“You should never judge someone if you haven’t walked a mile in their moccasins.”
My first time meeting Gail Carter I was only a small child. However, I remember being showered with love and kindness by this woman who I felt I barely knew. Now, I see Gail almost every Christmas and summer and am still showered by her compassion and love. Gail is the most kind-hearted and caring woman I have ever met. With her pale hair and Native American, dark and suntanned skin, she is just as beautiful on the outside as she is on the inside.
Growing up in upstate New York in the small town of Saint Johnsville, Gail grew up in a simple neighborhood and faced a minimal amount of oppression as a Native American woman. Gail describes her simple childhood as getting up in the morning, eating breakfast, playing all day outside if there was no school, going in for lunch, and staying out until the street lamps would come on. Gail describes how “nobody would worry about anybody” in her small town, and how “all the neighbors would take care of each other’s kids.” The whole town was accepting of Gail’s ethnicity as the only Native American girl in the town and how the whole town “was like one big family.” Gail spent most of high school working as a babysitter and working at a freeway restaurant. Gail recalls her experience at the restaurant as fun and enjoyed meeting many different people. Overall, despite some slight oppression as a child, Gail’s childhood was simple and fun.
Gail, ever since she was a child, has had light hair with dark and easily tanned skin. Her sister was the opposite, with dark hair and lighter skin that wasn’t as tan. Gail’s darker sort of skin posed a problem for her only once in her life. This was as a ten year-old child when Gail and her sister went to stay with their father for a summer. One day, he took his girls to a posh restaurant called the Red Lion Inn. The people at the inn would not let Gail eat lunch there because she was “too dark.” The surprising part was that Gail’s “wild” father didn’t blame the restaurant but blamed her for being out in the sun for too long. For the rest of the summer, he didn’t let young Gail play out in the sun. Gail described how she “couldn’t understand it” and how “she didn’t think she was different from anybody else.”
Gail’s ancestors were apart of the Mohawk tribe who lived in “one room log cabins” that they built in upstate New York. Gail wonders how “it must have had to be terrible… living in the wilderness in the log cabin with just a little fireplace.” Gail’s mother’s father’s mother was the one on the Indian side and has lived in the area of upstate New York since the early 1700s. Her great great grandmother met her husband who came over from Ireland. His red hair and beard attracted Gail’s grandmother which is how they got married. Gail talks about how it wasn’t easy for them because her grandmother only spoke Mohawk; however, they still got married and had children. Gail describes the hardships that her ancestor’s people went through, like the Revolutionary and Civil war, famine, and starvation. She describes the main battle, the Battle of Oriskany, where most of her ancestors were killed. Gail talks more of the oppression in the very early days by describing her great (she is unsure of how may greats) grandfather’s brother who was kidnapped in a raid in Schenectady. He was taken to Canada and finally escaped two years later. The rest of the years Gail’s ancestors were blacksmiths, farmers, and coopers right down to her mother who even had a pet bull. She reminisced of how her mother’s bull was mean to everybody except her.
After spending her whole childhood in Saint Johnsville, Gail went to college in Syracuse, about two hours from her hometown. After college, Gail worked in Syracuse for General Electrics in a space division called Event Systems Department. There, Gail worked with astronauts and space shuttles describing how they “worked sometimes all day and all night and all the next day.” Gail faced no oppression in this job—rather, she worked with her two other former college roommates and was employed by a “fabulous” man named Jay Walking-Stick in Syracuse. After this job Gail went back to her small town of Saint Johnsville and began working at the elementary school there.
“The principal came down and asked me if I would come down and work for two weeks and I said I really didn’t want to and he said, ‘oh please, just for two weeks’ and I said okay. So I went to school for two weeks and I ended up there for thirty years.”
Gail’s experience at the elementary school was “eye opening” and the school was like a “big family.” Gail loved the children and described how “they made every day a happy day.”
