As writers, it is a grail second only to the holy one of publication… finding and using your Voice…
And here in the last days of Women in Horror Month, comes Brandy Maxie – at once a beautiful, striking young woman and a single, solitary figure standing in tears and alone at the DAPL protest campground, being vacated under threat of arrest.
Some would say the reporter covered her because of that: a vulnerable and pretty woman is always good press. But I say the reason is otherwise. Brandy Maxie is a Bone Woman, a keeper of sacred Voice.
Voice is about Knowledge, and Power, and Heart.
So clearly distressed, so clearly heartbroken, her words rattle the houses of denial where we all choose to live, a Powerful wind born of the earth itself. Her tears are transformative, even as she does not seem to know it yet – there in that news clip, there under threat of an arrest she doesn’t want.
Warrior woman. It’s on your shirt, my dear. Just read. And accept it. This is you.
She is the inner Wild Woman, the Mad Woman of creativity and true self once again made famous by Jungian psychoanalyst Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D.
This is the same Mad Woman we witness locked in Literary Attics, the same Wild Woman who dares to wear pants or cut her hair, the same Wolf Woman who devours that wildness raw because she knows and recognizes that essential part of her biological heritage which the Bone Woman summons back from the dead. The Bone Woman is the one who takes back the Power robbed from women. She is an archetype and a role model. Her existence is an ethnic proof of historic marginalism.
And we all need to see her, to feel her presence with our skins because she will not be easily forgotten in a willy nilly world.
How do we process this?
A woman standing on a battlefield of words and principles. Her tears cut like knives the flesh from our arms. Are we mourning?
How far back do we have to go to remember?
How do we sort out our misdirected, and self-aggrandizing vision of Native People from the very real one of people who share the exact same concerns as the rest of us?
We listen to the Voice.
“Earth. Mother. Goddess. In every culture the voice of the Feminine emerges from the land itself. We clothe her as Eve or Isis or Demeter. In the desert she appears as Changing Woman. She can shift shapes like the wind and cut through stone with her voice like water. And when she approaches us with her open hands carrying offerings of white shells in arid country she reminds us that there was a time before drought when ancient seas covered the desert. She cannot be classified… I wish someone had told me when I was young that it was not happiness I could count on, but change.” Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds, p.92
Why is it so hard?
Why can’t we look Native Americans in the eye and just say it:
We. Were. Wrong.
We were blinded by our own needs, mice in the grasses, seeing only what is right in front of our noses – and still seeing only that – those endless lands of milk and honey that promised what seemed like endless bounty. What we need to be endless bounty.
A blessing. Proof of our rightness.
We are still blinded.
We placed you at the edges of our world so we wouldn’t have to see you… to think about what we did in our hurry to define ourselves, in our rush to build our own world where you happened to be standing.
We welcome blindness… the excuse that it is winter on the plains, that the land is Federally owned, that Native People need “tending” for their own good. We gaze adoringly at our giant SUVs and dread the price at the pump, so we rationalize how the actual danger of a leak into the water supply for Native Peoples is so miniscule, it is worth the risk….
We pretend we know better. Like we did 100 and 200 years ago.
For far too many of us, Native Americans are tourist curios… quaint remembrances of a time when pioneers were being elevated to Hero Status and our Great Country was being formed on the backs of slaves and tenant farmers, in garment factories and tenements, in mines and railroad camps. They were brave, but misinformed, simple, and superstitious.
We mutilate what we cannot understand, what threatens our sense of self.
It wasn’t us. But it is.
(“Those who do not assimilate deserve what they get.”)
No other minority in this country today is repeatedly told what to think and how to think it.
(“To be named after a sports team is an honor…they should be grateful we remember them at all.”)
No other minority is disallowed a voice at the table.
And then there is Brandy.
Power comes when it is called.
First American. Native American. (that’s right, the whole continent is America…always has been…the name is not exclusively the U.S. right to claim…)
Of all the horrendous images we saw come from the protests, of all of the rationalizations of how those darn Natives just don’t get it… It is her Voice that connected the angry fist of protest to the stomachs of the rest of us…
“We know the quality of another’s heart through her voice. Not the sound, although it is a cue. Not through words, although they present an idea. I most often feel the tenor of another’s heart through tone and the feeling that enters my body when they speak.” Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds, p. 186.
