Sharon Day was born in 1951 in Northern Minnesota. Both of her parents were enrolled members of Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe. She grew up with her culture, but not her religion, since it was against federal law for Indigenous Americans to practice their religion until 1978. Throughout her life, Sharon has been an activist: against war, and in favor of women, LGBTQ people, indigenous Americans, and the life-sustaining, mystical powers of water.

After a fractured childhood, Sharon ended up in recovery for alcoholism at the age of 21, which led her to study chemical dependency and administration at the University of Minnesota. When her brother Michael tested positive for HIV in 1987, Sharon discovered the total lack of HIV education or prevention for Native Americans. In response, Sharon helped create what became the Indigenous People's Task Force (IPTF), where Sharon has served as executive director since 1990.

In the spirit of Ojibwe tradition, whereby women are responsible for taking care of the water, Sharon has since 2011 led fifteen water walks to bring healing to the natural world, and attention to humanity’s destructive effect on the environment. She sees each water walk, which involves walking, praying and singing from the headwaters of a river to its mouth, as a spiritual journey in the name of love. In addition, Sharon is an artist, musician and writer. She edited the anthology, Sing! Whisper! Shout! Pray! Feminist Visions for a Just World.

In honor of her work and vision, Sharon has been honored with numerous awards such as the Red Ribbon award from the National Native American AIDS Prevention Resource, and the Alston Bannerman Fellowship Award to honor and support longtime activists of color. In 1988, the Governor of the Minnesota, along with the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul, proclaimed an entire day in Sharon’s honor.

OUTWORDS interviewed Sharon at the IPTF office during a heavy snowstorm – par for the course for native Minnesotans, but quite a thrill for our California team. At times, the interview had to wait for the sound of tree branches striking the window to subside. But Sharon kept us riveted with her quiet, powerful testimony to the healing powers of water, and with her call to honor our planet while there is still time.


Natalie Tsui: Speed.
Sharon Day: Wow.
Betsy Kalin: Speed? Okay, great. The first question is if you could say your name, and also your date of birth, and where you're born.
Sharon Day: My name is Sharon Day. My Ojibwe name is Nagamoo Ma’aingen,. and I was born in Littlefork, Minnesota.
Betsy Kalin: Great. Thank you. Did you say the date that you were born?
Sharon Day: [00:00:30] No. I was born on October 3rd, 1951.
Betsy Kalin: Great, thank you. Our first question gets into a little bit of background about you. Can you talk about your childhood and what it was like?
Sharon Day: [00:01:00] Yeah. Well, I was born in Northern Minnesota. Both of my parents are enrolled members of Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe, which is located sixty miles south of International Falls. I lived there until I was about 15 years old. We did everything that most families did at that time, large family, many siblings. We harvested wild rice, picked berries. My dad was a guide, and a trapper, and a woodsman. My mom took care of me and my siblings.
Betsy Kalin: Great. Who are the most important figures for you in your life?
Sharon Day: [00:02:00] Well, my grandmother, Effie Day. She was about 85 years old when she died. I would spend summers with her. I don't know if they were trying to get rid of me, or my grandmother loved to have me live with her in the summer, I don't know. I lived with my grandmother. She didn't like to speak English. She only liked to speak Ojibwe, although she could speak some English.
Then, she was the most kind and gentle person I ever met. She had many hardships in her life. My grandfather, who I never met, and my father, and two of my uncles were all killed. Yet, she could have been a very bitter woman, but she was not. She was kind, and gentle, and loving. I desire to be like her as I age.
Betsy Kalin: That's great. That's really beautiful. You also mentioned in the questionnaire that your father was an important figure.
Sharon Day: [00:03:00] Yeah. My dad was really brilliant. He played seven musical instruments all by ear. Like I said, he was a guide, he was a guide for Governor Perpich, and judges, and lawyers. I think the only time he was really happy was when he was in the woods.
He was also a practicing alcoholic and so very difficult at times to be around. There was a time where he was angry at one of my dogs. It was the only dog I’d at that point. He was really angry. I was in the house reading, I went outside and yelled at everyone to go in the house. As soon as I did it, terror overtook me because, at that time, nobody yelled at their parents.
