Friday, October 03, 2014

Giving Currency to Native American Women



Indian Country Today has proposed removing Andrew Jackson from the 20-dollar bill, on the grounds that Americans should not so honor an Indian hater and genocidaire, and replacing him with a Native American leader. Though I believe many other people deserve the blame for Indian Removal, I have no brief for Jackson and no problem finding new heroes for our national currency. I do, however, find ICT's list of suggested replacements a bit dispiriting, even stereotypical: ten Indian men, mostly from the West, nearly all of them war leaders. Perhaps the authors were looking for well-known people and figured most readers could not identify Native women or civil leaders, but there is something to be said for using currency to popularize less well-known leaders who nonetheless reflect useful virtues: endurance, business acumen, organizational ability, political activism, and artistic virtuosity. To this end, let me propose the following substitutes:

Matoaka, alias Rebecca Rolfe, alias Pocahontas. Powhatan chief's daughter, endured captivity under the English, converted to Christianity, and became a diplomat and traveler – one of the first Native Virginians to visit London.

Weetamoo, or Wettimore, Wampanoag sachem, wife of sachem Quannopin, co-leader of the insurgency known as King Phillip's War (1675-77). Captive Mary Rowlandson described her as haughty but a snappy dresser, which, given Rowlandson's Puritan worldview, is probably an exaggeration.

Nonhelema, or Catherine Grenadio, Shawnee businesswoman who provided intelligence to the Americans during the Revolutionary War, sold cattle to the Continental Army, and attended the Fort McIntosh (1785) treaty council.

Gertrude Bonnin, alias Zitkala-Sa, Sioux activist who attended Earlham College, taught at Carlisle Industrial Training School, later proponent of cultural preservation and organizer of the National Council of American Indians.

Maria Martinez, Pueblo ceramicist who rediscovered the thin-walled, shiny black pottery-making technique for which Pueblo potters would become famous.

Wilma Mankiller, author, Alcatraz occupier, and first female principal chief of the western Cherokee Nation.

Mildred Loving, Rappahannock woman, identified as black under Virginia law, who became one of the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case Loving versus Virginia (1967), legalizing interracial marriage. Putting her on American currency would cause Sean Hannity's head to explode.

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