Interviewee: Viola Peterson
Interviewer: Sister Marie Heyda
Date: November 20, 1977
Viola Peterson was from Flint, Michigan and a member of the Michigan delegation. Peterson was most interested in Native American women’s rights and needs. She served as the chairman of the Michigan Commission on Indian Affairs (MCIA) and at the time of the interview was the commissioner of the MCIA. Interview includes discussion of: Native American women in Michigan; Peterson’s support of most of the national plan of action with the exception of the sexual preference plank and abortion issue; and discrimination against women in the workplace.
Marie Heyda: “My name is…” Would you give us your name and something about your background?
Viola Peterson: Okay. My name is Viola Peterson. I’m from Flint, Michigan and I’m a member of the Michigan delegation to the International Women’s Year Conference of Houston, and my main work is in the Indian affairs and that’s probably primarily why I am a part of this. I am the past chairman of the Michigan Commission on Indian Affairs; at present I am a commissioner with the MCIA.
I’m vitally interested in all the concerns of women because of course they are doubly concerns for minority women. The problem that any woman has in equality or receiving the benefits of this country apply almost doubly to minority women, and Indians naturally have exceptional problems.
MH: Are the Indians of Michigan pretty well organized?
VP: At this time they’re becoming more so all the time. We have about 50,000 Indians in Michigan and only about 5 percent of them are on reservations. They’re mostly rural or urban Indians, as we refer to them.
MH: Is the conference here as you see it fulfilling your hopes and expectations? With the painting of the pro plan and –?
VP: Well, I didn’t support the entire pro plan. I supported almost all of it, and I particularly of course was pleased at the minority women’s point of view. I did have a couple of areas where I couldn’t support it, one I was quite opposed to. My main opposition was to the sexual preference. I guess maybe because of my age, my outlook or whatever, because I fear for the image it’ll give the women’s convention.
MH: For the teenager girls and that don’t know how to handle this.
VP: That’s right. I’m concerned about it. My other concern was I couldn’t vote on, I did not vote on the abortion issue.
MH: Did you ever suffer discrimination because you were a woman yourself, either in employment –?
VP: Oh yes, yes. Many years ago I worked for General Motors in an office, and I had what would be considered a reasonably good job at that time in general. And it was my unhappy lot to train the men who were to become my supervisors, and when I asked what would be wrong with my getting the job as supervisor, well, it just wasn’t General Motors’ policy, see. However, now things have changed.
MH: With the Affirmative Action, but a good deal of it still tokenism, isn’t it?
VP: Oh, I would think so. I believe so, because it’s just things I’ve seen, that women are still far below their male counterparts in receiving the right amount of salary.
MH: And they’re being pushed really down.
VP: Oh yes, I understand they’re losing ground in there. You see, whenever people start to make a gain, whether it’s women or Indians, immediately there is resistance.
End of Interview