They all went in the house, even my dad. My dog and I went walking. Eventually, we had to go home because it was starting to get dark. We went in the house, it was quiet, and Everyone was eating dinner. I sat down and ate, and not a word was said. A week went by. My dad went to town on Friday night, he came home on Sunday night, and I thought, "Now is when I'm going to be killed."
He called me to him. I went to him, stood in front of him, and he said to me, "I'm very proud of you. You loved your dog. You stood up for him. That's what you have to do in life because nobody is going to do it for you." That was all that was ever said about it. I think it was about 11 years old, and it was just so important to me that I'll never forget that moment.
Betsy Kalin: Wow. Do you want a Kleenex or anything? You have a little bit of-
Sharon Day: [00:05:00] I have a little bit. Yeah, my eyes are dry.
Betsy Kalin: Okay, that's great. Then, you also mentioned your foster parents.
Sharon Day: [00:05:30] Yeah. When I was probably two or three years old, I was in a foster home for a couple of years. I think I went home when I was six. Back in those days, the government was very powerful. I think one out of every four native American children were placed in foster care during that period of time. My mother was going to leave my father. She went to the county, and said she wanted help. They put all of us in foster homes, And that was the help that they gave her.
My foster parents were the pillars of the community. White folk who only took Indian kids as foster children. I remember one day, I was outside playing in the driveway. The minister's wife came over, they were visiting inside. We're probably five or six-year-old, me and her son were outside, and he started to throw rocks at me, he said that I was a dirty Indian. I marched myself into the house, I looked in the mirror. For sure, I was different. I was different than anybody, than my foster parents.
What they did was it was just before the fourth of July. They dressed me and my brother up. I had a skirt on, and some kind of a blouse, some of the sash. Then, they put headbands on us, and little feathers. They marched us in the fourth of July parade. Now, I don't know if that was supposed to make us feel good about who we were, but I just remember it being the most ... Even at that age at five or six years old that it was so awkward to be in ... Of course, we're the only Indian kids in town. To have all these people staring at us, but we did it.
Betsy Kalin: [00:07:30] I mean, you had mentioned that was one of the important moments. How did that make you feel? How did that affect you later?
Sharon Day: Well, first of all, it was the first time that I was aware that I was an Ojibwe person, although I don't know if I even had that word at the time, but as this kid said that I was an Indian. Secondly, that going to somebody to protest about it didn't always work out the way that you wanted it to.
Betsy Kalin: [00:08:00] Yeah. I mean, I can imagine that it would have been like you're different, and you need to be made an example of, and just parade your difference.
Sharon Day: Yeah. I don't think we felt that way. Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: [00:08:30] Another thing that you talked about in your childhood were things that you lacked and feeling like you didn't have security. You were always treated well, and you didn't get to be with your family.
Sharon Day: [00:09:00] I think that when we lived in Cook and Angora, in the Iron Range in Northern Minnesota, we were the only native people in the towns that we lived in mostly. We always felt sort of different. I think, just the ... Let me go back. I believe that security is really important for children. I'm not sure that I ever felt very secured whether I was with my parents or whether I was in the foster home. While my foster parents were seen in the community as being the pillars of the community, in their own personal life, they had many flaws, and they hurt many children.
I feel like I didn't have that security when I was with them. When they knew that we were going back home, I remember I was three to six years old, I remember my foster dad would say to me, "We're going to go to Mexico. You and I are going to go to Mexico, and know, you will look like everybody else, and nobody will find us." Of course, I did go home, but there was that feeling of insecurity of when my parents would come to visit, they would say to us, "Don't get in their car." Of course, they never invited them into the house.
There was always that tension. As I said, my father was a practicing alcoholic, while there were periods of time where everything was wonderful, there was also periods of great tragedy within the home. I try to do my best as parent and as grandparent to create that safety for my children.
Betsy Kalin: Thank you. Please talk about your indigenous roots. What are the history of your people?
