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Happy Mother's Day: In Defense of 'Mere Survival'

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My mom buried her oldest son, my oldest brother, when he was a teenager. My auntie buried her beautiful daughter, my cousin, not too long after that. Since that time, I’ve sat and cried and tried to make sense when my aunties and uncles had to bury many of my cousins. Motorcycle accidents, gunshots, car accidents; I watched many of my playmates growing up taken from me one-by-one.

I still remember my mom’s moan and crying when she got that phone call about my big brother; I was only about my own son’s age when that tragedy happened, but I’ll never forget the sound that my mom made. It was profound and long-lasting—it sounded like a lead on an honor song by Northern Cree or Blacklodge or Young Grey Horse.

The sound of her cry tasted like the Massacre at Wounded Knee or the Marias Massacre; there was no hope for Indian people that day.

It made the soul cry.

Since that time, my mom and aunties and uncles that lost children have been committed to simply ensuring that their remaining children and grandchildren survive long enough to bury her when she passes into the next world, instead of her having to bury them. They understandably don’t want to feel that awful pain again or make that piercing sound again. Modest goals. And while it is sexy and very en vogue to say that Indian people should not be satisfied with mere survival, there are times when things appear so dismal that survival is the very most we can hope for. There are times in battle when the warriors cannot reasonably expect to gain positive ground; instead, all they can hope for is to not lose ground and to stay alive long enough for the reinforcements to come.

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We are not going to win that particular day; stay alive long enough to fight another day.

Make no mistake, Native moms are our warriors. They’ve been in battles for centuries, trying to survive until the reinforcements come. They’ve been holding ground, holding strong and fighting the battles. They’ve been waiting for the reinforcements, Native fathers, to navigate our way through colonization, genocide, drug abuse, alcoholism, deadbeat daddy-ism, physical abuse, suicide. We’re on our way, but we’re not there fighting with them yet. In the meantime, moms have been doing a miraculous job just keeping our kids alive.

We’ll get there. Promise. Thank you for fighting, Native moms. When we finally arrive by your side, we’re gonna turn this thing around and start looking past simply surviving.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Gyasi Ross is a member of the Blackfeet Nation and his family also belongs to the Suquamish Nation. He wrote a book called “Don’t Know Much About Indians (but i wrote a book about us anyways)” which you can get at He is also co-authoring a new book with Robert Chanate coming out in the Summer of 2012 appropriately called “The Thing About Skins,” and the website and publishing company for that handy, dandy book is (coming soon). He also semi-does the twitter thing at