Janet McCloud: Mother, grandmother and activist, 1934 – 2003
Indian Country Today
Janet McCloud, born into the family of Chief Seattle in 1934 of the Tulalip Tribes has exemplified this statement throughout her life by speaking to the nations of the world about the injustices committed against American Indians and actively resisting racism.
McCloud’s childhood was not an easy one. She was panhandling by the age of six in downtown Seattle. “Mom told us how she panhandled at such a young age and that that was the reason she never passed a panhandler by without giving them something,” said her son, Don McCloud Jr. (Mac).
Janet attended several public schools and was eventually shuttled off to a boarding school at the age of 13. Her teen years were spent cleaning houses and babysitting for a living. In 1950 she married a river fisherman, Don McCloud Sr., a Puyallup Indian. Their marriage lasted 35 years until his death in 1985.
Those beginning years were about survival for the McClouds. In 1965, non-Indians opposed to Indian fishing rights jailed Janet and five others for protesting against the unfair treatment of Natives and their inherent right to fish and hunt. A net was set in the Nisqually River at Frank’s Landing and mayhem broke out as the game wardens surrounded them, beat and arrested the protesting Indians. She explained, “I didn’t mind going to jail so much until Edith, my sister-in-law, said, ‘And we’re not eating either’ ? that was my first fast and we went six days without eating. They’d bring lima beans with ham, fried potatoes, and everything I loved.” She could smell those good foods but wouldn’t eat them. It made the fast more difficult.
These protests were dubbed “fish-ins” and eventually led to the upholding of the Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854 and Washington State tribes being granted 50 percent of the salmon and steelhead catch.
About this time she had a vision while gazing out her kitchen window. She said, “I heard a voice that sounded like Crazy Horse telling me not to be afraid. It said I wasn’t alone and that I was being protected. I felt the voice so strong that all my fear and sadness went away. It’s where I got my strength to face hostile audiences and all the adversity.”
A journey began after that revelation of trying to change the view the dominant society had created of the First People. Her fierce love for her people increased as the years went by. She was given the name Yet Si Blue in ceremony, meaning “Woman Who Speaks Her Mind.”
Janet founded the Survival of the American Indian Association in 1964. In 1965 she developed a cultural rehabilitation program at McNeil Island State Prison. It became a model for prisons throughout the United States called the Brotherhood of American Indians. In 1974 she helped organize the first Spiritual Unity Gathering of the Iroquoian medicine men, White Roots of Peace at Snoqualmie Falls. Soon after she helped organize the Elder’s Circle that still meets every year during the summer. In that same decade she founded the Northwest Indian Women’s Circle that assisted women in developing leadership skills based on traditional values. She was also a member of the Native American Rights Fund, a 40-member team set up to develop an Indian legal redress system. Janet was also an advocate for the American Indian Movement and considered the people her family. In 1985, she organized the Indigenous Women’s Network, a group of Native American and Pacific Islander women to help Native children have a better life.
In 1989, she founded the Sapa Dawn Center to teach Native Americans self-sufficiency though gardening, food preservation, native ceremonies, prayer, arts, crafts and writing.
Janet was a natural born teacher all her life and applied that skill as a professional at the Northwest Indian College in 2001 on the Nisqually Indian Reservation.
Her roles of community leader, renowned activist, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother prompted Choctaw son-in-law, Jimbo Simmons of the International Treaty Council and Isadaor Tom Jr. of the Tulalip Tribes to speak to the family of a celebration honoring her achievements and compassion.
Mac McCloud said, “? [Janet] was the only woman that would make the men try to do right, and sit up and pay attention. Not too many people had that kind of respect and he remembered that.”
Continuing Mac said, “At one time people came here for help. We were the only Indians that had a telephone and sweat lodge in the area. Mom never did anything for money and that’s why people wanted to honor her. That’s really all you have is your honor and if you don’t have honor, no one is going to honor you.”
The family held an honor celebration with the Puyallup Tribe for Janet on Sept.19. There were approximately 200 people in attendance. Many people spoke of her influence on their lives.
Her children spoke of their upbringing during the ceremony and what their parents had instilled in them. One daughter Sally said chuckling, “They said we had to be tough and if we were going to be dumb, we had to be real tough. Janet’s eight children stood right beside her as she fought for the fishing rights of the Natives. They remember her strength and her generosity. Barbara said, “I remember my mom getting us together and making baskets to give to the poor even though we were poor and I remember her making up boxes to send to the soldiers during the Vietnam War.”
“People who knew Janet really got some enlightenment about law and history, got a good meal and a good cup of coffee; they were kind of tuned up to what was happening in the world and some of them went off and did something,” said Mac. “Mom taught us that you have to speak up in life. You can’t sit on the side and think someone else is going to do your talking for you. If you don’t become the squeak or noise in the people’s ears then nobody is going to hear you,” he said.
Janet loved children and concerned herself with their welfare. Nancy, another daughter said, “She brought kids into our home that didn’t have a place to go even though she had eight children of her own.”
Throughout the years in speeches and actions, Janet likened life to a garden. She instructed her children to believe that whatever you put into the ground you had to take care of. She taught the people to pray, to cook, to fish, to can and that life was an adventure.
This article was completed at 7 p.m. on Nov. 25. Janet McCloud began her “long home journey” at 8:11 p.m.
Janet is survived by eight children, 25 grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren and many beloved adopted children.
Services were held at Chief Leschi School in Puyallup Washington on Nov. 29. Dennis Banks, Don Hatch, Jr. and Wilmer Stampede Mesteth officiated the ceremony. Many people spoke of their love and honor for her.
Mac McCloud summed it up, “Our breath is the gift our mother gave us to share with others. When anyone goes to the beyond, we are all affected because we are all connected.” His wife, Joyce McCloud added these final words, “Janet’s work will live on through her grandchildren because they don’t want their children to miss what they learned from their grandma.”