Interviewee: Joleen Cate
Interviewer: Ann J. Lane
Date: November 18-21, 1977
Joleen Cate, 28, was born in Nebraska but later moved to Olympia, Washington. She was a student at Evergreen State College at the time of the interview. Cate attended the conference as an assistant to Jackie Delahunt, a delegate from Washington. Cate was active in the Native American movement in Washington State and identified as an Oglala Sioux. Cate hoped to become a lawyer specializing in Native American law. Interview includes discussion of: Cate’s approval of the conference and the role Native American women played; her hopes for the Carter Administration; her family background; Cate’s experience of discrimination against Native Americans, and how she witnessed discrimination against Chicanos.
Ann J. Lane: –at the downtown Holiday Inn, and I’m interviewing Joleen Cate, who is going to give me her name, address, age, occupation.
Joleen Cate: My name is Joleen Cate. I live at Olympia, Washington, and I’m a student at Evergreen State College.
AL: Tell me why you’re here.
JC: First of all I’m down here as a runner for Jackie Delahunt, who is a delegate for the Washington women’s delegation. That’s what I’m here for, is just to do errands and get everything typed up and things like that, just extra jobs.
AL: Does that mean you got selected because you’ve been active in that campaign or in the women’s movement back home?
JC: I got selected because I’m active in the Native American movement back home, and I’m involved in quite a few various things back there and my name was mentioned before, so that’s how they knew me and that’s how they got a hold of me.
AL: And what is your background.
JC: I’m Oglala Sioux, and I was born in Nebraska, came out to Washington with my parents, and then I’ve just been traveling all around and recently I’ve been going to school and going to become a lawyer, specializing in Native American law.
AL: Are you happy with the way things are going here?
JC: Yes, I am, I’m very happy. I think that the Native American women especially have things really put together and organized and I’m really glad to see that. And as far as women in general, I think it’s going very well for everybody concerned so far.
AL: What do you think is going to happen when it’s all over, in terms of Carter and Congress and short-run politics, and what do you think is the impact of this convention on the larger scale?
JC: I’m really unsure. I think with the Carter administration that there’s a lot of hope. I think that it would be very positive as opposed to any other president that could have been in. I think that things will be happening, especially with Rosalynn Carter. And the impact that it will have, is that the question?
AL: Yeah, in the long run do you think this is an important event?
JC: Oh yes, this is history in the making, definitely, yes. This is the beginning of kind of the end. I really see it as coming to a head now.
AL: What’s the end? What do you picture from your perspective as a rather young – how old are you?
JC: I’m twenty-eight.
AL: What do you see as the ultimate goal for yourself and for your community and for all of us?
JC: I’m strictly speaking now of just women in general. I would say something definitely about Native American women, but first of all by an end I mean that I really do think that women will get their equal rights and the ERA will – I don’t expect all the things will be passed, however I think the majority of things, the things that are most important to most of the women will definitely come to a head. This is what I mean is by the end we’ll have this, just like the women’s suffrage, as far as relating back to how it was then and how it will be for us now. That’s how I see it.
AL: Is that in terms of ERA only, or do you mean the whole spectrum of the demands here? I mean, suffrage took sixty years, seventy years to get passed.
JC: That’s true, I guess it did.
AL: And actually the ERA started in 1920, so we’re up to fifty years for the ERA, but when you say equal rights, you mean in terms of employment, access to the professions, human relations, child rearing, the whole gamut?
JC: All of those things.
AL: The whole thing you think is going to happen in the next few years?
JC: Yes, I do.
AL: Okay, and what about the Native American women?
JC: Native American women have something facing them that the majority of women here don’t in that they are discriminated against just because first of all they are Indian; second of all they are women. We have to overcome this discrimination that has been tagged on us as stereotyping, things like that, and that’s going to take a lot longer; a lot longer than the rights that the women are crying for now.
AL: How do your parents feel about your activities? Oh, I hit a sore spot.
JC: Yes, because back in Nebraska it was very unpleasant for them, being Indians, and what they faced they didn’t want us to face, my brothers and sisters. So when they moved to Washington they moved into a white community and became involved in various white activities.
AL: May I ask the occupation of your parents?
JC: Yes, my dad is a plumber, and my mother doesn’t work now, but she did in factories and things like that. They just didn’t want us kids to go through the same thing that they had to go through, and we were told to say that we were not Indians if we were asked and things like that. So now that I’ve been back in school – went back to college and I learned about all these things. Well, you know, when you educate a person you see what has been happening. So this to me is something that I’m going after. They’re sitting okay now and they’re very happy and they’re very content, and they don’t want that to be disturbed.
AL: And they see you identifying yourself with the Native American women as causing trouble for you? Do you think that’s true, that it will?
JC: My dad thinks that it would, yes, my dad sees it as hindering my future. He thinks that it will prevent me from getting to where I want to go, and of course like I said, I want to become a lawyer. Granted I’ll become a lawyer, he says, but I won’t be able to make the money that lawyers make. And of course he’s thinking strictly in terms of the white person and not as the Indian.
AL: Would you say that in certain ways being a Native American young woman who wants to be a lawyer at this moment in time is probably an advantage? Maybe in your parents’ generation, had your mother wanted that kind of a career for herself she would have been blocked, but for you there may be supports that your parents may not recognize. You might do better in a full professional creative sense doing what you are doing.
JC: Well, definitely now as opposed to when if that opportunity would have been for them, but that doesn’t mean that there’s strictly an advantage for me compared to the people now in this time.