Sharon Day: [00:11:30] Yeah. The Ojibwe people, we came from the eastern seaboard long before contact with Europeans. We followed prophecies that said, "Go west until you come to a place where food goes on the water." When I was a kid, my dad would sit us all down outside on the ground. Then, he would tell us these stories about where we came from, and he would draw it in the sand. Then, after he'd tell us the story, then, he'd sing a song. Then, we'd all dance.
Those learning about who we were, that was the only place where we did learn where we were was when my dad would tell us the stories because he remembered. It was against the law, it was against federal law for us to practice our religion from 1890 until 1978. When I was a child, it was still against the law for that to happen. Then, things began to change in the '60s and the '70s. When the law was passed in 1978, we began to have ceremonies.
The first ceremony I went to was about 1975. It was called Midewiwin ceremonies, which is the Grand Medicine Society. There were about 30 of us in the teepee out in the woods in Wisconsin. Then, several years later, the law was passed. Today, there are thousands and thousands of people who go to ceremonies. That rekindling of the resurgence in our culture has really been incredible and very powerful.
In terms of my own sexual identity, in our teachings, women and men were created at the same time. If we're created at the same time, then one cannot be more than or better than the other. Those teachings have really ... I try to share those teachings with many people because it's very different than western society where women was created from Adam's rib, and was always not as good as. If homophobia comes from sexism, then we were lacking that among many American Indian tribes.
Betsy Kalin: When did you realize your sexuality? Did you ever identify as two-spirit? Do you want to talk about that term, and if it works or doesn't work?
Sharon Day: [00:14:30] Yeah. I have 13 siblings, and two of us are gay. My younger brother, he's four years younger than me, he always knew, and It wasn't quite so clear to me. When my parents went to town, they would be gone for maybe six hours. It was an all-day event. While they were gone, me and my brother, we would dress up in our parents' clothes. I would wear my dad's suit and tie, and be Elvis, and he would be Diana. He’d wear my mom's clothes.
I just thought it was just kind of a thing. Then, my little sisters would all be the Supremes, the back-up singers. We just had a bond. We also knew to put every-
Betsy Kalin: We have to stop. What is that sound?
Natalie Tsui: Is it snow blowing perhaps?
Sharon Day: Yeah. It shouldn't be. There shouldn't have been that much snow.
Natalie Tsui: I think you're right. It's like this high-pitch steel
Betsy Kalin: [00:15:30] It's usually like that leaf-blowing we found, but I think-
Sharon Day: It is, but I don't know what they're blowing right now.
Natalie Tsui: I know. It's not that much snow.
Sharon Day: It hasn't snowed, right?
Natalie Tsui: I'm going to cut.
Betsy Kalin: Wear the suits. Then, you start talking about your parents. When they go away, they go away for six hours. Was that correct?
Sharon Day: Yeah. I think the question was about-
Betsy Kalin: It was about when did you realize-
Sharon Day: When did I know? Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: [00:16:00] ... your sexual identity, and then, did you identify as two-spirit?
Sharon Day: [00:16:30] Yeah. When my parents would go to town, my brother and I would dress up in their clothes. I would wear my dad's suit and tie. He would wear my mother's dresses. I would be Elvis, and he would be Diana, and our little sisters would be the Supremes. We knew that to put their clothes away before they came home, we knew something about that.
My brother identified as a gay man from the time he was four years old. I didn't really figure things out until I was in my late 20s. When I did come out, it was as a political act. I didn't come out in a relationship. I was running for the State of Minnesota, and was involved in politics, and had been a delegate to the National Women's Conference in Houston, I think it was around 1977. I met a number of lesbians then. I worked for Karen Clark's election campaign every year after that. I just met all these women, and I managed the softball team at a halfway house that I worked at. One day I looked around, and half of the team were dykes, and like, "How did that happen?"
I thought about it. I was pretty muc ... I was in recovery, I got into recovery when I was 21. I went to all these classes on human sexuality. I would always ask myself the question, "Could that be me?" I think, " No." As time went on, I began to consider it more. It really was a very inward journey. When I did make the decision, I had a party. I was going to live my life in solidarity with my lesbian sisters, and I would continue to be ... What's that word when people don't have sex?
