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Woman Crush Wednesday (WCW) No. 1: Native Mothers

For Mother's Day, Gyasi Ross writes about the strength of Native American moms.
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This is actually my first Woman Crush Wednesday (#WCW) piece, and I know I'm turning it in on Thursday night. I am a proud product of three different reservations (Blackfeet, Nisqually and Suquamish), and on this one occasion I am invoking that privilege -- delivering this to you on not just Indian time, but TRIPLE Indian time.

And my first Woman Crush Wednesday is in honor of Mother’s Day. To paraphrase the HORRIBLE (yet I loved them) 80s group “The Jets,” “Indian moms—I’ve got a crush on you.”

Call me Oedipal; I DID, after all, breastfeed till I was about 8. 

Nicholas Galanin as Silver Jackson

QUICK STORY: Recently, while at a random Subway in rural Montana, my seven-year-old son was munching on a gawdawful Tuna Fish and Salami and Pepperjack cheese sandwich. He likes those. Like me, he’s always looking for something to read while he eats and so he took to reading the side of the beverage cooler and it happened to be a Snapple cooler. The side of the Snapple cooler said, “Made from the best stuff on earth.”

My son quickly turned to me with his brow furrowed, mad. He said, “That thing is lying; that’s not the best stuff on earth.”

I smiled and wondered what was next. I said, “Oh no, what is?”

Still chewing he said, “Mom’s turkey and sweet potato stew.”

It IS pretty good. Still, I smiled broadly and HAD to call his mom immediately. Ambulance chaser that I am, we might have a lawsuit on our hands—sue Snapple for fraud.


Native moms are made from the best stuff on Earth. Period. No disrespect to other moms of ANY other ethnicity—you guys are made from some pretty damn good stuff too. But Indian moms? Fuggedaboutit. We are not worthy.

Whoa—that’s a big statement. Huge. You may reasonably ask: “Is Gyasi simply trying to garner some cheap rhetorical points with Native moms so that he can get some free stew and bannock bread when those Native moms see him?”

And I answer with: “First things first: I really, really like stew and bannock. So under normal circumstances, yeah, I just might exaggerate to get some. But THIS time…no, it’s 100% true: Native moms are the best NOUNS (person, place or thing) in the whole wide world. Let me explain why.”

I think that sometimes, in 2014, we forget how close Native people were to simply not being here. We were almost extinct. At the turn of the 20th century, there were roughly two hundred and fifty thousand of us left within this WHOLE country (down from millions of Natives before contact with Europeans). Moreover, our homelands were torn apart, our economy and food sources INTENTIONALLY ripped to shreds, Native children forcibly removed from our households and the ceremonies that once gave us comfort during times of hardship were outlawed.

Things were looking bleak. And they didn’t seem to be getting any better.

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It would have been a perfectly reasonable response for Native moms to say, “Enough. No more. Our people have gone through enough pain—I’m not going to create another generation JUST TO suffer the same pain and indignities.” That’s what Toni Morrison described in her powerful book Beloved—and as gruesome as it sounds, in the throes of hopelessness and helplessness, it makes sense. Why WOULD you want to create another generation of Indian kids to simply get kidnapped and killed off?? A Native Masada against the onslaught of seemingly inevitable genocide made complete sense.

But those amazing Native moms didn’t give up hope against these threats that were unique to Native women—the options were pretty much 1) get your Native children forcibly removed, 2) forceful tubal ligations of Native women, 3) no spiritual comfort because your ceremonies are outlawed.

Even with those horrible “options,” Native mothers kept on through faith. 

This was a time, in the very recent past, that the simple act of giving birth to a Native child was an act of rebellion.

See, almost every single one of our moms from my generation—roughly 1960-1980—were encouraged to 1) abort their Native child, 2) tie their tubes (and in some cases were tricked into tying their tubes) and/or 3) give away their kids to non-Native families. All these things were encouraged in the name of trying to “make their children’s lives better.” Since many of our dads weren’t present, it was almost 100% the mom’s call whether or not they gave away the kids or aborted us or got their tubes tied. This was pre-Indian Child Welfare Act, and so there were a lot of Indian babies that got taken away and a lot of Native women’s tubes that got tied against their will. Now, some of them agreed to these things—it made sense; they were poor and uneducated and oftentimes with no real opportunities to make things better.

“If it will make my child’s life better.” 

Mom and me.

No judgment to those who did give their children up—it was absolutely an understandable decision at the time. But thankfully most of those Native moms did not. They kept the faith that things COULD and WOULD get better. As a result, Native people are still here today and growing in numbers and opportunities every single day. I thank God everyday that my mom didn’t and I was able to grow up with the richness of being raised by a wonderful Native family in amazing Native communities.

Native moms aren’t perfect, just like no one is perfect; many of our moms struggle with addiction or historical trauma or bad relationships. BUT…every single Native mom made a CONSCIOUS decision that she would bear you, in UNIQUELY difficult circumstances, and raise you. For that alone, she deserves thanks and love.

Thank you mama. Thank you to ALL Native moms—you all are made from the best stuff on Earth.

Happy Mother’s Day all. 

Mom and me.

P.S. My mom’s also funny as heck. Here she is acting in a short that we made some time ago:

Mom and me.

Gyasi Ross
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories
New Book, How to Say I Love You in Indian—order today!!
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi