A Native, A Jew, and A Chinese

I’d like to introduce you to three women.

A Native American woman, a Jewish woman, and a Chinese woman.

I’ll call them Odahingum, Maya, and Shui.

The stories are true, if not these details.

Odahingum was born near what is today Sterling, Colorado, Maya near Poznań, Poland, Shui in Tianjin, China.

Odahingum was young when she had her first period, so she was preoccupied with thoughts of womanhood when her nation’s leaders signed treaty with the U. S. government. At seven years Maya experienced PeWuKa at the fairs, hand in hand with her professor father, her closest friend, who laughed like a child as he walked her through the crowds that celebrated Poland’s decade of independence. When 3000 students and teachers were shot and killed by the soldiers of the People’s Republic of China in Tiananmen Square, Shui was very young, but the Chinese media would have ensured she wouldn’t notice even if she were older.

When Odahingum was ready, she agreed to marry a young man who wasn’t handsome, but who had been her closest companion since childhood. Before the ceremony, he was shot and killed in their own country by gold miners as he went to pray where his people had always prayed. Maya became a Bat Mitzvah the same year Chancellor Hitler centralized power in Berlin, so the event passed unnoticed by her in her celebration. Shui earned the highest marks in Intermediate School so her father was able to afford High School.

At twenty years of age, Odahingum was married to her first love’s brother and expecting her first child in days. They were living temporarily near Fort Lyons. In the morning she went as she did every morning to get water from the creek. As she rested between rocks on the grassy embankment, she sang to the baby inside her, now so heavy that its movements pressed against her skin. She held a note longer than the beat as she heard thunder from the blue skies above Sand Creek. Then a Methodist minister and hundreds of drunk militiamen were upon her and her community.

She couldn’t move in her terror as one man fell over her, smelling of liquor and unclean body odor. He shot her in the right breast when she found the strength to resist and scream. Then he cut her open, pulled her baby and her uterus from inside her, leaving both mother and child to bleed to death in the auburn grass. After over 150 members of her community were dead, the man returned to pull fetus and uterus from the woman’s resistant postmortem embrace, and carried them in and out of Denver saloons for everyone to see his power. Today, the Sand Creek Massacre U. S. National Historic Site serves as a landmark for the world to the horrors that happened there.

At twenty years of age, as Maya prayed from the Talmud Bavli–“O Lord, grant that this night we may sleep in peace.”–her father was shot in their own home by German soldiers as he defied them to seize his daughters. Maya was separated from her young husband, while carrying their second child, as they were loaded into transport trucks. They were assigned to Konzentrationslager Posen. As they were unloaded at the concentration camp, she prayed the Shema as she did three times every day, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God! The Lord is One!” She started the prayer more quietly in her fear but grew louder with her conviction. Then an officer somehow recognized the words she spoke and singled her out. As her mother and grandmother cried, Maya grew stronger in the memory of her father, and said the words aloud: “Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad!

At the direction of the officer, several Schutzstaffel seized her. She heard the pleas of her mother and her grandmother that she was with child. The SS responded by bending her over as the officer drove the butt of a rifle into her abdomen and laughed as she screamed out with the pain. Then they tied a loose noose around her neck and lifted her gagging body bleeding out above her crying family and neighbors. They left her there for days so that everyone could see their power. Today, the Muzeum Martyrologii Wielkopolan – Fort VII serves as a reminder to the world of the horrors that happened there.

At twenty years of age, Shui’s father arranged style name for her Ji Li and a young husband. They could afford only a very humble home in Beijing. Not long after, in celebration of their ultrasound confirming her pregnancy with a boy, she and her husband rushed to join the international attendance of the Olympic Games. As she turned to retrieve the stuffed Fuwa that slipped from her hands she saw a policeman pull his baton. She looked to see that his intent was a Buddhist monk praying in protest of China’s occupation in Tibet. As the policeman raised his baton, Shui was overwhelmed with the impression that this monk was some mother’s child.

