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GUEST POST – Charlotte Delaney talks about Warrior Women

On International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (9th August), we had an all Indigenous female filmmaker panel discussion, which included Marcella Gilbert (Lakota/Dakota), daughter of Madonna Thunder Hawk, two of the women in Beth Castle (descendent Pekowi band, Shawnee) and Christina D. King’s (Seminole) documentary Warrior Women: “The untold story of American Indian Movement activists who fought for civil rights in the 1970s, and the children who served as their inspiration and their cohorts. The film is anchored by one of the Red Power Movement’s most outspoken Lakota leaders, Madonna Thunder Hawk, and her daughter Marcy Gilbert.”

After watching both the panel discussion and the film, our dear friend, writer, supporter and collaborator,  Charlotte Delaney had something to say. Here it is.

After watching both the panel discussion and the film, Charlotte Delaney, writer-in-residence for Women in Humanities at the University of Oxford, had something to say.

After watching both the panel discussion and the film, our dear friend, writer, supporter and collaborator,  Charlotte Delaney had something to say. Here it is.

A response to Warrior Women

By Charlotte Delaney

“The land is priceless and that’s who we are – once the land is gone we’re just gonna be a bunch of brown poor people” Madonna Thunder Hawk.

The land is home: sustenance, protection and connection is the contract between the people and the dirt, the water, the air, the animals. Success is measured by the health of the Whole, where all life intersects and operates efficiently there is abundance, there is more than enough. In this way, when Madonna Thunder Hawk talks about home, she is talking about a collective space that has a past, a present and a future – but no walls. Perhaps through our modern, top-down lens, the notion of the collective is synonymous with the loss of personal identity, a relinquishing of self-determination, the opportunity to ‘get on’, and yet….watching Warrior Women there was no shortage of personality, no lack of distinctive voice or talent, no uniform through which the spirit can’t be seen. Their relentless and necessary activism births a catalogue of heart-breaking, death defying and sometimes hilarious stories, and their persistence, endurance and collective courage, gives them the fortitude – and the sense of humour – to laugh raucously at many of them.

During the 60’s and 70’s of the last millennium, a natural alliance between the civil rights movement and the Native rights movement, was established. As with many collaborations between oppressed peoples and groups, their goals were not all identical: the end to racism, poverty and violence was a shared objective however, the Native activists wanted to protect and uphold the treaty rights that would keep the tribes and their land distinct and protected. It made sense that AIM (American Indian Movement) and other tribal activist movements would join with, for example, the BPP (Black Panther Party), who were loud, organised and making waves. As with lesbians during the AIDS epidemic and the gay community that supported the miners strike, a shared experience of oppression can lead to a powerful shared experience of compassion. Marginalised groups only exist in an unjust and unequal society and, it could be argued, that inequality lies at the heart of a capitalist model which views necessities – nature and humanity for example – as little more than resources to be plundered.  This could be the extraction of minerals from the land or the extraction of the stories and culture of the people who live in the heart of the land.

When we consider that there is no Native American written language, we must acknowledge that most of what we (none Native Americans) know about their way of life, their spirituality, their history, is almost always an adaptation of the truth. However respectful, loving or robust the material is, without the voices of the indigenous, steeped in their own oral histories and traditions and experiences, we cannot know their voice. Through engaging with fiction, non-fiction, memoir and documentary we can experience a more honest contemplation of what it means to be Native American. If we are going to hang the dream catchers on our walls, it’s the very least we can do.

Madonna Thunder Hawk established the We Will Remember Survival School in 1974 in order to both reclaim the cultural heritage of her people and arm the next generation with an eloquent and powerful tool: the truth. The spiritual, the home (land) and the history are not separated at this school, instead the natural thread of life that encompasses all these elements is woven into the relaxed atmosphere and the knowledge that is shared. The children learn about the genocide, the treaties that were not honoured, the food to be found underfoot, the traditions to be kept alive. They learn that knowledge is power. They learn that there was a time when children the same age as them, could be dragged from their parents arms and forced into a Bureau of Indian Affairs Boarding School, locked into their rooms, their long hair cut short, their moccasins taken from their feet. In these prisons, generations of Native Americans were taught how not to be themselves, to forget traditions of their tribes and the tenderness of their families, to forget that they were loved. This was not so they would fit in, this in the hope wouldn’t rise up.

It didn’t work. At the heart of their collective activism are the women who alongside that invisible work that women – of all cultures – do, have continued to coordinate and maintain the gruelling rebellions against the structural and brutal discriminations and theft of culture and land. Whether it’s at the occupation of Alcatraz in ’69 or the current protests in Dakota, the women are there, laughing, cooking, shouting, dancing. To paraphrase Beth Castle of the Warrior Women Project, this is not the ‘sexy’ Native American impression so favoured by the West, this is not the handsome brave astride a noble steed, or the beautiful squaw demurely rustling up a few beaded necklaces: this is the stuff of dirt and memory and blood. This is the stuff of listening to the river to remember that it is there and vital. This is the stuff of carrying a brutalised past towards a meaningful future. This is the stuff of legend.

Charlotte Delaney is writer-in-residence for Women in Humanities at the University of Oxford. She has worked with the Guinness Partnership, along with a number of other local organisations to establish a theatre program for the residents of Delaney Heights, an affordable housing complex in Salford. Through Charlotte’s tireless efforts, while Delaney Heights was under constructions, Charlotte was instrumental in transforming it into an immersive space for theatre, storytelling and live art.

Charlotte runs creative writing workshops and devotes her spare time to assisting a women’s aid group to help young women explore their creative potential. Charlotte’s own works have been performed both in the UK and the United States, including New York City. She used to write for the English radio serial, The Archers.


Directed by Christina D. King (Seminole) Elizabeth Castle (descendent Pekowi band, Shawnee)


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