Elsie’s determination and drive is stronger today than ever. “When I was at Macy, I did fifteen years in the trenches. Now I need to empower, to build myself up, and empower myself so I can go to a higher level of advocacy to help these people. To help these people the way I think they should be helped” (Interview). She is very clear that “the thing that is important for them is survival” (Interview). Elsie has a vision of how life can be made better for Native women on the reservation.
There needs to be a place for these young mothers that are walking the streets with their babies during the daytime in buggies. They are pushing the strollers, but where are they going? So something for these women and for the victims I work with– before they transition they need to have all these skills. They need to be able to stand on their feet and be willing and read to fight back in court. Tribal women have had the hardest time, are the least served, and need the most help.
I want to see a building built. What I’d really like to see is a community center that has a computer lab; that can be a resource center; and have classes that will develop these people to get into college, to be able to pass their ACT’s, to give them self-confidence to go on. They need to learn social skills, self-advocacy, and resources. They need to not be afraid to say, “I read in this brochure that this is what you are supposed to do. If you can’t do this for me, and you switch me to somebody else, then I will go to your supervisor.”
Most places you have to have a high school diploma [to get a job], and a lot of them don’t have GED’s. So once they get to that point, we should be able to recruit employers to the reservation.
I want to have that kind of facility in place when I die. I’m hoping that somebody is looking at me as an example.
I want to build that organization and look for private foundations—but I need help. I can’t have my board be just Native people. My board has to be credible and prestigious people who have other connections. (Interview)
Click here to hear the wrenching story of a young Omaha woman falling through the cracks. (Please insert link to audio file. Folder B, Track 1, minute 34:12 “ I had referred one girl . . . .I go through a lot.” to minute 37:35) Audio clip 005
Into the future . . .
Elsie is a visionary for her tribe. She is a twenty-first century Omaha Elder, ready to show her people a new way of being. She has battled alcohol and her share of demons and come out on top. She is dedicated to improving the lives of her people. The determination life fostered in her in childhood has become more tenacious. Her tertiary education has helped her figure out how to succeed as a Native American woman in a white man’s world. Despite setbacks, she has continued to see the value of an education and to pursue it. Learning is still a huge part of her life. In her words: “I am going to areas that have never been challenged—I guess I can thank my education for that” (Interview). She is planning on returning to UNO. When she finishes her Fine Arts degree, Elsie wants to continue on in Public Relations and Marketing, “So I can go out and find that money” (Interview). Combining her experience of life as a Native American woman, placed at the bottom of the white dominant culture’s hierarchy of power and privilege, with her analytical, compassionate mind and education, she passionately declares: “If we don’t understand the dynamics that make us how we are—hopeless, helpless, in despair—how can we change it?” (Interview). Elsie is trying to change it. The people of Omaha, of this city, need to know the history of the Omaha people, with all its injustice and abuse at the hands of the white colonizers. If we are horrified enough at the actions of our forebears and our government, and if we can begin to see white privilege effecting our own lives every day, perhaps we will be moved to support Elsie and others like her in their visionary projects to improve the lives of their people.
As a white New Zealander, I am very aware of the white lens I look through. A deep love for the Indians of North America has been with me since early childhood. Although I have lived in this country for 23 years, I have a foreigner’s less shaded view of the centuries of assault upon the Indians by the dominant whites; first, to take their land, and then to try to destroy their culture, their language, and their religion, clearing the way by starving, freezing, and drugging them to death. I see clearly the need for their story to be told, to be heard, especially here in Omaha. Will you listen?
Wibthahon! (Thank you!)