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Speaker: Native women ‘hold our world together’

March 15, 2013

By Kean Spivey

The Native American Resource Center of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke kicked off their Native American Speaker Series with author and scholar, Dr. Brenda Child. Approximately 60 people attended the event on February 12 in the new Health Sciences Building.

Brenda ChildA member of the Ojibwe Tribe and an expert on American Indian boarding schools in the early 20th century, Dr. Child is an associate professor in the Department of American Studies at the University of Minnesota.  She received a Ph.D. in history from the University of Iowa and was a Katrin Lamon Fellow at the School of American Research, Santa Fe, N.M.

Dr. Child said she felt welcomed at UNC Pembroke, and that she is familiar with the local native tribe. “I have seen and met Lumbee people even in Minnesota,” she said.

Dr. Child came to discuss her new book “Holding Our World Together: Ojibwe Women and the Survival of Community” and its importance in the studies of Native people.  She was born on an Ojibwe reservation in Minnesota and devotes most of her time to studying the tribe.

Her new book was published in 2012 as part Penguin Book’s Library of American Indian History. It was a dream come true for its author.

“I was very glad to see my book in a Barnes & Noble and as a Penguin paperback,” Dr. Child said. “I always wanted to have my very own Penguin Paperback.”

The title for the book came from an Ojibwe word for old woman that means “one who holds things together.” This follows the theme of the novel, which is uncovering the strong role that women had in the community life of her nation, the Red Lake Ojibwe Nation of Northern Minnesota.

“I strongly believe that women hold things together,” Dr. Child said. “Historically, they have held some of the most important roles for the community. They have maintained a community in their homeland, and they have marshaled many important economical decisions.”

Book CoverDr. Child said that finding sources for her research was her most difficult job. Most of the archives misrepresented women and trivialized their moral character, she said. However, she did find some great examples in her search even with those handicaps.

One example she read from her book was about a lumberman traveling down a river who came into areas with thick wild rice growing in the river that blocked his path. The lumberman then told a story of how he came upon an area where the women of the tribe had made paths through the rice in the river to navigate around.

“Even though this was from a man’s perspective, I could tell he unknowingly was giving an example of how big the woman’s role was in Ojibwe tribe,” Dr. Child said. “I began to appreciate the labor that was done by large numbers of women.”

Dr. Child gave many other examples in her book about the woman’s role in the Ojibwe tribe. She also gave modern examples of how these native women have been behind the scenes in helping their own tribe maintain cultural relevance in a modern society.

“There are a lot of amazing women behind the scenes that I am happy to put in the history books,” Dr. Child said.

During the question and answer session many issues came up including boarding schools for Indian education, Native women’s efforts during WWII and how modern Ojibwe people are maintaining their native language.

Dr. Child helped create the “Ojibwe People’s Dictionary,” which is an online database of Ojibwe words, meanings and pronunciations. The dictionary became a reality with the help of her Native American studies students. 

“We need to make sure that the Native people and their stories are left in the history books and don’t die with the changing culture,” Dr. Child said.

The next speaker on the Native Speaker Series is Dr. Kahente Horn-Miller, a Ph.D. in humanities who is currently the coordinator for the Kahnawa:ke Tribes Legislative Commission. She will speak at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19 in the Native American Resource Center in Old Main.

Kean Spivey is a senior mass communication major at UNCP. He also provided photography services for this press release.