- Females, the Strong OnesListening to the Lived Experiences of American Indian Women
Gentle reader, I come to you with a good heart.1
In this essay, I am going to tell some stories about how American Indian women use story to theorize their lived experiences. One of the key points in this essay is the argument that we can and should use the stories American Indian women tell as theories for our research, writing, and everyday lives. Drawing from my oral history work with a group of multigenerational Odawa women, Indigenous worldviews, and an Indigenous research paradigm, I use story as methodology as a form of theorization that privileges relational and accountable knowledge making. Soon I will situate story as methodology and how it functions within Indigenous rhetorics and Indigenous research practices. But first I need to introduce myself to responsibly demonstrate right relations.
Boozhoo! Andrea Riley Mukavetz nindishinikaaz.2 I am a member of the Chippewa of Thames First Nation. I come to you from Michigan in the Three Fires territory where I have spent most of my life and consider ancestral land. I am a mixed-raced Anishinaabekwe with Chaldean and Lebanese heritages. I was taught that it is important to bring one's audience into the story by acknowledging one's background and history to give the appropriate context necessary to understanding the story. Naturally, I am always asked how I came to have such a background. Yet my heritage deeply reflects the intercultural exchange of Metro Detroit when my paternal grandmother and grandfather met in the early twentieth century or when my maternal grandparents made the difficult decision to sell their store and move their large family from Baghdad to Michigan in the 1960s. To share my heritage is an opening to situate this story within Three Fires territory. From what I understand, the land is always crucial in an Indigenous research paradigm (Wilson; [End Page 1] Absolon; Simpson; Brooks). As Leanne Simpson writes, "If you want to learn about something, you need to take your body onto the land and do it. Get a practice" (18). To practice and theorize Nishnaabeg or Anishinaabeg worldviews is to be in an ontological, epistemological, and embodied state where the land as a being—as a gift from one's ancestors—is central to how one thinks and practices that thinking.
As I draft this to you, it's June. The strawberry moon has just passed, and the first of the Michigan strawberries have arrived. It has rained so much here that the air is sticky and sweet and green. Yesterday I took an evening walk with my family. On our way we saw a river otter splashing in one of the artificial ponds created for the nearby urban neighborhood developments. We stopped so our toddler-daughter could greet her friend. I'm growing another daughter at the moment, and as I put my hand to my stomach, I think about what this urban area looked like when my ancestors and the ancestors of the Odawa women visited or lived here long ago. I think that this is one of the significant things about living, dwelling, and writing about one's home: it is always cultural continuance, always an opportunity to receive a teaching, and always a reminder of what it was, what it is, and what it could be. Michigan has been and will always be my home. If you are ever in the area, please stop by and see me. We'll spend some time at Ininwewi-gichigami.
I'd like to tell you a story about the oral history work that I did with a group of multigenerational urban Odawa woman from Lansing, Michigan, whom I met and worked with while I was a graduate student at Michigan State University. It's also a story about how preexisting relationships lead into research and intellectual experiences that further deepen and expand these relationships. I came to know these women and enter into this work due to the mentorship of the late Susan Applegate Krouse.3 Initially, Susan and I worked on a long-term project with Odawa elder Geri Roossien, gathering her...