Interviewee: Alice B. Eckelhawk
Interviewer: Marie Heyda
Date: November 18-21, 1977
Alice B. Eckelhawk, 37, described herself as Pawnee and Otoe Missouri Indian, and served as the State Area Coordinator for the IWY in Oklahoma. She attended the national convention to observe and voice opinions on the issues concerning Native American women. Interview includes discussion of the Oklahoma state conference and the anti-ERA faction overwhelming the women’s rights group, the Eagle Forum tactics, and the efforts of minority women during IWY. Ecklehawk also described her childhood and the ideas of “Reservation Indian” versus “Urban Indian.” Issues important to Eckelhawk included ethnic minorities at the IWY, education of Native American women, and supporting the ERA.
Alice B. Eckelhawk: My name is Alice B. Eckelhawk. I’m 37 and I am full blood Pawnee and Otoe Missouri Indian from the State of Oklahoma. The purpose for coming to this national IWY Convention in Houston was to actually see the total involvement of the whole women’s movement. Also to identify with the place where the Native American women of the United States. As a Native American Indian woman I am deeply concerned, a lot of the issues and namely concerned with the rights of the Indian women.
My interest and my affiliation with IWY began as State Area Coordinator in the State of Oklahoma. During the planning stages of these regional and state meetings the minority women had strong opposition while they were trying to stand an equal quota representation on the state delegation. During the meantime the anti-ERA group observed this, seeing and becoming aware that the strength of the pro-ERA was weakened there. Aside from that it was weakness in management and organization of the chair in the state that could have enhanced more effective direction toward a more successful campaign, convention, conference, state meeting for all women in the State of Oklahoma.
As it turned out the organized women of the Eagle Forum, Phyllis Schlafly’s directives, those that were anti-ERA walked in and walked out with a slate.
Marie Heyda: Was there anything you could’ve done to fight or frustrate that?
AE: Well, the minorities had been working together during the planning stages, they knew this was coming, they were trying to hang in there and just make their stand. But when they saw this difference building up they were ready at that time to initiate a definite stand. It was in the state meeting from my understanding and at this point I was unable to attend the state meeting because my sister was ill and I was at her side at that particular time. My mother, June Eckelhawk was with the State Coordinating Committee, one of the few Native American women on the committee, was in attendance.
At the state conference when they saw the Eagle Forum representatives there who were very, very much in strong force, the minorities withdrew from the main (unintelligible at 2:37) setting up their own resolution and nominating their own delegates. They challenges this state delegates by the conference, the main conference delegates, but that didn’t go through. So in the meantime they just only, more or less just had to take the setback of losing their strength there.
MH: Yeah. Do you think their state government was supporting the Eagle Forum in this discrimination?
AE: Well, Oklahoma is – I would say they probably had some input there because they are strong – Eagle Forum, John Birch-er, pro-white, there is racism there at, just at all levels. But it was during the travels of the State Area Coordinator that a lot of their, the opposition was bickering that was pressing down upon the Outreach Committee, anticipating that the Outreach Committee do all the outreach work and all the PR work, and yet they can sit at their capacities in their respective regions and not do a thing. The minorities set it out, they didn’t want to raise any repercussion in order to make this a more successful directive. As it turned out – wait.
MH: Did the Indian representations then come on their own, are they here for the Conference?
AE: Okay after the – they did, everybody that came down, the majority of the women that came down as far as pro-ERA women came down on their own. It didn’t make any difference how they managed to get here, they’re supportive of the issues. They’ve monitored the state delegation who have voted against all the issues, all the major issues. And aside from that the current state delegation was in opposition to federal funding, but yet they take the federal funds to, you know, supplement their trip down here to vote for their anti-issues.
Well as it stands this internal thing in the state resulted in the setback of the meeting. And in essence it couldn’t help but help the pro-women come together in stronger force and move from that direction. The women that have come to the national meeting are just exuberant, they’re exhilarated by the feeling, the impelling feeling of the whole movement and watching some of these major issues that have passed, and seeing, just being here firsthand to see this.
MH: But that minority in Oklahoma is being just brushed aside.
AE: It is – right. But the thing is the women, pros, are the minority, let’s encompass all the women now because we have some Jewish women, we have other ethnic groups. The pro women that are in minority groups are just exhilarated and they’re ready to go to work.
MH: Do you think that the passing of the pro-plan and Equal Rights Amendment goes through too, do you think that’s going to make much difference back home in Oklahoma now, when you go back?
AE: I think it will. It’s going to really, really stimulate the anti-pro planners, you know, these (unintelligible at 6:05) women. But on the other hand I think it’s going to make a stronger determination of those that didn’t have that and those that weren’t there.
MH: Yes, not quite so bold in their opposition.
AE: Right. The women that are with the women’s movement and all these issues, they have something to go on now, they have something definitely to back them, whereas the anti-, on the other side of the door the women who are strong anti-ERA and had the financial supporting of the Phyllis Schlafly, the Eagle Forum, John Birch, all these other organizations. But now here you see the women and you see the speakers, you see these issues, you feel this. It takes the mind to stand up and advocate for these issues, and then when it begins to move out to all the women you can’t bend that. Whereas the others have the financial –
MH: Do you think that when you women who are not in the delegation, official delegation of Oklahoma go back that you will have some new ways, techniques to fight your battles?
