Indigenous matriarchs, mothers and grandmothers have sparked the path towards healing, liberation and resilience in our communities since time immemorial. Every moment of action and vocalization of truth for the betterment of the collective has been a testament to the reclamation and power by our matriarchs to lead as they always have. Birthing us, raising us, protecting us, redirecting us, challenging us and embracing us all the while navigating the intricacies, challenges and joys of being a woman, femme, non-binary and/or two-spirit.
This Mother’s Day, we celebrate the monumental matriarchs who have impacted us here at NDN Collective – Matriarch’s who have sown memories into our minds and medicine into our hearts forever.
We also acknowledge the challenges faced by our relatives who may not have those relationships with their mothers. Life, unexpected loss, and unresolved trauma have impacts in our relations and carry feelings that may remain unhealed. For many relatives, this day is a struggle and the hurt felt from those absent relationships are present. On a day dedicated to honoring mothers we extend gratitude to those aunties, grandparents, dads, siblings, and all who have stepped in to fill those roles with love and attentiveness.
Meet Our Beloved Matriarchs
My mother has always taught me to have faith, that although the challenges I face may feel like they will last forever, in some shape or form it was meant to be a part of my journey. When facing adversity to take it as a lesson curated by the Creator meant to instill growth.
She has taught me that there is strength in surrendering to the universe, silencing the opinions of others, and entrusting that the ancestors are guiding you down the path that was intended solely for you.Shared by Brandy Calabaza, NDN Communications Associate
3 Fires Grandmother Josephine Mandamin Bidaasige-ban (Anishinaabekwe) founded the Mother Earth Water Walks movement to protect the Earth’s waters. She walked around each of the Great Lakes, and followed the Ojibwe Migration trail from the east coast down along the St. Lawrence Seaway to inspire action to protect the waterways. She led a cross-continental walk in 2011 that began in each of the four directions of Turtle Island, including WA State, the Gulf of Mexico, Machias Maine and Hudson Bay.
Grandma Josephine responded to the call of the Water Prophecy shared by the late Bawdwewidun Banaise-ban in which he challenged those present by saying: “what are you going to do about it?” Grandma’s response was: “As a Grandmother I can take a step. And then another step”, and so on. She wore out 8 pairs of shoes walking around the Great Lakes and inspired Water Walks as far away as Aotearoa/New Zealand. Her life (1942-2019) and work continue to inspire the next generations, including her great-niece, Autumn Peltier, who carries forward the urgent message to protect the waters at local and international levels.Shared by Tina Kuckkahn, NDN Director of Grantmaking
Photo courtesy of Mark Colson (Chehalis)
My Grandmother Doctor Verna Marie Bartlett was a fierce advocate for the children of our community, working tirelessly to ensure victims of child sexual abuse had a place to go and be heard. In 2019, after decades of dreaming, planning and building, her lifelong vision, Children of the River Child Advocacy Center was born, however, she would pass just one year prior to its opening.
Despite the challenges she continually faced throughout her life, she was always the protector and nurturer, stern in her dedication, passion and commitment to her people, family and those in need. May you rest in eternal peace kayəʔ, knowing you are loved and forever missed.Shared by Brandi Douglas, NDN Senior Communications Associate
Walking in Beauty together- Grandmothers and Granddaughters
There is something amazing about a loving relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter. My mother, Louise and my niece, Mika have an incredible bond. Intergenerational relationships bring so much light, wisdom, love, and healing to the world.Shared by Dakotah Jim, NDN Capacity Building Coordinator Photo of Dakotahs’ Mother (Right) and Niece (Left)
My grandmother, Dorothy “Dora” Whipple. Her spirit name is “Mezinaashiikwe” and she is Anishinaabe from Leech Lake in Minnesota. She has a legacy of five generations living across Turtle Island, many of whom she raised through some of the most challenging times and experiences. Dora was a fluent Ojibwemowin speaker and contributed to many language revitalization projects in Minnesota. She authored a book titled, “Chi-Mewinzha: Ojibwe Stories from Leech Lake”, which features stories in Ojibwe and English translation.
She lived a long and fruitful life, walking earth-side until just after her 97th birthday. In all of her fierceness and her love for her family, culture and language, she continues to inspire me. Gi’zaag’iin (I love you) Mezinaashiikwe.Shared by Korina Barry, NDN Action Managing Director
Kunsi, Grandma Genevieve LaBatte, whose Dakota name was Wihake (fifth born daughter) lived a long 98 years. Her positive attitude, humor, prayerful and generous spirit were some of the values she held that I believe made for a resilient woman, grandmother, mother, sister, wife, and relative. Despite growing up without a mother, enduring boarding school, living during the Depression, and mostly in reservation poverty – she shared our language, traditions, and carried those positive ways in being a good relativeShared by Teresa Peterson, NDN Foundation Program Manager
My mama, Linda Sulphur Wood, is my matriarch that has shaped me. She is Mvskoke and Seminole. She lost her mother at a young age and took care of her younger siblings. She has been a caretaker all of her life, including taking care of our Mvskoke language.
Her language work includes storytelling and working with the College of William and Mary. Working with linguists at William & Mary and the University of Oklahoma, she developed over 3,000 words for contemporary terms and phrases. She has endured many hardships during her life and has a resiliency to get through anything. She continues to be there for her family with grace, humor, and humility.Shared by Janet Maylen, NDN Foundation Program Officer
My Mother Susanna White Wolf Swallow taught me that raising a family could truly be an art form. She is a very resourceful Lakota woman. The quilts we slept with, the toys we played with, the food we ate, and some of the clothes we wore were made with her skilled hands. She taught me how to twist wire into people and wrap them with yarn for clothing or sew dolls out of remnants from her quilting projects, and make many different types of paper airplanes and gliders. She also taught me the art of cooking from everyday meals and breads to frosting cakes for birthdays for special occasions.
All of her skills in life are shared as gifts with the people she loves. As a well-known quilter in our community, she provides star quilts all across our reservation for every occasion, from births to graduations to caskets for those making their final journey home. I’ve learned from my mother that every day tasks can be beautiful and meaningful when you’re doing it for those you love. I am blessed.Shared by Gene Swallow, NDN Front Desk Executive