In the late 1970s, CCWP founding member Karen Shain was working in support of the American Indian Movement in the San Francisco Bay Area. “The Four Winds organization already existed at the federal prison near here and several women were given a one-day pass to attend a barbecue and sweat ceremony in Half Moon Bay, CA. I will never forget standing with these six women from North Dakota on the beach, holding hands, watching the waves crest and the sun set. They had never before seen the ocean. Together we experienced a truly magical and liberating moment. Soon after, we all climbed into a van and trekked over the coastal mountains, back to Dublin, and those women disappeared behind the prison walls.”
Now, 25 years after that day in Half Moon Bay, it is almost impossible to imagine prisoners getting a day pass to go to a religious community event, not to mention the beach! Not only are Native American women being imprisoned at a rate far greater than their number in the population at large, but the connection between the current incarceration rate and the fact that Native people have been at war with America since colonial times is swept under the rug.
The imprisonment of Native women follows a pattern of repression which includes the theft of Native lands, the development of reservations, the kidnapping of Native children and sending them to boarding schools, not to mention the cultural representation of Indians as “noble savages.” Let us not forget that the first use of biological weapons of mass destruction was the use of smallpox-infected blankets in a genocidal attempt to wipe out Native Americans. Time after time when Native Americans have resisted the systematic takeover of their land and the elimination of their people, the U.S. government has responded with murder and imprisonment. Political prisoner Leonard Peltier stands out as an example of a Native activist who has been in prison for 30 years now because he was active in the American Indian Movements struggle for self-determination in the seventies. Another former political prisoner, Standing Deer was recently murdered in Texas under questionable circumstances.
We were very excited when former prisoner and Native American activist Stormy Ogden approached The Fire Inside several months ago and asked to guest edit an issue devoted to Native American women prisoners. Stormy invited other Native women to contribute their writings. This issue is a result of their efforts.