|Native American Stories and Songs||
A Snake in Eve's Garden by Patricia Jamie Lee
V-Day came to the Black Hills of South Dakota in the spring of 2002. Playwright, Eve Ensler, with the help of the Wild Women arrived in our small community to perform The Vagina Monologues, and to raise money for a women’s shelter on The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The hotel space, a former indoor tennis court, was packed to the edges with women and a few brave prairie men.
We liked Eve. We liked the monologues. Never have I seen so many women discover their vaginas at one time. The evening exploded as the vaginas wept one moment, and giggled like naughty girls the next. The show ended with a powerful monologue read by a Lakota woman and written by a Lakota woman whose husband beats the shit out of her.
Jane Fonda was there. Tantoo Cardinal was there. Ulali, the native singing women, were there. We were all there. Later, we drifted into a reception with draped tables filled with chocolate-dipped strawberries, cheese and crackers, a fountain flowing with white wine, and an auction to raise even more money for the very good cause. Those of us who work to eradicate racism and cultural schism in our small community were deeply gratified to see so many people attend.
There was, however, a snake in the garden of Eve. As the evening progressed, I had an obsessive urge to tell Eve and her devoted friends why their generous offering of hope and a future for native women simply won’t work, why we can’t just throw money at the social problems in Indian country and expect change.
In families—and in cultures—there are deep, natural orders of place and precedence flowing that like laws of nature must be observed. When these natural orders are disturbed, things go wrong.
In Indian country, they’ve gone wrong.
Events such as The Wounded Knee Massacre, the taking of the Black Hills by the U.S. government, and the violation of important treaties usurped the place of the Lakota people on their land. The end result has been that the Native American, who was first in the birth order of this American nation, is now treated as second both socially and economically. This loss of place for native people is further complicated by the fact that the immigrants also lost place in their country of origin, sometimes for desperate reasons such as war, famine, and exclusion based on race or religion.
History played its cards and millions of native people died from war, starvation, disease and broken hearts, as did many immigrants. It gets worse. Now, over a hundred years later, the present-day native people secretly feel guilty both for surviving and then for benefiting with money, schooling, and health care—all gained from the terrible fate of their ancestors. Compounding this, white people secretly feel guilty for what their ancestors did to native people. They attempt to right the wrong but also feel that they didn’t cause this and why must they pay? What a tangle.
This first loss of place of the native people caused a systemic disturbance that continues to echo through the generations. Although modern natives did not suffer the fate of their ancestors, they bear the residual effects and deal now with their own difficult fate. Violence, anger, alcoholism, health issues, and resulting broken families have tumbled down from the earlier generations and put down their roots in this one. In an age-old movement, victim becomes perpetrator.
In this scene, the white man is now peripheral, off stage from this new play of events and often the deepest wounding of native people today comes from within their own culture. It’s difficult to sort out what pain belongs to the past and what is truly now. However, the healing of these issues can only come from within each culture and each family as they struggle to deal with the current breaks in the system.
In an ideal world, we would give native people back their place as first. In an ideal world, the native person would refuse to accept the white man’s money thus freeing himself to fashion a future dependent only upon his own resources, education, courage, and good will.
Of the past suffering of our ancestors, both native and white (and any other American hue) we can only offer a deep bow in honor of those who suffered. Nothing can be done to resolve or reconcile how this country began its life. It happened. It cannot be changed now.
The second snake in Eve’s garden of generosity concerns the issue of colonialism. Sadly, the picture here is that of the great white mothers arriving to save the poor victim women of Pine Ridge (who cannot solve their own problems without help). This is a too familiar tune in Indian Country.
My observation is that the native people will accept the money—and then resent the white man or, in this case, the white vaginas for being so arrogant and condescending. In the end, the people of Pine Ridge will be unable to claim the beautiful new shelter having been robbed of the pride of saying; “We built this safe place for our women”. And so the project fails or goes into decline while Eve and Jane feel the warm glow of having built a shelter for women on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Handouts in the spirit of colonialism only continue the disturbance and disorder cascading down through the generations like a polluted river.
The final reason I wanted to corner Eve was on the issue of women as victims. Why reinforce the idea that Lakota women are entirely innocent and must be protected for their own good? It doesn’t strengthen them—or any woman.
If I were to fantasize for a moment, the following scenario unfolds. When the sea of white settlers and soldiers washed over Indian lands, the Lakota warrior could not stop the invasion. His entire life was about protecting and sheltering his women and children—and suddenly, he simply couldn’t do it. Perhaps some fundamental male link to pride and power snapped at that moment. Likewise, the woman realized her man was no longer powerful enough to keep her safe. Talk about frightened and pissed off vaginas! Both lifestyle and life were perilously threatened. Many died. A way of life collapsed.
One generation of pissed off and disillusioned Indian vaginas gave their anger to their daughters, who then passed it on to their daughters, and the men have been failing as warriors ever since. Too often, this anger is aimed at the sons of the Lakota nation and they, in turn, become abusive and angry.
Again, the fate of the ancestors pours down into the present time. Anger, however, is always a mask for deep sadness, grief, and fundamental fear. The children of Pine Ridge need their fathers back if life is to go on in a good way. And the women need their husbands and warriors back.
Sadly, alcohol and drugs are the primary painkillers for both the men and the women and then, later, the children. Perhaps the one who pays the stiffest price for all that has happened is the Indian male. Indian men do not live long in the world. They die of broken hearts, diabetes, and alcoholism. Few live to be sixty years old.
Any effort to restore health, strength, and sanity to the Pine Ridge Reservation must include the men taking a place of strength within the tribe once again so the women and children can relax within the sphere of care of their husbands, fathers, and grandfathers. All children need their father’s strength and influence around them and we have to guard against penis monologues that dismiss men from the center of the family. There is no part of the soul of an Indian man that doesn’t want to shelter his women and children. If we talk only to his soul, he may find a way to take back his place.
You see, it isn’t really about vaginas and penises; it’s about hearts and souls.
If it were my money to give away, I’d offer knowledge and nothing else; knowledge of systems and how they succeed or fail, knowledge of structures and systems operating beneath human awareness, knowledge to decode the mystery of their own recovery, and train the leaders of the next generation.
What can we do in the moment? Above all, see them. Give recognition and respect in great quantities, and give the Lakota people and other native tribes back their place in the history books and public venues. Didn’t they survive and thrive in spite of a nation’s greatest efforts to remove them? Tip a hat to that. Write a monologue to that. They are incredibly strong, smart, loving, loyal, and full of fun and I’m sure, given half a chance, they will figure it out.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved Eve’s work, and the fearless way in which she does it. I loved the thousand women there on V-Day, many of them dressed in red, drinking white wine with tears in their eyes, and a twinkle of something else. My vagina sang little songs in their honor. Besides, it isn’t just the native families that need strong fathers. In truth, Eve, vaginas and penises fit together, like finger and glove, one filling, one surrounding, one giving, one receiving . . . and that’s life.
What Do You Know?