AL: How about your brothers and sisters, how many are there?
JC: I have two brothers and a sister.
AL: And where are they in terms of age?
JC: I have an older brother, a year old, he’s twenty-nine, and I have a brother twenty-seven, and a sister twenty.
AL: Are they involved at all in this, or share your views?
JC: Not really. However, they want to be. My oldest brother wants to be. He’s in real estate, and he feels too that if he starts getting into the Indian movement or sticking up for the Indians, then that would hinder his opportunities in making sales and people would dislike him. And in Washington things do not have a very good rapport with the middle class or upper middle class people.
AL: Where did your parents grow up?
JC: My mother did some growing up in Pennsylvania, but mostly in Nebraska for both of my parents.
AL: And they stayed there until fairly recently? Or you grew up in Washington?
JC: I actually was raised in Nebraska until I was about seven years old, and it was after that they moved. We went to Idaho first, and then Washington.
AL: And your sense of identification came with college?
JC: Well actually, my mother has always said that I’ve been different. Many times she said she made a mistake by taking me away from my people. So, I guess I always have wanted to identify myself as an Indian but was told not to, and then with the education it has really brought it out.
AL: What was it like going to school with both of those discriminations sitting on you?
JC: It was very bad. For one thing, when my mother said do not tell them that you’re Indian, I was asked in class by this teacher what nationally I was and I just said American. And of course he kept pressing me, and I used to wear a lot of jewelry so he thought that I was gypsy.
AL: You could be a lot of things, with your coloring.
JC: Yeah, and so all the same I was tagged as somebody different, given whatever it was. I didn’t have very good education just because they saw me as being something different. My youngest brother got out of high school without learning to really read. He can read, but he’s very, very slow and a lot of words he can’t pronounce, which I think is really a shame.
AL: Of course a lot of blonde, blue-eyed kids in this country now are coming out of high school not knowing how to read.
JC: That’s true too. I have to agree with you. I’m not saying that just happens to Indians or minorities in general.
AL: I’m sure your point is valid, that is the obstacles that were placed in front of you made learning a little more difficult.
JC: And it did. The town that I grew up in was Moses Lake and we had a lot of Chicanos in that town, and they were treated very unfairly. I was really sad. And so, with that intense discrimination that they had just against the Chicanos (outside interruption – taping paused)–
AL: I forgot where we were. Oh, Chicanos.
JC: Yeah, with the community against the Chicano people, it made it bad for just everybody who was a minority or looked different, and so there were very strong biases against –
AL: What was the predominate ethnic –
JC: I would say it was Chicano. In school, in Moses Lake, it was Chicano.
AL: Who were the ones who had the privileged positions? What was their ethnic background?
JC: They were white.
AL: We’re talking about Nebraska?
JC: No, this is Moses Lake, Washington. It was predominantly white.
AL: Were there many Native Americans when you grew up, or you were it, your family, in this community?
JC: Well, in Moses Lake there were a few Indians there, but very few. There wasn’t that many. And of course in Nebraska my father would always go up to Pine Ridge Reservation and bring back the Indians and employ them for working, so I was always around the Indians at that time in Nebraska.
AL: Did you know your grandparents?
JC: Yes. I didn’t know them on my father’s side. They had died. And my grandfather is dead now. I didn’t know him that well. And my grandmother, there’s no communication between us.
JC: For the same reason as my parents.
AL: Oh, she wants you to melt away. That’s very sad.
JC: Yes, it is. Once in a while she’ll send us things and tell us who our relatives are.
AL: Do you have that desire to make contact again with relatives?
JC: I would love to, yes, and eventually I will. But there are other things that are really more important, and I think that takes up too much of my time right now.
AL: Where are the largest numbers of Native Americans from your particular background?
JC: In South Dakota; Wounded Knee.
AL: Have you any idea what their position was in the last struggles, the Wounded Knee struggles?
JC: Oh, yes.
AL: They were there.
JC: You’re talking about the last episode that happened at Wounded Knee, yes, there was a lot of – I really don’t know if I should talk about it because I don’t know that much about it. I mean, what I know is very little in comparison to what really went on, the whole thing. What it basically came down to is the injustice with the Indians that was happening. I can tell you a few cases that started it, which was Wesley Bad Heart Bull, who was stabbed in front of seven witnesses by a white man, and when he was taken to court he just got it for disrupting the peace and a small fine. And the Indian died. He was murdered.
Now, when this went to court and trial and everything – they got it back into court – a lot had been shown there that the Indians just were not being treated fairly inside the courts, and this is what kind of started the whole thing. You could kill an Indian and get a fine.
AL: Are there any conflicts for you between your identification as an Indian and your feeling that within the Indian community women are not treated properly?
JC: No, not for me. That could be true with others, and I have heard that but not for me. I don’t think not among my people anyway, the Sioux. They treat their women very well and they’re highly respected, and of course in the tribal government they are part of that and that is part of the decision making. So, women are for sure on that just because – you know, it’s all been that way in the past and that hasn’t changed and they’re still making decisions. They felt it was always needed to have a woman’s point of view in there.
AL: Do you find any areas of the issues that are being covered in the conference here not to your liking?
JC: No, not really. The ones I would say that I didn’t like, I probably haven’t looked at, that I’m not too popular about. But I really don’t care either way, and I couldn’t fully (unintelligible) right now but I just look at the basic issues.
AL: Well, thanks very much. I much enjoyed it.
End of Interview