The story of how Gail met her husband Jan Carter is absolutely adorable. Gail and Jan lived about a block away from each other in the small town and saw each other a lot. However, they hated each other at the time. Time passed, Gail went to college in Syracuse while Jan went to college in Ithaca. Finally one day they came home from college and they “took one look at each other and knew…(they) just fell in love.” Currently, Gail and Jan have been married for fifty-five years! Jan Carter’s family is part Dutch while one of his great great great grandfathers married a Tuscarora Indian woman. Gail and Jan have two kids, an older boy and younger girl. Their son went to college in Ithaca and now lives in Cooperstown, New York with his wife and two step children. Their daughter now lives in California with her husband and two children. “We’ve always…tried to make them be aware of the world and be kind and always understand that no matter what person’s color, their ethnic background, their nationality— that…everybody is God’s children and they needed to be kind always to everybody.”
Gail raised her children based on very beliefs. This is probably based on her experience as a child after being turned away at a restaurant due to her dark and tan Indian skin. Gail believes that her children “always rise to the cause to help people out” and “turned out to be good children.”
Currently, both Gail and her husband are retired and live in Saint Johnsville. Gail talks about how Jan works in the yard and she tends to her garden or sits by the pool. They both are active in their small community by volunteering at the Saint Johnsville Reform Dutch-reform church and attending and volunteering at the benefit club.
Gail has taken action and has stood up for her fellow Native Americans. There are still Mohawk who have land in Adirondacks (about a two hour drive north) that the government wanted to take for whatever stupid reason. Gail decided to pack up the kids and went to protest.
“We are going to protest because its not right for them to take away land from them! This is their land, and their homes are there.”
Troopers allowed for the protest to commence, and in the end the government compromised: the Native Americans kept part of their land and the government took part of it on the east side.
Another action Gail has taken in order to combat the oppression against her fellow Native Americans is a story very familiar to that of Rosa Parks. After college, Gail would have to ride the bus to work. The Onondaga Indians would also ride that bus to work—they would work for other people as maids and cooks. One day, Gail sat in the back of the bus by a young Onondaga Indian woman. The bus driver demanded that Gail sit in the front with the rest of the white people and threatened to call the police after Gail responded with a firm no.
“Well I’m not coming up to the front of the bus…I do not care, I am not leaving.”
The police arrived, and after a brief dispute they let it slide and Gail continued to ride in the back of the bus with the rest of the Onondaga Indians.
Gail also talks about the poor media representation of Native Americans. She talks about how she always “stands up for the Indians” when she watches movies about the cowboys and Indians. “It has always hurt my heart,” Gail describes, how the Native Americans were put in reservations and were given small pox when the Europeans came and ripped the land away from the Indians.
“Can you imagine after they had freedom and they would go out and hunt, fish and kill their food. That must’ve been horrible for them. That just makes me ill, just makes me sick to my stomach to think about it right now.”
Gail believes that she has “inherited the love of the earth and the love to help people and take care of others” from her Native American ancestors.
“I always tried to look at other people the way they were and say, ‘hmm, what are they going through? What’s happening in their hearts? What is it like to be them?’”
Gail wants to share advice to young girls and the younger generation. She believes that people should always be kind to each other because “a smile doesn’t cost a penny” and “that’s what it’s all about…be kind.”
“I think you should never judge someone if you haven’t walked a mile in their moccasins because you have no idea what’s in their heart— the pain, the suffering, nothing.”
Gail’s experience as a Native American woman wasn’t full of much oppression against herself for being who she is due to her small and accepting town. However, Gail recognizes the unfairness and oppression that is still prevalent in society against Native Americans. She has taken many different collective actions to help her fellow Native American people and understands that there is still oppression against them. Gail’s advice to young women really touched me. Her advice to never judge people because you have no idea what they’re going through or what pain they are in is advice every person should live and stand by. Gail Carter is one of the most amazing women I know—every time I see her she is always happy, joyful, and respectful. I hope that one day every person will carry her same beliefs of being respectful to others, judge-free, and kind.
