Hearing or generally knowing about the involvement of Native Americans in Modern history is like getting a Spotify shuffle with a straight row of perfect hits. It’s not something that happens very often if at all. Usually in Modern History if Native Americans have a major influence or an issue its quicky swept under the rug or largely ignored. A white woman who goes missing gets more attention than the number of Native American women who go missing every year. In 2020 roughly 4,000 of all missing persons were female Native Americans according to the 2020 NCIC report. This is nothing new, but it goes almost entirely ignored by the mass public. This is why it was surprising and encouraging to hear Sally Roesch Wager, not only mentions the role of Native women in America’s women’s suffrage movement, but also the Iroquois Confederacy, or the Haudenosaunee, and publicly call-out famous figures in the women’s suffrage movement for what they did to their non-white counterparts. All of this unfolding along Wagner’s underlying emphasis on the fight for the personhood of women stretching from oppressive laws in England to the present predicament of women’s rights in America.
A good portion of the history Wagner covered was a bit new to me. The audience also seemed to have a mixed variety of backgrounds regarding the women’s suffrage movement in general. I have to admit that I knew nothing about the laws that rendered women as literal property upon marriage or the clause “I will obey you” in wedding ceremonies all the way to the 1980’s. It brought into perspective not only the progress we’ve made in women’s rights but also what we stand to lose should the worst happen. Especially right now when laws regarding women’s control over their bodies are being challenged against freedom of choice. However, with the role of Native American women in the women’s suffrage movement Native Americans have been systemically excluded from the progress we’ve made. It was crushing to realize that some of the more remembered figures from the movement were not only racists but also settled for less than the previous generation before them was willing to. The right to vote for women as Wagner states was offset by voter suppression, gerrymandering, and excluded non-white women. A whole generation of women willing to kick their fellow oppressed women under the bus for something that was worked around in the end of their era.
On a personal level, and amid a historical exploration into my own heritage it meant a lot to me, to hear so much acknowledgement and inclusion about Native American women. Especially for the short but detailed explanation of the Iroquois confederacy. Getting recognition and being treated as an equal human party that was there and contributed should be the bare minimum standard as far as history presentations are concerned. However, since this has obviously not been the case or focus for so long, in both lectures and books I think it’s ok to be so elated. This was the first time in my entire life that I’ve heard a lecture that included Native Americans beyond a footnote or a comment that equates to They helped too, or They were there and then they weren’t. Wagner’s attention and inclusion of Native Americans was a milestone in inclusion. This is because Wagner’s lecture was not on Native American women in the Women’s Suffrage movement. Wagner’s lecture was about the Women’s suffrage movement with no side agenda to focus especially on Native American women. Wagner’s honest and relevant inclusion of Native American women is what made her lecture a milestone. While getting one lecture that treats Native Americans in modern history like humans isn’t such a big thing on its own. It did mean quite a bit, to me at least, to get some progress on this front. It meant a lot.