|Name||Judith Ann "Heart Warrior" Chosa|
, Minnesota , United States
|Last Modified||Juan Croniqueur|
Nov 16, 2012 04:52am
Native American - Pro Environment -
|Info||Ran for the EarthRIGHT party in 1990. |
Artist, poet, author, storyteller, activist, teacher of American Indian heritage
By ANGIE RIEBE
Mesabi Daily News
Last Updated: Wednesday, December 11th, 2002 07:29:12 PM
ELY � Heart Warrior Chosa was just a young girl at an American Indian boarding school � where nuns attempted to convert the children to Christianity � when she learned a lesson she has carried with her always.
Chosa, 57, lived at the boarding school near Chamberlain, S.D. from first through fourth grade. She and her brother had been sent there along with many other American Indian children.
The girls � who lived in a different area than the boys � were �brutalized� by the nuns, according to Chosa, who wrote of her experiences in her book �Seven Chalk Hills.�
There was one nun who was particularly cruel, Chosa says in her book. She called the nun �Naomi the Dragon,� and wrote of how the nun physically hurt the youngsters � pulling them by their hair and ears and traumatizing them in other ways, such as continually locking a claustrophobic child in a small dark closet.
Although Chosa was the �littlest girl,� she had been standing up for the other girls for some time, when one day she learned it was Sister Naomi�s birthday.
Chosa had long given up talking to the nuns, she recalled during a recent interview at her Ely home. Rather, she would use symbols to communicate � holding up objects to get across her points.
So she decided to find a symbol for Sister Naomi on her birthday. It would be �a symbol that would represent her,� Chosa wrote in her book. �And when she saw it she would see how really mean and evil she is.�
It was in between school sessions at the boarding school, and Chosa headed toward the nearby Missouri River to the �forbidden� Seven Chalk Hills � steep, harsh, dangerous embankments. She had made it to the fourth one after navigating the dry craggy terrain.
There she found a �miserable cactus... It was just like her,� Chosa said of the nun.
After much effort, she pulled up the small cactus and dragged it back to the school. Covered in dust and dirt and fearing punishment for her unkempt appearance, Chosa handed the cactus up to the nun saying �Happy birthday.�
Sister Naomi took the cactus and began sobbing uncontrollably, Chosa said. �You�re the first one who has ever thought of me on my birthday,� the nun said in a cracking voice.
�I stood there for a long time with my mouth gaping open,� Chosa wrote. �Then I knew, no matter how mean she was, I could never really hate her. I did not understand intellectually at the time that she was mean because no one ever loved her, but I felt it deeply and intuitively. I also knew that because I couldn�t hate her, it didn�t mean she would walk all over me either.�
�It was a major teaching for me,� Chosa said.
She later found further symbolism in the story. Cactuses live with very little water, and water is a symbol of love, she said.
Chosa � an artist, poet, author, storyteller, activist, and teacher of American Indian heritage � once ran for governor of Minnesota on a platform that included watershed issues.
Her background includes Ojibwe, Sioux, Lakota, Sauk and Fox, Metis � part Cree and part Scottish � and Irish roots, and her family owns the last and only legal residence in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Born Judith Ann Chosa, the daughter of Tommy Chosa, a legendary BWCAW fishing guide, she comes from a long line of ancestors who have been leaders. Her great-great uncle was part of the Chippewa Peace Commission that traveled to Washington D.C. after the signing of the Treaty of 1854, a land agreement between the Chippewa Indians of Lake Superior and the Mississippi and the United States government. And Chosa�s grandparents taught the early Ely immigrants how to survive in the Northwoods.
Chosa had a certain �intuition� early in her life. When she was 6 years old, she made a vow to the �heart center.�
�It was something I intuitively knew to do when I was 6,� she said.
In American Indian teachings � as well in other ancient cultures � there is an old belief that a swastika whirls in the center of everyone�s heart, Chosa said. The heart is the life force and the brain is the conscious force, she said. When everything is in harmony, the four spokes of the swastika � standing for the four directions � whirls around as it is meant to do.
However, when a person is �out of harmony,� for instance has done something wrong or evil, the spokes poke inwards and make the heart hurt, she said. �You can wear the spokes off.�
American Indians used the swastika symbol frequently in their beadwork. But after it became recognized as a Nazi symbol during World War II, it was no longer used in the art, Chosa said.
Chosa writes of her vow in her book: �When my heart hurts, I shall notice its cause and not do it or cooperate with it, even if it goes against my mother or society. I shall only do what makes my heart feel good, light and happy. I felt it to be a true vow that set me deeply in my ways.�
Following your heart is not always so easy, she said. �In today�s culture we�re up against a lot of stuff.�
But she has kept true to the vow she made as a child.
It was the start of Chosa�s �warrior�s path.�
Chosa�s vow is what helped keep her going through her troubled days at the boarding school.
She and her brother were the only two children who lived there year-round. The nuns �thought we were orphans.� In the winter, children who already spoke English were sent to the school, and in the summer, the �full bloods� who often only spoke their native language arrived, Chosa said.
�The worst crew of nuns was sent to care for the full-blooded, traditional children who were easily frightened because they came from gentle backgrounds,� Chosa writes in �Seven Chalk Hills,� published in 1985 � book one of a trilogy called �Heart of Turtle Island.�
�One of the first things the nuns did to them and to us was to chop off their hair and put them in uniforms... The full-blooded traditional children arrived with long, beautiful, shining, clean black braids� � a symbol of how much their parents cared for them. �The children cried when their hair was coarsely chopped off.�
From the start, Chosa stood up to the nuns, especially Sister Naomi, she said.
