SHE SAID IT
"Our hope is vigorous and active and it is sustained by the outrageous courage of our sisters/foresisters who are ever more intensely present to us, beckoning and daring us to move further." - Mary Daly

June 1999
Vol. 1 - #4


Said It: Feminist News, Culture & Politics  

in this issue:

Unromanticizing Fatherhood

Who's Looking Out for Moms?

Resisting Without Violence


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In 1888, Mourning Dove was born in a canoe crossing the Kootenai River near Bonner's Ferry, Idaho. She was born to Lucy Stukin, a Colville (Salishan) tribe member from north central Washington, and given the name Christine Quintasket at her birth.

Christine, or Mourning Dove as she later called herself, was the granddaughter of Seewhelhken, who had been the head chief of the Colville tribe for many years. But Christine did not have an easy life. She suffered from chronic illness, poverty, abusive treatment in boarding school, and probably abusive treatment from her first husband. Yet despite all the difficulties she faced, she became the first American Indian female novelist.

In 1895, when Christine was seven years old, she entered the Sacred Heart School at the Goodwin Mission in Ward, Washington. She could speak only Salishan, her native tongue, and received harsh treatment from the nuns who insisted she speak English. After a few months of constant punishment at the school, she became ill and was sent home. She returned to the school the next year, and remained there for three years, until US government funding for Indian schools was cut, and all Indian students were sent to school at Fort Spokane.

When Christine was 14 years old, her mother died, and Christine left school to raise her young brother and two young sisters. Her two other younger siblings both died before reaching the age of five. When her father remarried two years later, she went back to Indian school, this time in Great Falls, Montana. It was there that she saw the last roundup of a wild buffalo herd in 1908. She used her memory of this roundup as a theme for her first novel, Cogewea, the Half Blood: A Depiction of the Great Montana Cattle Range.

Christine worked as a housekeeper to support herself. Eventually, she earned enough money to purchase a typewriter. In 1912, while living in Portland, Oregon, she began writing her first novel. She used the pen name Morning Dove, and later changed it to Mourning Dove, after seeing the name on a museum's bird exhibit.

The year 1915 was a turning point for Mourning Dove. She befriended a white businessman, Lucullus Virgil McWhorter, who was an advocate for Indian rights. Lucullus helped Mourning Dove with some of her writing, and used his influence to get her first book published in 1927. Publication came a full 15 years after she had begun writing her novel. The long delay was due to endless editing and rewriting, and also the disruption of World War I.

During this period of time, Lucullus encouraged Mourning Dove to interview her tribal elders and record the traditional stories. Mourning Dove and her second husband, Fred Galler, were making a living by picking fruit and vegetables as migrant workers. They moved often, living in a tent, or finding meager housing on the labor farms. But Mourning Dove managed to find time to collect stories from the elders on the reservation. These stories became the basis for Mourning Dove's second book, Coyote Stories.

Unfortunately, Mourning Dove was seriously overworked throughout her effort and, as a result, suffered from pneumonia, rheumatism, and other illnesses.

But when her first novel Cogewea was published in 1927, she became a well-known personality in Washington state, and especially on the Colville Indian Reservation. She was able to quit her job as migrant worker, and became active in local Indian politics. She joined with other Indian women and started social organizations. She helped organize the Colville Indian Association, which effectively secured for the Colville tribe unresolved land claims, and money owed to the tribe for lands purchased and leased. She gave public talks regionally and even nationally.

Mourning Dove continued both her writing and her activism into the early '30s, despite her poor health. In July, 1936, she was taken to the state hospital at Medical Lake. She died a week later. Her death certificate listed the cause of her death as exhaustion from manic depressive psychosis. Her gravestone simply names her as "Mrs. Fred Galler."

Forty five years after Mourning Dove died, the manuscript of her autobiography was found by the widow of Mourning Dove's editor. The papers were sent to the University of Washington Press, pieced together, and finally published in 1990, as Mourning Dove: A Salishan Autobiography.

(sources: Notable Native Americans, Gale Research Publishing; Native American Women, Garland Publishing)



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