Betsy Kalin: Celibate.
Sharon Day: I would continue to be celibate. That lasted for about six months after I had my coming-out party.
Natalie Tsui: Wait. That's the refrigerator? Can we turn it off?
Betsy Kalin: Yup, I will handle it.
Betsy Kalin: Okay.
Sharon Day: I stayed celibate for six months after my coming-out party.
Betsy Kalin: [00:19:00] Then, what happened?
Sharon Day: Then, I was at a woman's coffeehouse, I met a native woman who was a singer. That was that.
Betsy Kalin: Great. Then, do you want to talk about ... Did you identify as two-spirit?
Sharon Day: [00:19:30] Yeah. When I came out in the early '80s, there was no such term as two-spirit. You were a lesbian, and that's how I identified. I did call my brother, my older brother, I asked him, "What was the Ojibwe word for lesbian?" He said, "I'll call you back." He called me back in about half an hour, and he said it was [non-English language], which translates into a special kind of woman.
The term two-spirit did not come about until 1990. The first contemporary two-spirit gathering happened here in Minneapolis, right here in Minneapolis in 1988. A friend of mine, Lee Staples, and I, we had gone to New York or to Washington DC for the National Coming Out March in 1987. When we were there, there was about 12 of us Native Americans carrying a banner in the middle of the march. We had a sunrise ceremony, pipe ceremony. The 12 of us just felt so powerful. There are thousands of people that marched, but the 12 of us native people, we just felt so wonderful.
I thought to myself, "Well, why can't we have a gathering?" I spent the next year planning it. I was working on a book that Barbara Smith had commissioned, myself and three other, we were all lesbians. We're working on this book, which didn't get publish for another 10 years. The National Women’s Studies Association was going to have their conference here in 1988. We planned our gathering in conjunction with that because they would be bringing many people to town.
Betsy Kalin: That's great. Do you want to talk a little bit about what the first gathering was like?
Sharon Day: [00:21:30] Yeah. That first gathering was called The Basket and the Bowl. We had Beth Brant who was a Mohawk Writer, and she was so wonderful, she agreed to come. Barbara Smith was here, Merle Woo. I mean, there were 90 people in total. There were Native American people who came from New York, there were people who came from Canada. Our first gathering, 90 people, and It was just so wonderful. That gathering has continued every year since then, alternating between the states in Canada. Yeah, that's, I think, the answer about that one.
Betsy Kalin: [00:22:30] Okay, thank you. Then, how do you identify today?
Sharon Day: I identify as an Ojibwe woman, first of all. Secondly, I would like it to say on my marker when I die, "She was a good old dyke."
Betsy Kalin: [00:23:00] That's awesome. That's awesome. I love that. You had a pretty rough childhood, which you were talking about. What was it that gave you the strength to become the powerful woman and the good old dyke that you are today?
Sharon Day: [00:23:30] Well, so much of what has sustained me over the years really goes back to our spiritual teachings. That idea that we are created equal men and women has really been a major ... When I was a kid, I only had three brothers, but I always played with my brothers. I just figured my dad and my mother taught us all how to do everything. I learned how to cut wood and hot water. My brothers learned how to cook, I mean, we learned everything. We were always treated equally at home.
It was only until I moved to the cities when I was 16 and began to be around other people. I think I was 18, and a professor in college asked me what were the gender roles among native people. I had to think about it. I recall my grandmother, my Aunt Alice built her own house. She didn't like to speak English much either, but she traveled to Alaska, and to the East Coast, and her children were in California. She traveled all over, but she did what she wanted to do. Nobody ever said anything about my Aunt Alice, "She's trying to be like a man." Everyone just accepted her the way she was, strong woman. My mom and my aunts were strong women. I didn't really know there was a difference until I moved to St. Paul and saw how other people were treated and when the professor asked me, So I began to study.