AE: No, I don’t think I anticipate ways and techniques and I don’t anticipate fighting battles because I feel that the feedback that I received from the state meetings that scared a lot of the women because of the scare tactics that that particular, the anti-issues, is not necessary. Because my emphasis is concentrate on the low income and minorities, all minorities, and you can do it in the simplest form; by being yourself, by being honest and truthful, and just spelling it out the best way you can in their language and so that they can understand that you do not have to scare them, you develop a trust relationship. And by being that example you are what you are, and if you aren’t for these issues you don’t have to tell anybody anything with scare tactics.
MH: Well Alice, I agree entirely with you. I think you’ve got to organize and have a vote.
AE: This will. But we can’t jump right into it right now. There are some preliminary steps in which we make the contact, begin to doing a lot of the groundwork, and then as we begin to move from there we can begin to be organized.
MH: Are the whites really a majority in Oklahoma? It’s my understanding that your Indians and other minorities together constitute a majority in Oklahoma, am I right? Or would you say no?
AE: As of maybe right now they may be, but on the other hand Indian people, the Indian women, I don’t believe they’re really that involved in the active movement, whether they be pro or con. To me I have not seen the visibility for what time I have been back.
MH: I was thinking just population-wise?
AE: I, I can’t speak for that because I’ve just been in Oklahoma just since March of this year, but it’s like returning back home. The point is the results of the Conference by seeing what has happened and knowing what I had experienced here to know where we can go, that’s where I’m keeping my eyes and my sight and my goal. Because it’s the women now that need to know if they’d like to –
MH: Alice, would you tell me a little more about your personal history? I’m curious how you got your education and where and you say you came to Oklahoma a few months ago. I’d like to know more about your background. Did you say you are a pure Pawnee?
AE: I’m full blood Indian. Yes.
MH: But not entirely Pawnee.
AE: (Pause in recording at 9:48) My family, both sides of the family come from the Pawnee Tribe. My parents have, my father has his bachelor’s degree in biological sciences, my mother is a homemaker as well as a professional businesswoman. In the earlier years it was just my sister and I, we traveled. My father is a seismologist and we traveled many (unintelligible at 10:12) through the travels because of his work in the oil business, I’ve been in better than 25 or more schools. So therefore I am not really, as a behavioral scientist would say, a Reservation Indian, much less an Urban Indian, although I can be, because I live in the city I probably classify as Urban Indian. But, you know, but I feel that I have a lot of flexibility, a lot of adaptability, more so than just the average stereotyped Indian person. I have been and lived on the Southern Ute Reservation. And now back in Tulsa again. I have not really been involved in the Indian issues, I’ve been aware of them so I’m becoming involved in the women’s issues more and more.
MH: Did you go on to college at all?
AE: I tried to go to college but I had difficulty with the financial funding from the federal agencies, which is one of the issues implemented by the minority Indian women today in the platform. And as far as pursuing that career I am going to take time out to work with the women of low income. I feel I am more of an asset there because a college degree, I’m just beginning, I don’t want to take time out to pursue it down there when there’s homework to do at home. I can take time now, I have that time and I’m going to make that time. As far as any career person I’ve not reached the career that I chose at one time, I’ve taken time out from there. I don’t need the status. I don’t need the glitter.
MH: What did you say, you picked the career you wanted, what is that?
AE: I have not reached the career I wanted. That was what I wanted at one time. I finished that. And now I’m not interested in being a career woman, just pursue my own professional goal. I’m more interested in seeing what can be done because it’s women on the, in this particular category that need some contact.
MH: I think you’re a marvelous example of what an Indian girl can become. I only wish I could get you to just talk to my Indian class when I’m teaching it. That probably wouldn’t be possible, right? (Unintelligible at 12:20)
AE: Well, maybe some time in the future, but eventually. While, the informative stages and taking all this experience back home with me, there are plans that are going through my mind right and left. As I said, they’re formulating. But eventually I hope to be self-sustaining and self-supporting, either as more so as a consultant aspirations or something of that nature, which I can maintain that flexibility and still be able to move around statewide to cover what I saw should have been tapped and been at the state meetings. Because of internal little situations and because of what happened that I would like not to see again. That I would like to see more Indian women represented from the State of Oklahoma and the way to do it is to just back and roll your sleeves up and get with it.
MH: Maybe you Indian women can show the Indian men a few ways, too.
AE: I think so and I think it’s time that, the time is right because the women’s movement as it is, and I think they –
MH: Do you think women were always quite on par with the Indian men, too, if I understand it correctly.
AE: Right, but then there are more coming in educated, with higher academic accomplishments, we’re stepping into the business professional capacities and becoming independently business professional people. We are right there with the men. Now I think to become doubly effective let’s both get with it.
MH: Yes. Well thanks so much.
End of interview.