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Grandmas Know Best

by Courtney Stucker

Maria holding a photo of her grandmother.
Maria holding a photo of her grandmother.

It’s no lie that Maria Pearson was an inspiration to many. But that brings several questions to my mind: who was her inspiration? Who helped give her the drive to get things done and create change?


In honor of Women’s History Month, I think many of us can relate when I say grandmothers are some of the first people in our lives that have a significant impact on the person we become. Growing up, I had spent a lot of time at both of my grandmas’ houses. Especially on the maternal side of my family, there are a lot of spunky, outspoken aunts and great aunts (and of course my late grandmother who had seven sisters!) who have never been afraid to speak their mind. This really shaped my character and showed me that women have power, voices, and all of the moxie to fill an entire room.


From her friends and family, Pearson was described as a fierce and powerful woman who fought for what she believed in. James C. Schapp, author, and blogger wrote about Pearson in his article “A Warrior. A Hero.” He writes about Pearson’s strong passion and love of her culture and her ability to stand up for what she knew to be right.


There is plenty of reason to believe that some of her gusto came from her grandmother’s influence in Pearson’s younger years. Minnie Flute, her grandmother, would consistently tell Pearson, “Girl, someday you are going to be called upon to stand up for what you believe in. You better know what you believe.”


The first significant example of Pearson’s ability to fight for her beliefs occurred in connection with the Glenwood Incident. When her husband returned home from work, he had explained to her that 26 white settlers’ remains had been discovered and reburied. The part he knew Pearson was not going to want to hear was that they had also found a Native American girl and her baby’s remains, but those had been sent off to be studied by state archaeologists. This really highlighted how discrimination even occurs in death.


Furious and upset at this news, Pearson went outside to connect with nature. In the wind, she could hear her grandmother’s voice telling her that now was the time to stand up and protect her ancestors.


The very next day, as soon as John went to work and her kids were in school, Maria obeyed her grandmother’s command. Getting her grandmother’s trunk out from storage she retrieved moccasins and regalia that she hadn’t worn in quite a while and put them on. She braided her hair, fastening the braids with hair ties.” (The Repatriation Files, Philip Round).


"Then I made that ninety-mile trip into Des Moines to the governor’s office. And when I walked in, I was aware that people were looking at me, because in 1971 Indian women did not just walk around dressed in their regalia. When I came to the door of the governor’s office, the receptionist looked up and was startled to see me in my attire. I went up to her desk and she asked, “Can I help you?” And I said, “Yes, I have come to see the Great White Father. You tell him that Running Moccasins is here.” (Maria Pearson's autobiography)


Without her grandmother’s influence, Maria may have not had a fire in her to fight and be a force for positive change in the world.


Who have you looked to for guidance and support? Who has created a positive impact on your character and actions?


To learn more about Maria Pearson, our premiere will begin at 2 p.m. on April 19.

Sources and for more information:

https://ameshistory.org/content/maria-pearson

http://www.the-repatriation-files.org/?p=129

https://www.kwit.org/post/warrior-hero

Courtney Stucker is the Digital Producer for Simplex Stories. Originally from Danville, IA, she has around three years of experience in content management, social analytics, and web development. Feel free to reach her at courtney.stucker@wartburg.edu.


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