Mar 8, 2015 - “Woman I am…” Radmilla Cody visits NYC for Women’s History Month at Smithsonian Museum By Noel Altaha
March 7, 2015: Saturday afternoon in the blistering chilly wind tunnel of skyscrapers in the downtown financial district of Manhattan is the National Museum of the American Indian Smithsonian Institution. For anyone who hasn’t been to the colossal colonially British influenced architecture, the National Museum of the American Indian was the house of America’s “Founding Father”, Alexander Hamilton. On the first floor in the center of the museum is a free event-honoring month of March as “Women’s History Month.” The familiar singer’s face known throughout Indian Country is none other than Dine (Navajo) woman, Radmilla Cody. Ms. Cody is the Grammy nominated, singer, songwriter, and activist seeking justice for women survivors of domestic violence, particularly Native American women.
Ms. Cody shared her talented gifts of songs and stories with a room full of people from all walks of life, including Native American residents of New York City. It should be on record that this winter is the third coldest on record in the Big Apple. But that didn’t stop the people from welcoming Ms. Cody back to the ‘City of Bright Lights and Big Dreams’. Despite the bone chilly day loads of bundled up people came out to see the amazingly talented singer from the Navajo Nation.
The room was dark and the spot light was on Radmilla. She captivated the audience with her humility and grace. Her poise and down-to-earth personality made her instantly likeable and personable. One could even go so far as to say, Ms. Cody’s energy raised the temperature that warmed up the cold colonial structure. Maybe Radmilla is exactly what the frigid city needs. Multiple people said they traveled both long and short distances to see Ms. Cody even if it meant taking multiple subway train lines and walking through the icy frigid wind tunnel.
Songs and stories and laughs and education were themes that outlined Radmilla’s performance. “Woman I am…”, the title of Ms. Cody’s performance, is in honor of the month of March, “Women’s History Month”. Radmilla focused on the source of her inspiration through out her life, her Navajo grandmother. Ms. Cody shared that her grandmother who raised her traditionally in Navajo culture also gave her life lessons. “My grandmother return to the ‘House of the East’ three years ago at the age of 97 and yes I miss her but I know she is always with me. She is in my DNA,” says Cody. Passionate and committed to her Navajo culture, Radmilla at one point got emotional because of her deep connection and love for Mother Earth and in particular the threat of destruction.
“There is a historical trauma we haven’t healed from and it is impacting the land. We are in a state of unbalance. We must do what we can to change that,” claimed Cody. She stated that the historical trauma also relates to the current trauma of domestic violence victims/survivors: Native American women. Radmilla is a survivor of domestic violence and Cody disclosed her unhealthy relationship from her painful past. She mentioned going to prison and returning home to find out that the healing came from songs and the ceremonies. It started with her loving herself. “If we are honest we can see the signs of domestic violence, because there are always signs. We just need to decide to see it” encouraged Cody.
In the United States, research shows 1 in 3 Native American women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes and a heavy majority of the perpetrators are non-Native American men. Most of those men are white. The 2013 provision of the federal legislation, Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) went into effect today. This legislation allows tribes to prosecute non-tribal members perpetrators committing acts of violence towards Native American women through tribal courts. Before this precedence, non-Native American abusers got off Scott-free from committing crimes and acts of violence against Native American women. Time will tell how this provision will help tribes further utilize their sovereign judicial systems to bring justice to the women survivors, their families and tribal communities by prosecuting perpetrators
The interesting part of Radmilla’s story was the issue of gender roles in society. “Men are taught not to cry but in the Navajo way we believe everyone holds both a masculine and feminine side within us” and to deny that, according to Cody, is to deny ourselves. “Men and boys need to know it is okay to cry. I love a good man who cries,” said Cody. Her point was that when we condition the males in our societies from young ages that it is not socially acceptable to cry the males repress a natural emotion in all humans and it is acted out in different ways, including violence towards women.
Cody believes there is an unbalance in the world. The audience in the room agreed as she encouraged the healing process to start and to continue after today. She sang one particular powerful song, dedicated to the sacred mountains of the Navajo people. Threat of destruction to the sacred mountains emotionally impacted Cody as she talked into the mic, at one point voice shaking. “If we take care of Mother Earth, she will take care of us and we must fight to protect the Earth. These mountains give us songs and blessings” then Radmilla gave her infectious smile and the audiences’ burst into a thunderous applause of approval.
After the near two-hour performance Radmilla Cody presented museum staff with gifts. She then went started meeting the attendees of the event. Ms. Cody encouraged women and men to seek services and support they need if they find themselves experiencing domestic violence and/or traumatic experience(s). “Therapy is seen as a stigma, like a negative thing in society but I don’t agree. I went to therapy at one point and it helped me. It can help those who need it. We also need to include elements like sweat lodges and other ceremonies to help us heal,” says Cody.
For resources on domestic violence, particularly to Native American women, the following are only some organizations commonly used. Other organizations are equally encouraged for individuals to utilize. It is important to break the cycle so we can heal and so we can help rebuild healthier relationships to follow for future generations to come.
Indian Health Services Health, mental health, Medicaid. http://www.ihs.gov
Indian Law Resources Legal resources www.IndianLaw.org
Women’s Resources Tribal protection orders, tribal court systems. www.womenslaw.org
National Congress of American Indians Social/political information http://www.ncai.org
National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center http://www.niwrc.org
Sacred Hoop www.mshoop.org
Plains Healing Lodge History of Healing Lodges Link http://www.cyberbohemia.com/Pages/historysweatlod.htm
Gathering of Native Americans (GONA) The GONA offers hope, encouragement, and a positive basis for Native community action; provides Native communities with a framework to examine historical trauma and its impact on substance abuse issues; emphasizes skill transfer and community empowerment; and presents a prevention framework based on values inherent in traditional Native cultures.
White Bison The center for the Wellbriety movement, with the vision of bringing 100 communities into healing. http://www.whitebison.org/index.php