It really goes back to the spiritual teachings. When I did come out, I didn't tell my mom right away. One day, I had been appointed to the St. Paul Human Rights Commission. This was like 1987 or thereabout. The first thing I thought I should do as a commissioner was to try to get LGBT rights restored in the City of St. Paul. We had them earlier, and then, they were lost. so, I thought that should be my job as a commissioner.
Back then, everybody read the newspaper every morning. After the commission meeting, the next morning, I pick up the newspaper at 6:00 in the morning, and was on the front page of the metro section, and I had been married, it said, "Sharon Day-Garcia, member of the LGBT task force says blah, blah, blah." I thought, "Oh no." I got dressed, and I called my mom, and I said, "Can I come over for coffee?" She said, "Yes, please do."
I get to her house. She had a little round table, and there was the newspaper opened. She poured me a cup of coffee. I looked at her. I said, " I see you've seen the newspaper." She said, "Yes." She had a telephone on the wall. She walked over, and she picked up the phone. She dialed a number, then, she said, "Hello, Arlene." Arlene is my oldest sister who never did anything wrong in her life, but she's also Republican. My mom said to her, "Pick up a copy of the Saint Paul paper. Your sister is on the front page of the metro section." Then, she hung up. Then, she looked at me, and she started giggling. That was it. If your mother loves you, it doesn't matter what anybody else says.
Betsy Kalin: What a good story. That is-
Natalie Tsui: Sorry. I can start to see the mic that's-
Natalie Tsui: Here you go.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, that's great. Yup, that was great. Thank you.
Betsy Kalin: [00:27:30] Okay. Can you talk about now-
Natalie Tsui: Can you actually just give it a little pat? Yes, that's great. Okay, yeah.
Betsy Kalin: Another key event from your questionnaire, you talked about your brother being diagnosed as HIV-positive.
Sharon Day: I can hear some noise. Is that just me?
Betsy Kalin: [00:28:00] It's okay.
Sharon Day: [00:28:30] Okay. I think it was in 1988, my younger brother called me up one morning, early in the morning, and he said, "It's a big A, sis." He said, "Let me get mom on a three-way call," he was living in Seattle, "and so I can tell her." I told him, "No, wait. Let me go to my mom's." I got in my car. I remember crying all the way to my mother's house because back then, if you had an AIDS diagnosis, you were dying. That's all there was to it.
When I got to my mom's house, I said, "You need to call Michael." She called my brother. All I heard her saying was, "Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Yup. I want you to come home and be with people who love you," and she hang up the phone. Then, she looked at me and she said, "Call all of your sisters. Get them over here." My brother, he did come home.
There was another woman, Carol Favor, who was a lesbian, who I helped with an intervention for her a couple of years before that. She came to me around that same time and said, "I have AIDS. What are you going to do about it?" At the time, I was working for the State of Minnesota in the Chemical Dependency Program Division. What I did was I hired a young native woman to create a curriculum and to do some training around the state.
Then, we expected that some community agency would pick up this work because there was no place for them go. There were no services, no prevention services, let alone any direct services like housing or case management, any of those things for Native Americans, but nobody did, nobody picked up that work. And so a small group of people, we created this organization, which, back then, was called-
Betsy Kalin: We're just going to stop for a second.
Natalie Tsui: It's just siren.
Sharon Day: [00:30:30] Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. It's just that siren cuts through everything, as they are supposed to do.
Natalie Tsui: It's getting closer. I'm going to cut. Speed.
Betsy Kalin: I guess, just start with the organization.
Sharon Day: [00:31:00] In 1988, we created the Minnesota American Indian AIDS Task Force, which later became the Indigenous Peoples' Task Force. I left the state, I took a two-year leave of absence to get this organization going. There were two of us. Just never went back.
Betsy Kalin: That's great. Where are we right now?
Sharon Day: [00:31:30] We are at the Indigenous Peoples' Task Force. We created a housing complex for people living with AIDS, we have a variety of services and youth theater, which I created in 1990. Some young people have done a great job with it.
Betsy Kalin: [00:32:00] I mean, how does this relate personally to you, doing this work?