One day when Chosa was in first grade, the nun was about to throw the young girl who was claustrophobic in the closet. �I attacked her,� grabbing the cloth of her habit, Chosa said. �I swung around (the frock) like on a May poll.�
To get way from the nun �I belly-crawled under the beds� of the dormitory. Sister Naomi finally caught her by the hair, dragged her to the closet, and �flung me in.�
�That was the beginning of a four-year war,� Chosa said.
From then on, Chosa fought the nuns fiercely, she said. �I was a decoy for the other girls.�
She tried to help the other children fight for themselves, she said. But �the other girls didn�t understand. Plus my heart was vowed to the heart center.�
It was during her time at the boarding school that Chosa earned her name �Heart Warrior,� she said. It was a title given to her �from the spirits.�
When Chosa left the school, her family moved to the east side of St. Paul. It was culture shock. But her years at the school prepared her and strengthened her path, she said. She had already been through �four years of boot camp,� and she was a �warrior coming into society.�
After high school, Chosa attended the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where she received a bachelor�s of fine art degree in 1971. She then moved to Boulder, Colo., where she studied Tibetan-style art with Tibetans. The art had never been taught before to non-Tibetans, said Chosa, who received a master�s of fine art degree in 1976 from the Naropa Institute in Boulder.
She still practices the art form, where canvas is tied to poles. She is currently working on a painting at her Ely home. It depicts several scenes, including one with two human figures, one in dark and the other in light-colored clothing, standing for the �duality of existence.�
Much of Chosa�s art is inspired by her visions, she said. Art is her outlet. �I want to get my visions out.�
Chosa, the mother of two sons � Shaunessy and Sunrise Song � has conducted numerous workshops, poetry readings and talks in Minnesota and throughout the western United States.
One of her favorites is the Peter Pan workshop she gives to children in kindergarten through eighth grade. The workshop uses many large dolls handmade from cloth, yarn and beads and 11 sets in Peter Pan�s enchanted land, such as a large pirate ship.
It takes seven hours to assembled the sets, which depict various cultural traditions, teaching children about things such as powwows and the four seasons of Ojibwe food gathering.
She began giving the workshops in 1998. The children rotate through the sets and come up with their own stories in each. Chosa then asks them �What happened there?� and weaves their imaginary tales into �one big Peter Pan story.�
�I�ve loved Peter Pan since I was little,� said Chosa, who recently wrote a play called �Peter Pan at the Indian Village.�
She has also given talks on the world medicine wheel, which teaches of the interconnection and distinct features of different peoples of the world.
All cultures have their own �mystique and are interesting in their own way,� she said. �We should celebrate the uniqueness of our cultures, not try to kill them.�
Just as the separate organs of the body work together, but can harm one another, �the Earth has all different kinds of people, and it benefits all of us that we all make it. We�re all part of one body and that body is the Earth.�
Accepting other cultures and protecting the Earth has been part of Chosa�s family heritage.
Her grandparents ran a trading post at Basswood Lake during the Depression. They often showed European immigrants how to hunt and gather wild rice. �Our people taught them, my ancestors in particular,� Chosa said. �I�ve talked with old timers who have broken down crying saying the best time they every had was at my grandparent�s (cabin) in the woods.�
In the 1960s, Chosa joined the women�s liberation movement and became an Indian rights speaker. In 1970, she began studying the movement of the planets and still charts them today on a circular calendar in her home.
She has been a sundancer since 1976. As a sundancer, she takes part in an annual spiritual ceremony that includes four days of complete fasting � no food or water � prayer �for the world,� and �vigorous dancing in the hot, hot sun.�
She has sundanced at the place where the sacred white buffalo calf woman pipe is kept in South Dakota, and she is the carrier of one of only four �people�s pipes� in the entire Ojibwe Nation, she said. Carrying the pipe �for the people� is a responsibility entrusted by the spirits, she said.
Chosa has also held sundances in northeastern Minnesota, where water flows in three directions.
She even ran for governor in 1990 as the EarthRight Party candidate, focusing on issues involving watershed, the environment, women, the elderly, American Indians and people of color.
�Minnesota is the caretaker of the only fresh water source of its magnitude and purity in North America,� reads her campaign literature. As guardians of that water in the �heart of �Turtle Island�� � another name for the North American continent � there is a local responsibility to assure it is cared for and preserved, she said. �That�s why I ran for governor.�
Chosa has traveled throughout the United States, living with and learning from traditional native elders. In the late-1980s, she held women�s medicine and outdoor camping canoe trips in the BWCAW.
She was also a columnist for the Ojibwe News based in Bemidji, and has been published in several books, including one in the �Chicken Soup� series.
Recently she published a coloring book called �The Eagle Hatched in the Chicken Coop.� It tells the story of a chicken raised in the coop who eventually found his true roots. It sells for $10 at Lisa�s Second Floor Books and Chapman Street Books in Ely. There will soon be a sequel.
Chosa�s vow to the heart center has influenced her life, and she gravitates toward positive things.
She handcrafts wool Hudson Bay blanket coats � not only because they are tied to her Metis background, but because they have a �positive history ... That�s why I like making them.�
The colorful blankets were originally crafted by the Metis who were born in North America, moved to Scotland, became sheep herders and then returned to America, where they traded the blankets with the Lakota, Ojibwe and Cree for beaver pelts.
Making the coats is just one more art form for Chosa, one more way she keeps herself in harmony.
�I believe all people are potential artists in one field or another and that art making is an excellent tool to tune into the soul.