The following is an excerpt from an interview with Mona Stonefish. Anishinaabe Elder Mona Stonefish (Bear Clan) is a Doctor of Traditional Medicine and an international activist for peace, Indigenous, women’s and disability rights. She is Senator of the Anishinaabemowin Teg – language preservation, a Keeper of Wisdom, and a Grandmother Water Walker. Mona Stonefish is also a member of the Native American Museum of Washington D.C., a traditional dancer, and recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2013). She and her granddaughter Sky Stonefish support and teach one another, confront discrimination, and fight to tear down barriers in their travels together.
[TT= Tracy Tidgwell; MS= Mona Stonefish]
TT: At Bodies in Translation we’ve been thinking about you and seeing you as the Knowledge Keeper for the project. Does this feel right to you? How do you see your role?
MS: Well, I was gifted to be able to keep the knowledge. I speak my language. And they didn’t catch me until I was about 7 years old. I was raised by my grandmother so after I came home I just feel that I have the knowledge. It was shared with me by my ancestors, through my grandmother and her sisters and whoever was part of the Bear Clan who were able to share that knowledge with me. Because I was…. I didn’t speak. I couldn’t talk right away. I taught myself how to talk when I was in my 20s. But I could listen and I could absorb those things. I could absorb the knowledge that they gave. I think not only that but I think that it’s in our blood memory too. And, you know, I guess we look strange to some people but that’s just how we look [laughter] heh hah hah heh.
TT: [laughs too]. Mona, do you mean you spoke your language before you…
MS: Well, I could understand it. I could speak my language before the sexual… before the heinous crime of rape. And then because I tried to tell and I could never, I was never listened to, I was punished for it and I still have…. You see me limping. So, I was the crippled girl. They used to call me “Step and a half,” you know, the kids, [laughs], because it was funny, eh, because you make a joke about everything. When you stay there, you don’t let those negative things consume you. So you just move on. I lost my gift of speech and I didn’t talk again until much later, in my early 20s, 20. And it was women from this… you know, anishinaabekweg and one woman from Akwesasne, who helped put me through four times to help me speak. So, I speak English. I understood everything. I speak my language too. Always did… because that was my first language. And I was about 7½, almost 8, I guess, when I was at the residential school. Then nothing would come out because I was so traumatized. But I would think, you know, like… my grandma would come to me or different ones would come to me and say, “it’s not your fault.” She also said to me, “don’t go… be careful you guys, don’t go over there because they’re gonna get you. But just remember that whatever happens, it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault.” So that’s what I hear. And that’s what I teach as well. Because there’s that sprit about… that we have as a people. I think everybody has it, they just have to nurture it.