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Gail Carter’s stories about the oppression she has seen against Native Americans is only a snippet of a larger picture of oppression against the Natives. Since the federal government has taken control of most Native American reservations, the Natives are faced with a lot of violence against themselves and the women in the reservations. The federal government continues to take advantage of these poor people who were originally here in the first place. The oppression against the Native Americans is an issue regarding both gender and race. The federal government takes advantage of the vulnerable Native women by sexually victimizing them along with all of the Natives by taking their land. Since the beginning when the Europeans began to colonize in the now United States, they haven’t stopped mistreating Native Americans. Authors Sarah Deer, Andrea Smith, and Patricia Hill Collins describe the many different mistreatments of the government and the early Europeans towards Native Americans that continue to go on today.
The federal government continues over and over again to look over or take advantage of Native American tribal communities, as shown in how they tried to take their native reservation land as Gail explained. Sarah Deer, writer of “Color of Violence,’” explains how “the federal government has systematically stripped power from tribal nations over the course of the last hundred years,” leaving the Indians reliable on the federal government for protection (Deer 33). However, the federal government continues over and over again to look over the crime happening in the tribal communities and doesn’t take them seriously. This is evident in how the federal government fails “to conduct appropriate background checks” of their federal employees designated to help the tribal communities, leaving the communities stuck with people with a “history of violence, sex offenses, and child endangerment” (Deer 38, 37). Due to these evident sexual predators, Native women are taken advantage of because they are easy prey with no help to turn to. Deer also describes how tribal governments “have no power to respond to felony level crimes” and how there are “limitations of tribal courts to incarcerate…criminal defendants” (Deer 36). Overall, the federal government strips power away from these tribal nations, leaving them to be filled with violent and sexual predators due to the lack of a government system that can send the violent perpetrators to jail. One might think that because the federal government is involved, the Indians are much safer, however this is incorrect because the federal government completely overlooks the tribal nations, leaving them vulnerable to sexual and violent predators.
Andrea Smith’s article “Not an Indian Tradition: The Sexual Colonization of Native Peoples” explores the many examples of men taking advantage of Native American women and the Native Americans’ land. First off, men began to “rationalize the mass sterilization of Native women” in the 1970s in order to prevent them from having any more children and expanding their population (Smith 73). These men believed the Natives to be “inferior people” and began taking advantage of them (Smith 73). Due to the Native societies being “more peaceful and egalitarian,” white women coming from the violent and patriarchal societies in Europe were attracted to this peace and many “chose to live among the Indian people” (Smith 77). The white women also noticed how the Native societies were “models of equality,” which attracted the women from patriarchal Europe as well” (Smith 77). This is one of the reasons as to why the white European men began to eradicate the Natives: in order to “(strengthen) white male ownership of white women” (Smith 76). Native reservations are still being taken advantage of. In 1976 it was discovered that eighty percent of “Native women were being sterilized without informed consent” and being forced to take dangerous contraceptives (Smith 79). Native reservations “are often targeted for toxic waste dumps” and used to test nuclear bombs (Smith 81). The corrupt European men also believe that “Christians never stole Indian land” because the Natives communities “had not been ‘established by God,’” and were therefore allowed to “seize land from them” (Smith 80). All these examples that Smith highlights portray how the Native Americans are being taken advantage of. The Natives were here before us, and yet they are extremely and unbelievably oppressed and taken advantage of.
Even though Gail didn’t receive much oppression for her race in her small town, she still takes action in participating in protests to fight for her people’s right to their land. In Patricia Hill Collins’ “Toward a New Vision,” she describes how “each of us is called to take a stand” to fight against different oppression in the world (Collins 80). Gail does this exactly and makes a “political act” statement in order to defend her fellow Native American people (Collins 79). Collins references Audre Lorde in her excerpt by stating that “we all live within situations that reproduce race, class, and gender oppression” (Collins 79). Even though Gail didn’t face much oppression for who she was, she still took action to defend the Native Americans when their land was being taken by the federal government.
The federal government still continues to take advantage of the Native Americans by stripping their tribal governments of power, failing to protect them, leaving them vulnerable to predators, and taking away their reservation land. The Natives as a whole are being targeted by having the government take advantage of them and steal their land. The Native women, on the other hand, are being taken advantage of sexually due to being sexualized because of their vulnerability. All of this racist, ethnic, and sexist oppression against these people is wrong and it is people like Gail who take small steps in trying to make a difference.