I haven’t done this in a while but today we are going to have a little history lesson. Many times in life some of our best medicine comes from those who have come before us. Sarah Winnemucca is not a name that comes to mind when people are asked about a notable American Indian in the history of this continent. I think she should be, though. When we think about it, there are not many women of Native descent that are remembered in the annals of history.
Sarah was a Paiute who lived near the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevadas. She was born in 1844 and witnessed some of the first white settlers to go through her country on their way to California. She and her people encountered the lawless gold miners and the far from scrupulous officials of the government. Unlike most women of her time, she chose to speak out about the despicable acts against her people. Winnemucca spoke out about the sexual assaults of the women of her tribe that happened much too often. She also noted that when the Indians would try to retaliate over these attacks on their women, it was most times represented by the settlers as savage lawlessness.
Sarah Winnemucca Allposters.com
When she was a teenager she was hired as a maid for a prominent white settler. It was during this employment that she learned the English language quite well. By 1868 she was working as an interpreter in an Indian Office and moved to Camp McDermitt. She spent about ten years at the agency and witnessed first hand the blatant corruption of the office. By the 1880’s, Sarah became quite outspoken against the American government and wrote a book titled Life Among The Piutes. After the publication of this autobiography, she began to travel across the nation giving public speeches and lectures.
During her public engagements and through her book, Winnemucca brought to light the cruelty and inhumanity that happened during the expansion of the West. She also explained to those in the crowd that the Native societies were much more humane than they had been described by the people whose atrocities were meant to be covered up. She exposed corruption and begged for separate autonomous tribal communities where Natives could live life apart from the white settlers.
It was not unusual for her to let the people she was talking to know that she felt that the Americans were the ones who really deserved the label of savage. She let them know that she was personally calling to them for some justice. Decades later activists would ask for the same things and tell some of the same stories but none were as articulate in their message as Sarah Winnemucca.
I hope you enjoyed this little history lesson about a remarkable woman who was way before her time. How brave she must have been, her courage spurred by her outrage at the suffering and injustice that her people and other Native Peoples had to survive. I don’t know about you but I would have loved to have met this woman!