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Last Standing Woman by Winona DaLuke: Analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1720 words Published: 11th Apr 2017

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Last Standing Woman by Winona DaLuke

Winona LaDuke is a famous social activist who majorly fights for indigenous rights. Born in California and mainly raised in Oregon, she did not move to White Earth until 1982. Although her father was an Ojibwe, at first, she was not accepted by many because she did not know the language nor a lot of people in White Earth. Gradually she gained respect with her participation in social issues. In 1996 and 2000, she acted as the vice-presidential contender on the Green Party label led by Ralph Nader. Her White Earth reservation work encompasses creating community-based organizations, as well as engaging in court cases. Noteworthy, she writes both fiction and non-fiction. Last Standing Woman, published in 1997, is among her best-known works. The book traces seven Anishinaabe generations’ lives.[1]

Women and Religion

Religion infiltrated each part of women’s lives. The beliefs the women held had a great influence on the way they viewed themselves and the world. It implies that religion had an effect on every role and thing that was connected to women’s lives. It was because of the religion that women associated people, dreams, animals, and plants with a deeper meaning. Their religion brought unique meaning to all the things that they encountered each day. Often, women participated in different ceremonies, which made them be associated with the importance they held (19). Moreover, it was a devout lifestyle to participate in religious rituals. These included the Pow Wow, Sunrise ceremony, Shake Tent ceremony, fasting vision quests, as well as the rite of passage or initiation ceremonies. Different religious songs were also sung in the book to demonstrate the importance of chants and singing songs in their religion. In page 75, Charlotte rocks her sister while softly singing a hymn she had learnt from Agwajiing’s religious instruction. This is an indication that the women were very serious on religion and it affected many aspects of their lives.

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The use of the “pipe” or the act of “smoking” in the book was used between tribes to signify many important decisions. For example, Shingobay (the chief) does not smoke the pipe and returns it to decline alliance with the Dakota to wage war against the white men (LaDuke, 32) Likewise, in a bid to demonstrate their honesty, women had the tendency of using tobacco. It was believed that tobacco went before a question, prayer, or request that was to be received peacefully. Whenever the women were making a request, tobacco was used and this was seen as the most respectful and honorable way of presenting requests. Considering that religion made the native people to treat all things with high regard, the women placed spiritual significance on various animals including the eagle. However, there is a need to emphasize that women were only being obedient to the way of life as opposed to being bound by religion. They were a nature element. They were at the forefront of advocating for animals and birds’ rights.

Essentially, the role religion played among the native women changed significantly after the Christians, missionaries, and other visitors arrived. The event involving Father Joseph Gilfillian and Philomene portrays the importance of tribal rituals. Father Gilfillian became furious of the fact that the tribal people left the church to practice their rituals on a particular Sunday. Because of this event, instructions were made to disrupt and get rid of the “heathen rituals” (53).

Basic Functions of Women

Based on the book, the stories of the women are notably remarkable when compared to the American women’s role in public life. The women were strong, in a sense independent, and their families protected them. In the beginning of the book, when Ishkwegaabawiikwe is treated harshly by her husband, there is a sense of “harshness” spoken in the book against men who treat women poorly. Men who would treat their wives with disrespect would be disrespected themselves within their communities and especially within their families (26). Another example of a strong tribal woman is Lucy St. Clair who is said to be confident, well educated, and fearless. She is shown yelling at the tribal government, calling them “stupid bastards” for trying to give away more land (149). Even the book itself tells that the women were always outspoken and would support their men in their ventures of protecting their lands.

It was also the role of the women to care for their husbands, their children, business matters, and many more. Their roles were not only based within their families but within their communities as well. They would tend those who were sick, in need of help, gather the sick ones and offer them medicine, etc..

Within religion, the White Earth Anishanaabe women singers embodied a vision of solid leadership. Regardless of the fact that the lead singer in all the performances was a man, the women in the singing group were required to stand, as well as make public addresses in community gatherings and wakes. Essentially, the women’s basic functions were supported fully by the older men who offered their support from the sidelines. Because of the significance of the women’s basic functions, they were valued highly as successful leaders in the cultural, political, as well as spiritual arenas (Salaita).

How the Introduction of Christianity and Missionaries Affected the Women

Following the arrival of the Christians and missionaries, hymn-singing groups appeared. Women played a central role in these groups. Consistent with the wider cultural folklorized critique, the White Earth Anishanaabe women have always been deliberate in attempting to address the divisive religion boundaries in their lives, as well as through their music (Salaita). After the arrival of the missionaries and Christians, there are both passionate non-Christians as well as Christians; some of these can be characterized as the traditional religion practitioners. A majority of the women became Protestant Episcopalians or Roman Catholics. By joining these religions, women became detached from the strict religion view and started practicing what the missionaries and Christians were doings. While this caused criticism from the traditional elders, the women were comfortable with their new way of life. In page 69 and 70, there is a narration between the white people and the locals. Evidently, the locals are irritated with the whites as they are ruling them forcefully and confiscating what they own. The local women are therefore afraid of carrying out their normal activities as usual because of fear.

The Meaning of the Book’s Title to the Women

The book’s title is powerful and through it, the lives of 7 Anishinaabe generations has been presented. There is a lot of information beginning from the first contact they had with the Whites during the 1860s until the amazingly utopian climax during the early next century’s conditions. The title, Last Standing Woman, portrays the significance women had in the society. LaDuke, through the powerful title, finds ways for the women to conquer the circumstances in which they live and provide support for each other. Following a presentation on the lives of different women mentioned in Last Standing Woman, the chronicle by LaDuke moves to the drums beat symbolizing Native culture, as well as its survival regardless of the odds (Biegert).

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Many people take it that through this narration, the author is advocating for and supporting the vital role that women have in this society. After reading the book, women would themselves feel encouraged to survive, adapt, and overcome despite the challenges they face daily. The women characters in the book are incredibly strong since they have the ability to overcome alcoholism, death of the loved ones, diabetes, starvation, abuse, and adversity among others. The book is clear on highlighting the strength and history of the Anishinaabe, as well as the adversity they experience as opposed to the loss and sadness.


In summary, Last Standing Woman followed the 7 generations in order to show the gradual changes that the people had experienced, particularly after the arrival of the missionaries, Christians, and other visitors. At the start, the strong affirmation women had to religion and their basic functions is evident. However, people started embracing the foreigners’ way of life gradually until they were left with literally no solid identity. The Native Americans were teased and tricked by the White settlers out of their cultural land and methodically set out to ruin their culture. In this book, LaDuke takes the readers on the journey from hardships to overcoming obstacles as the nation attempts to keep its culture, land and tribal rights. In the author’s note, LaDuke mentions that there are some characters that are true and, therefore, the reader can actually connect the story to lives of these women. Essentially, the book can be seen as commanding narrative of the people’s heritage. Also, the reader can clearly gain an insight regarding the native women’s strength to survive, overcome and adapt. People have a lot to learn from reading this book.

Works Cited

“Winona LaDuke.”Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2015.

LaDuke, Winona. Last Standing Woman. Stillwater, MN, U.S.A: Voyageur Press, 1997. Print.

Salaita, S. “Digging Up the Bones of the Past: Colonial and Indigenous Interplay in Winona Laduke’s Last Standing Woman.” American Indian Culture and Research Journal. 26 (2002): 21-44. Online Journal.

Biegert, C. “A Warrior Woman: Last Standing Woman.” Resurgence London Navern Road. (1998): 54-55. Online Journal.

[1] “Winona LaDuke.”Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2015.


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