Brandy shook the World. Did you hear it? Did you feel it?
Her Voice spoke loudly in that moment. The shudder of fear and sadness, at the loss of something she had given her all for in peaceful protest, hoping against hope that at last someone would just listen… That someone would hear.
As a Mother.
As a Woman.
As a Voice.
Why is it so hard?
The question drove tears from her eyes without her saying so.
Why was it okay to move the DAPL from its course numerous times because its latent threat would not be tolerated by nonNative interests, when it is more than okay to dismiss Native People’s all-too-valid concerns?
“140 Route Deviations….17 Route Adjustments….”
We cannot see you….
“The Dakota Access Pipeline is NOT on Standing Rock Sioux land,” crows a headline on the Pipeline Facts page….But that is not the point: it impacts the Sioux by being UPSTREAM. Sh*t runs downhill and so does oil. How many times were we promised that leaks and spills are not really a big problem? Exxon Valdez, BP Gulf Spill, and most recently the Denbury spill in Southwest South Dakota http://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/North-Dakota-Spill-Leaks-120000-Gallons-of-Oil-Wastewater.html … At what point are will willing to risk the lives of and health of People?
We cannot hear you….
Are Native American concerns less than those of the people of Flint, Michigan? Apparently.
There is a difference between what is needed and what is desired. The difference is in holding the power to disregard the needs of others to satiate the childish desire of self… it is called “social currency.”
And that is what made Brandy Maxie’s Voice the single loudest of the entire protest. It was soft, and simple, and honest… feminine. It came from a primal place that resonates with all hearts of the marginalized, and sometimes penetrates the man-made numbness of other senses. Perhaps it is because she is a mother, which is the first thing she said to define herself to an audience unseen and unseeing.
“Your voice is the wildest thing you own…” Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds, p. 188
The words Became… behold a Woman running with Wolves…
There on the muddy fields in the aftermath of a valiant protest effort, stood the very heart of what it is to be Native American today: dismissed, a mild point of interest, an entertainment that tritely represents the very real shame of what we’ve done to these people….
Brandy shook the World.
Did you hear it? Did you feel it? The Bone Woman cometh… the voice of All Women…
According to Dr. Estes,
“Ideally an old woman symbolizes dignity, mentoring, wisdom, self-knowledge, tradition-bearing, well-defined boundaries, and experience…with a good dose of crabby, long-toothed, straight-talking, flirtatious sass thrown in for good measure” (Estes 243).
“La Loba (She wolf) “The gatherer of bones” – the 2 million year-old woman who sings bones to life again”
Did you hear the wind gathering its sacred Voices to itself?
Did you feel the shudder of Power as it drew a ragged breath and held up its daughter as a sign of change, its hands bloody from the birth?
Because change is indeed coming…thundering across the lands we see as empty and Native People see as Home.
Some of us have heard the rattling of bones; we have begun to awaken, to see for the first time our sisters, if not our brothers.
We see a real person standing there, frustrated, afraid for her people but also for her children, for the lives yet to be, unable to imagine what comes next in a world gone intentionally deaf and blind to her basic fears.
We are learning the lesson of the Power of Voice. Can you feel its tremolo echo through your own body?
What comes next is fearsome.
It is the awakening of Power and another kind of change. The change that comes with the resonance of Voice in a people marginalized for far too long. It comes when we at last begin to hear them. It comes when justice is summoned on a muddy battlefield the morning After the day Before…
“In Mormon Culture there is a saying, ‘I would walk across the plains with you.’
The translation is simple: you are tough. You are reliable. You can carry your own weight.” Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds, p. 131.
It is important to know, Brandy, that your Voice made itself heard, all in that simple moment of exasperation and surrender, broadcast in a news clip. You couldn’t have planned it. Power takes its own form.
You are a Bone Woman.
And the world quakes at your tears, the Power of not what was said – but what was meant – it is carried by a thousand ancient rivers all born of Women in this world…Changing Woman….
You are awesome. And I would walk across the plains with you… always wondering if I was worthy of your presence…
Brandy Maxie. Bone Woman, extraordinaire.