Sunday, July 21, 2024

Film unveils suppressed stories of Native American women

Suscol Intertribal Council 2015 Powwow. Photograph by Sarah Stierch.


By Philo Yunrui Wang

Many say that women’s rights began with the suffragettes, but feminist pioneer Sally Roesch Wagner opposes this saying, “That is a major myth. The reality is that women had political voice on this land a thousand years ago.”

In celebration of Women’s History Month, the Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion organized a film and discussion session featuring the short documentary “Without a Whisper” by Katsitsionni Fox, a member of the Bear Clan of the Akwesasne Mohawk nation. The event took place at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 6, in the Alumni Conference Room at 5:00 in the afternoon.

“One of the things I wanted to get across in the film is the difference in worldviews. The stories that you’re told and the roles that women play in your culture make a big difference in how you view yourself and how you carry yourself,” Fox said in a public webinar hosted by Great Blue Hill, a Massachusetts radio station.

She shared her insights, emphasizing the importance of recognizing the diverse worldviews that shape women’s roles and perceptions. The documentary sheds light on the significant yet untold contributions of Native American women to the American women’s suffrage movement.

Before the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, European colonial women lacked basic rights, such as the right to own property or obtain divorces. But well before America’s colonization, Haudenosaunee women held potent political and spiritual authority.

The film follows Mohawk Bear Clan Mother Louise Herne and aforementioned feminist author Sally Roesch Wagner as they work to correct the historical narrative about the origins of women’s rights in the United States. Wagner highlighted the importance of acknowledging that history is shaped by those who tell the stories.

“History is not what happened, it’s who tells the story. These women had to see something that told them that it was possible,” Wagner said.

Following the screening, DEI organized a word cloud prompt for small-group circle discussions. Participants were asked to submit one word that summed up their overall thoughts about the film.

Words like “empowering,” ‘faithful,” “truth,” and “respect” emerged, reflecting the profound impact of the documentary. The discussion delved into why these words resonated with the audience and what they learned from the film.

Fox had previously said she hoped for the film to reach both secondary and higher education, “This could totally change the way people think about the women’s rights movement. I think that’s why it’s so important for us, as filmmakers, as teachers, as educators, as artists, to start sharing some of this history of the indigenous people on the land,” Fox said.

The screening of “Without a Whisper” provided a platform for the SUNY Plattsburgh community to engage in meaningful conversations and gain a deeper understanding of the historical contributions of Native American women to the women’s rights movement. The event served as a reminder to acknowledge and celebrate the diverse stories that have shaped the struggle for gender equality.

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