Before she knew what she was doing or why, she interrupted the officer, only trying to explain that the monk was only praying. As her husband tried to intervene, the dishonored officer grew angrier and the confrontation escalated. Soon she was transported quickly away from the public, there was no one to see, she was kept in the cell for too long before appearing in court with no real representation. At the direction of the judge, the police seized her. She felt her baby pressed down. The prison staff interrogated her with pointless questions for hours, left her with no water for days, no food for weeks. Under duress she signed ‘legitimate’ papers she couldn’t read through her pain, tears, and fatigue, all the authorities attesting to Shui’s consent to the scientific use of her and her baby’s remains. Then the guards executed them, quietly, carefully. First they sold their hearts, their livers, and other organs to rich Westerners shopping for donations. Then they replaced the water and fat in her body and her baby’s body with rubber and placed her with her baby in a display. Today, Shui and her daughter are displayed, splayed open in suspended animation at the Bodies… The Exhibition while Premier Exhibitions makes millions of dollars by charging Americans $20 a piece to see it.

What is such a display of violence doing in the United States of America?

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My mother’s family is mostly Appalachian Irish from Eastern Kentucky who fought in the mining-union wars. My great-great-grandfather was known for carrying a .38 special in one hand and a bottle of Jack Daniels in the other. The other half of my mother’s family are Quakers. Pacifists. That may say a bit about my own personal conflicts. My father’s family, for their part, were Methodists, Ministers, and Missionaries about as far back as you can go. My grandfather recently died with a legacy of over 20 years living and working in Burundi, Africa. My childhood was rooted in a “hideout” with my cousins in the fencerow thicket behind our homes. In adolescence, my dad and I would walk through the woods along one of Indiana’s many Sugar Creeks. Moving to town during my adolescence then away to college in Florida pulled me from the outdoors. One day, as I walked on Gulf Islands National Seashore, I wondered: why’d I stop living in the woods? In the years following I took up backpacking then rock climbing and was soon immersed in the adventurous life of outdoor recreation. I pursued this passion into working for the former sports retailer Galyans Trading Co. My supervisor took me under his wing and taught me everything from how to tie knots to management. Most importantly, he encouraged me to pursue my dreams. So I returned to college, the Outdoor Recreation emphasis in the Recreation and Sports Management Department at Indiana State University. After backpacking with a friend in Oregon, I moved there to work for Friends of Opal Creek, a remote residential facility for environmental education. The experience of teaching old growth ecology while living out of a cabin in the Western Cascade Mountains touched my soul deeply. Exposed to the impacts of industry and recreation on those natural resources, I became interested in further understanding the interaction between people and their environment. I also wanted to gain the skills that could equip me to represent the people involved and their stories. So I enrolled as a graduate student in Department of Anthropology at Oregon State University in 2002. During my program of study I worked with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs’ language and culture program in addition to photographing and documenting for repatriation Native American materials in the Horner Museum Collection. My resulting Master’s research struggled to find a way to respectfully and accurately represent the experience of Native women with their environments. Today I have traveled across the U. S., North America, and internationally. My experiences have led me to appreciate that people, no matter how different they are, are people and on the most important experiential level, not so different from you and me. In fact, my familiarity with many often antipathetic demographics gives me an appreciation for the challenges faced by diverse communities. So I try to represent the humanity of marginalized groups. My passion is for conservation and humanitarian work. With a background in both socio-cultural and ecological dynamics, I try to keep a fresh perspective on current issues. My training in Art, Creative Writing, Experiential Education, and Psychology helps me look for creative approaches to social and environmental issues. My hope is that our children, yours and mine, and their children will have a free and natural world to experience throughout their lives.

2 thoughts on “A Native, A Jew, and A Chinese”

  1. It was hard not to cry with this one. It hits close to home as recently I was humbled by an invitation to join a movement, in which we basically wake at 4 am for yoga and meditations with the specific intention to end institutionalized violence against women, in the world, in our lifetime. A big task indeed, but not impossible. Thanks for sharing this.


  2. P.S. Did you know that Presumed Guilty was recently banned from being played in Mexican theatres? Many believed it to be a government conspiracy to keep people from knowing the crap that goes on. Luckily, the legal procedure fell through and the movie will be played again soon.


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