An American Indian teaches respect. Young people learn importance of sharing, giving thanks, honoring elders
New York — ``Remember who we are, and who we were,'' urges Ignacia Broker, an American Indian author and elder who was born on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. Ms. Broker never forgets her heritage. For years, she has directed her efforts and energies to seeing that others do not forget, either.
``Be proud you are Indian,'' she implores young Indian students during her school storytelling sessions in Minneapolis. ``People today are going back to our history, and they are finding out why we did things and that our ways were valid.''
Respect, she says, is what she has always most tried to teach young Indians -- respect for the forest, for the earth, for plants, for animal life, for parents, and for one another. She talks to them about the importance of sharing, of giving thanks, and of honoring elders. And she tells about the stories and legends of the Ojibway tribal past, whose ideals are the purity of nature and humanity and the necessity of keeping them in balance.
For her work as teacher, author, and respected Indian leader in working for both civil and human rights, Ignacia Broker recently received an award of $7,500 from the Wonder Woman Foundation in New York. She, along with 13 other distinguished women over age 40, were honored for extraordinary accomplishments and for inspiring others by their maturity, courage, and initiative.
From her days as a small child growing up on the reservation in the 1920s, Ms. Broker remembers writing poetry and recording ``everything I heard and everything I saw, all the stories and legends of the past as told by my mother, grandmother, and other elders.'' These tales gave her a philosophy of living that sustained her through later trials.
She says she lived through a period of cultural transition that was fraught with prejudice and hostility. Having completed a college-level business course, she first met discrimination in 1941, when she discovered that ``nobody would hire Indians,'' although she later secured a job in a war production plant in the state of Washington.
Although she held various clerical jobs, her chief satisfaction over many years was in working with such organizations as American Indians Inc., Service to American Indian Resident Students, and Indian Upward Bound. As a member of Concerned Indian Citizens, she spearheaded a study of welfare abuses.
When the Upper Midwest American Indian Center was founded in Minneapolis in 1961, she was among its earliest supporters and staff members. She also helped found the American Indian Center and the Minnesota Indian Historical Society.
Throughout her life, Ms. Broker has kept personal journals and newspaper and magazine clippings and scribbled scraps of information against the day that she would sit down and write a book about being an Indian woman. Nobody quite believed it would ever come to pass. But in 1983, the Minnesota Historical Society Press published her manuscript, ``Night Flying Woman: An Ojibway Narrative,'' a story that focuses on the life of her great-great-grandmother from her birth in the mid-19th century to her death in the early 1930s.
``In the style of a practiced storyteller addressing her grandchildren,'' explains Jean A. Brookins, assistant director for publications and research at the historical society, ``Ms. Broker reveals how the Ojibway people were forced to change their traditional forest way of life to accommodate the `new ways' of the white people. It is both a tale of traumatic uprooting and an optimistic affirmation of the strength and continuity of the Ojibway traditions.''
The author is at work on a manuscript that describes the transition from reservation life to urban living in the 20th century. Based on her own experiences and on those of her parents and elders, the story will also incorporate oral traditions of the early reservation years, along with information from tribal and government records. She hopes to set the record straight for both Indian and white readers, and to erase some of the stereotypes based on false information.
Regrettably, she finds that many white people still cling to stereotypical beliefs about Indians. Because she wants to rid the world of those stereotypes, she is willing to put in long hours talking with students, parents, educators, and the news media about the philosophy that underlies ``Night Flying Woman'' and a need for better understanding among Indians and whites.
Ms. Broker's book, ``Night Flying Woman: An Ojibway Narrative,'' is available by mail from the Minnesota Historical Society, Order Department 745, 1500 Mississippi Street, St. Paul, Minn. 55101. It is $12.95 in cloth, $7.50 in paperback, plus $1.50 for shipping.