helping hand is desperately needed.

Today, they also issued a press release that contained this information and thanked the City Council for approving the shelter.

It seems to me that the netroots worked really well in tandem with Amnesty International on this whole project, taking up the call they issued about the shelter in their report, United States of America: Maze of injustice: The failure to protect indigenous women from violence as its own cause.

On Friday, Georgia is going to set a closing date on the house. When I find out exactly what it is, I’ll post it on the blog.

Fundraiser Update

Grand total of the money we raised: $87,000.

People have also sent hundreds of pounds of clothes. SallyCat alone sent 350 pounds from a drive and party she conducted in San Francisco.

The shelter is also going to be receiving a flurry of small checks because a retiree in Florida who read the Rapid City Journal articles asked that everyone who attended his birthday party last week send checks to the shelter in lieu of presents for him. Awwww…

The official house fundraiser ends tomorrow. I will be putting up a new ChipIn with no goal amount for people who still want to donate.

Work left to be done

One snafu has come up. We were basing our estimate of the cost of a security system on the one the neighboring shelter has. Bad idea. For a system that has 24 hour monitoring, the estimated cost was $24,000. Yipes! And they will still need a fence as well.

This means that the security system and fence will eat up a lot of the money they had set aside for furniture and a washer and dryer. So, when I spoke with Georgia today, she gave me a new wish list.

I know most people have given all they can, but I also know from experience that other people will want to know how they can help some more. So this is for them (I don’t want guilt trip everyone else, you all have been amazing). Some of these are replacements for items that didn’t hold up too well either in the move or in storage.

So for anyone so inclined to buy what I will call housewarming gifts, here’s what the shelter needs.


washer and dryer

8 bunk bed sets, and sheets to go on them

couch and chairs

television and stand

dining room set (the one they had collapsed in the move)


full and twin-size sheets

8 dressers (2 for each bedroom)

dishes and related kitchen supplies

Again, Kossacks, on behalf of the shelter staff, I want to extend my deepest gratitude for all your support, compassion, and kind words.

You know, a lot of us are tired of the sniping and griping that has been going on around here about the candidates, but take break from that for a second and think about what you have all done to help hundreds of women and children on the Standing Rock Reservation. It’s incredible. Pat yourselves on the back.

One more note considering this is a Democratic blog. I want to pubically thank Representative Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-SD) for her support. She spoke out publicly in support of the shelter when there was opposition on the City Council, has visited it at least twice, and whenever anyone calls her office about it, her staff members are extremely helpful. This is exactly the kind of commitment we need from our representatives in Congress. Thank you!


Pretty Bird Woman House Update: YOU are buying THIS house!

( – promoted by navajo)

I thought I’d give you an update on what was going on with the fundraiser for this shelter. Georgia Little Shield, the director, has used the money we have raised so far to place a bid on the house you see in the photos below.

We need donations urgently right now since there was only enough money for a really low bid, so that makes things still a bit tenuous. And then there will be closing costs and a security system. But even though we haven’t sealed the deal yet, we’re coming very close!

The amazing part of this project is that the individual efforts of a bunch of bloggers are making such a big difference to a group of women. This is what a community is really about.  And were else can you see donations doing something so huge so fast?  

Here are the photos of the house. Isn’t it great!

Front View:

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Living Room:

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Kitchen, View 1

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Kitchen, View 2

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Dining Room:

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There is also a huge basement, which will house a children’s playroom, and a small thrift shop to support the shelter, and has great general potential.

The next large item is a security system. With security cameras. A good one (which is a must in this situation) is at least $7,000 installed. And then we’ll need a fence. That’s going to be another large chunk of change. Since this is a one story house, and we don’t want batterers to try to get into those bedrooms at night, the fence is vital in addition to the security system. We don’t want a repeat of the theft and vandalism either.

If you haven’t donated yet, you can make a huge difference right now because they’re at a crucial point in the house purchase process, and things are still a little shaky. Go here to donate and get all the info you could possibly want on the shelter if you have missed the story up until now.

There will be needs after the house purchase, which is why I am keeping the goal at $70,000 despite the fact that of the 2 houses available, they’re bidding on the lower-priced one.

Because of the prior theft they’re also going to need a TV, VCR, DVD player, and the entertainment center to put them on. Boy it really sucks that they got so much stuff stolen! They’re also going to need a washer and dryer, as well as new dressers, 2 more bunk beds, and 2 more double beds, since more women and children will be housed here than in the other shelter. They also will need extra couches and chairs because the living room is so big, and the outside of the house needs a new coat of paint.

Those items are all important, but the money to seal the deal for the house and buy the security system is the most urgent.

So please everyone, keep passing the word. We are SO close.

I want to raise $10K more by Christmas. If the sellers accept the current bid that much will cover closing costs and the security system so the women can move right in. If they don’t accept the bid, it will allow them to increase it slightly and still cover closing costs. In any case, we’re SO close to this being a huge netroots coup for the shelter!

P.S. The shelter also just received another federal grant. If we can get this house, that grant will pay for utilities, food and other expenses. It’s also funding another advocate. So, we’ve got great long-term viability here, we just need to help them with their infrastructure! They are also planning a domestic violence conference for April that will be free for all Standing Rock residents. Georgia just never quits, even in the middle of all this house chaos!

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(by Tigana)