On Sept. 21 my eldest daughter and I walked in the procession for the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian. We walked in honor of my late grandfather, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, and his grandmother, Mourning Tree Allen Gooding, who was a child when she and the Chickasaw people were removed from their homeland of Mississippi and relocated in what is now Oklahoma. I am told that as an adult, Mourning Tree was part of a delegation that went to Washington to speak on behalf of the Chickasaw, so the march from west to east held special significance, a generation of women coming full circle.
My daughter and I were touched by the speeches, but a disquiet nagged at me as I viewed some of their magnificent headdresses on the huge video monitors. Where were our grandmothers? Why did no female speakers give verbal blessings to this sacred event?
During Black Eagle's closing honor song I read in the program that the Hopi honor guard participated in the opening ceremony in honor of Pvt. Lori A. Piestewa, the first Native American servicewoman to give her life in overseas combat. But the pomp and circumstance of the afternoon were reserved for the men.
With all due respect for the many tribal traditions that hold clear distinctions in the social function of males and females, today's women, indigenous and otherwise, deserve a stronger presence at the podium.
I hate to rain on the parade because there was so much to celebrate. My daughter and I enjoyed the brilliantly colored dresses of the Chickasaw princesses, the savory aroma of fry bread and the distinctive warble of Buffy Sainte-Marie. Later, joined by my other two daughters and my husband, we toured the museum. As promised, it is the most beautiful building on the Mall.
While I hold tremendous respect and gratitude toward museum director W. Richard West Jr. and the many others whose dedication allowed this dream to come true, my hope is that one day the spirit of Mourning Tree will rejoice at the sound of the proud voices of men and women, echoing with equal influence in the sacred space that is the National Museum of the American Indian.
ROZANNE GOODING SILVERWOOD