Edward S. Curtis
'Mother and Child (Apsaroke Indian)' by Edward S. Curtis

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

Gyasi Ross


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.

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.

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mizzy's picture
Submitted by mizzy on

mizzy's picture
Submitted by mizzy on
I wonder if I might suggest that you take a click trip over to Land of Gadzillion Adoptees for the perspective of adults who have been adopted. I read your blog just on Mother's Day and was deeply saddened by your use of what is a painful subject for many as an opportunity to be thankful that you weren't given up and raised by someone other than your mother. I was equally saddened by your description of women who you believe gave up their children 'for the better'. It was a confusing post: on one hand you say you don't blame mothers who did make the choice to give up children and then in the next you thank your own mother because she didn't make that choice because she and others knew things would be better. I was left wondering why someone would choose to honor their mother for mother's day by saying "Thanks mom for not giving me up for adoption." I suppose it would be odd if it weren't a reality for so many Native people of a certain generation, and so I can only surmise that you thought would get some mileage out of it politically... at least from folks who like you weren't adopted-out. I was doing some reading on Land of Gadzillion Adoptees today and came upon this story titled, Twisted Logic, a phrase which summed up my critique of your Mother's Day blog nicely. The personal reflection that followed was equally enlightening. "Too many times to count, someone has either accused me of being an irresponsible whore or glorified my act of relinquishment as that of a true family-building angel. These are obviously completely opposite points of view that most likely are based upon the speakers’ level of experience with adoption. For the person whose connection with adoption is mostly on a superficial level, his or her understanding is oftentimes based on the sensational: the stories that make the news, the celebrity tabloids, or popular daytime talk shows. As the more publicized stories grab the headlines, “facts” can be based on either true adoption nightmares or saccharinely sweet adoption stories. So a person’s developed viewpoint could be more extreme. Whereas, once in the safety of Adoption Land, the politically correct mode of honoring and respecting the birth mother grows in value. It’s almost like the two varied adoption extremes come closer together but more tightly layered. Both stereotypes are still there, yet only the positive is visible and acted upon openly. Of course, the underlying feelings of shame and judgment exist still, even if no one talks about them. I wonder what is left unsaid. It can feel like people hope the birth mother is a saint, while being afraid she is really a sinner. It is even more confusing when, depending on the timing and the circumstances, birth mothers can be viewed as both saint and sinner at the same time."