In preparation for the Maina and Me retreat, I wanted to do some research on how other indigenous peoples are reclaiming their menstrual celebrations in modern times. In my search, I came across the book, We are Dancing for You, written by Cutcha Risling Baldy. Cutcha is a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe in the Northern California region. She references past traditions lost through colonization and the one particular ceremony of the Flower Dance. Throughout the book, she speaks of the historical events of her tribe that led to the genocide, the earsure of many of her tribal rituals, and the resiliency of her people in keeping traditions and knowledge alive.
The Flower Dance is the ceremony of celebrating a young womanʻs first menses. The ceremony hadnʻt been performed for generations amongst the Hoopa Valley Tribe. The author shares a lot of the knowledge that has been lost but, through diligent research from elders and archives, this sacred ceremony has made a comeback and is growing in popularity among tribe members.
Cutcha shares her research in regards to how anthropologists, missionaries, and European settlers framed indigenous menstrual rituals and traditions as “shameful and primitive.” Much of the early documentation in regards to indigenous traditions around tribal memberʻs menses made references to the isolation that menstruators engaged in while on their cycle as a way to keep the tribe from being “tainted” by the blood of the menstruator. They interpreted this event through a patriarchal and misogynistic lens where they thought the men ordered menstruators away from the tribe during their menses because they felt it was “bad luck” and that they could curse ceremonies and food. This narrative allowed for the denigrating of womenʻs roles in the tribe and justified the missionaries and settlers to attain their goal of taking over control of Native lands and resources. Women were now seen as second class and prone to monthly illness and could not be trusted in leadership roles.
What I enjoyed most from this book was the author's own personal accounts and her own personal research from archives and tribal elders which debunked everything that was documented in history texts about her people. She talked about the historical and intergenerational trauma that continues to resonate among indigenous peoples and how she is helping to reclaim narratives on her own terms. Cutcha also references other California tribes that are actively doing the work to bring back revered ceremonies around a young menstruators cycle and how this revitalization is cultivating a whole new generation of Native people who are honoring tradition, renewing their cultural pride, and, most importantly, acknowledging the power of the feminine. These menstruators are experiencing a change in narrative that they are highly connected to the spiritual realm more closely while on their menses and how they can tap into this power for the benefit of their tribe.
I highly recommend this book. This book left me with a greater appreciation of the feminine as well as a renewed commitment in helping other indigenous menstruators to learn of their ancestral celebrations and encourage them to bring back these ceremonies. This ties in perfectly with Pua Mohalaʻs love of the olelo no'eau of “I ka wa ma mua I ka wa ma hope,” the future is in the past. Like Cutcha, we would like to help the next generation of mestrators to be connected with their cultural history and bring that back in modern context.
To find out more about Cutcha Risling Baldy, check out her website: https://www.cutcharislingbaldy.com/