Skeet Bannion, the Cherokee-Latina chief of campus police, will be back solving crimes and struggling with her complicated personal life in Linda's third novel, EVERY HIDDEN FEAR, which will be out May 6th. Today, Linda tells us about a part of Skeet's heritage - and our own.
I’m paying $33 to attend a movie that I just saw for free a couple of months ago, and I’m still excited about it. My youngest son is going along, and he’s never seen this film before now. I can’t wait for him to share this with me. The showing of the film is a fundraiser for two causes close to my heart, Kansas City Cherokee Community and the Kansas City Indian Center. The movie is called The Cherokee Word for Water, and it’s all about a woman coming into her own power. That woman happens to be my role model and icon, Wilma Mankiller.
Like most women in today’s United States, I’ve had some role models in women in my family and K-12 teachers, but once I reached late adolescence, all my professors were male, teaching me about mostly male writers, thinkers, and doers of great deeds. So I had a lot of male role models out in the world. That’s why strong women role models have been important to me—women who have made a difference in the world in some way, women who have pointed the way to the woman I wanted to become. And in my pantheon of such strong female role models, Wilma Mankiller sits right at the top.
Traditionally, the Cherokee were a matrilineal people. Women owned the land and houses, and the children stayed with their mothers and those extended families in cases of divorce, which were easily obtained by either the husband or wife without rancor or stigma. Women could and did hunt and go to war with the men if they so chose, and the tribe had a special position, the ghigua (Beloved Woman), for women who had gone to war and later married and raised children.
Women shared power with men on the councils that governed the Cherokee towns, and men could not take the town to war unless the ghiguas agreed, since they were considered the wisest, having experienced both genders’ sides of life. One of the first things European men did when encountering the Cherokee was to work hard to persuade the men to throw women out of any access to power. It took over two centuries, but they finally succeeded.
In 20th century Cherokee life, women were treated much as women were elsewhere in the United States, although the more traditionally inclined still retained vestiges of the old egalitarian ways. However, the traditionally inclined were not those who gained power since power within the Cherokee Nation, as within most Indian nations, for centuries had been funneled to those who conformed to what the U.S. government wanted. And for centuries, the U.S. government had wanted the Cherokee to stop listening to their women and turn away from traditional community-based decision-making. When Wilma came along in the 1970s, the government-supported male power structure had become corrupt, and the more traditional members of the tribe had been shunted away from all help or development and lived in grinding poverty without electric power or even access to good, clean water.
Against the wishes of most of the male power structure, Wilma spearheaded a community self-help campaign to bring clean, running water to one of these communities. The film, The Cherokee Word for Water, is about this very first battle of Wilma’s, not the better-known ones when she became Principal Chief. This is about the project where she decided who she would be and became that woman who would later become the first female chief in centuries.
Wilma Mankiller overcame so many obstacles in her life—poverty, the contempt of men in power, chronic pain from an accident that devastated her physically, chronic illnesses, corruption within the tribal government, and more— to become a woman who inspired people all over the world. She believed in the power of community and love, and she built her life on those beliefs, even when it wasn’t easy—and such a life seldom is. She remains one of my heroes. Much of who I am and what I have accomplished in my life I owe to the example set for me by Wilma. I even named my protagonist’s beloved “streetfighter” cat after Wilma, because she’s one of Skeet Bannion’s role models, as well.
Have women role models out in public life played an important part in your life? What women have been role models for you to help you visualize the kind of person you wanted to become?
Linda Rodriguez’s third Skeet Bannion novel, Every Hidden Fear, will be published on May 6 and is available for pre-order now. Her second Skeet mystery, Every Broken Trust, was a selection of Las Comadres National Latino Book Club and featured in Cosmo for Latinas. Her first Skeet novel, Every Last Secret, won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition and was a Barnes & Noble mystery pick and a finalist for the International Latino Book Award. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” has been optioned for film. For her books of poetry, Skin Hunger (Scapegoat Press) and Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press), Rodriguez received numerous awards and fellowships. She is immediate past president of the Borders Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, Kansas City Cherokee Community, and International Thriller Writers. Find her on Twitter as @rodriguez_linda, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LindaRodriguezWrites, and blogs with The Stiletto Gang http: http://thestilettogang.blogspot.com/, Writers Who Kill http://writerswhokill.blogspot.com/, and her own blog http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com.