Sharon Day: I think that I've been very fortunate in my life to stand up, protect the people that I love. That was what my dad taught me.
Betsy Kalin: That's great. With your brother?
Sharon Day: [00:32:30] Both of my brother and Carol never had experienced an HIV illness. Carol died two years ago, but not from any HIV complications. My brother is still alive and healthy. They both were doctored by native medicine people, never took any HIV drugs. That's the miracle that some people have been able to be blessed with.
Betsy Kalin: That's pro. Wow. I'm sure your brother is very proud of the work that you do.
Sharon Day: He's my brother.
Betsy Kalin: Do you want to talk a little bit about National Coming Out Day and the importance of that?
Sharon Day: [00:33:30] Yeah. I think that National Coming Out Day is very important and has been very important because just to see the changes in the cultural attitudes of people within the United States has been incredible. Sarah and I went to see a show, Cabaret, performed by some students at a high school for the performing arts. They did such a wonderful job.
At the end where the MC rips off his flower, and underneath is the star of David. Next to that is the pink triangle. I thought to myself, and I said to the people sitting next to me, "Do you think anybody in the audience understands what that pink triangle is about?" They said, "No, what is it?" I was able to explain to them. We all knew what the pink triangle meant. I think it's just a testament to how things have changed so quickly over 30-40 years.
I work with adolescents, and I tell them who I am, so they know. It makes a big difference. Every person who comes out, and tells people who they are, the better off we all are.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. I mean, I think the changes that we see today are because of the long legacy of all the people who have taken the risk and come out before.
Sharon Day: [00:35:30] I think it's also important today to see also what's happening in the country. It reminded me of what happened in Germany as well before in the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. There was a great deal of openness, in much the way we see things today in this country.
Betsy Kalin: We'll pause real quick.
Natalie Tsui: Where is the phone?
Sharon Day: I thought I unplugged all of them.
Betsy Kalin: That's a weird ring too.
Sharon Day: [00:36:00] Yeah, something wrong with that phone.
Natalie Tsui: It stopped.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. I will let her know which phone it is.
Sharon Day: It just rings every once in a while, for some-
Betsy Kalin: It's a weird ring.
Natalie Tsui: Like a bird call or something.
Betsy Kalin: Bizarre. Okay. Are you ...
Natalie Tsui: Yup, still rolling.
Sharon Day: [00:36:30] I think we can see some parallels today with what's happening in this country post the election of Trump. I was up north last weekend visiting back home in the reservation and also visiting in Grand Rapids, which is a little over from where I live. It was very sad to ... If something happens in the metro area, it doesn't get much attention because there's so many of us. Half of the state's population lives in the twin cities. When you go up north, things are a little different. Somebody told me about a young man who was beaten and raped, he, at one time, was a police officer, and he has an illness so He's unable to defend himself right now. He refuses to tell who did it, because of the threats they made.
Then, I went to Grand Rapids. I was talking to some old friends of mine. They're even older than I am. They were two women who did so much advocacy for the LGBT two-spirit population in that area. I asked them, "How are things?" They said, "Well, people are still getting married, but more quietly." They said that the men are very much closeted again because it's so unsafe.
I think both racism and this hatred towards both people of color and the LGBT community is really ... People are much more overt about it. I worry a little bit about some of my friends who live in those rural areas. This is, I believe, directly attributable to the hate speech that's been happening in this last several years.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. Hate crimes, I believe, have gone up 30% or something.
Natalie Tsui: The mic is peeping through. I just want to fix it.
Betsy Kalin: Okay. Do you want me to tape them?
Natalie Tsui: I got it. It's just slowly coming undone but let me just put a little more tape on it, and so that it doesn't move at all.
Betsy Kalin: [00:39:30] I'm working on a documentary right now about the Somali community here in the twin cities, And I'm looking at statistics. The statistics, they went astronomical. That's even released from the FBI crime statistics.
Natalie Tsui: I don't know if this one is falling.
Sharon Day: [00:40:00] Yeah. We walked the Missouri River this summer. We were in South Dakota, just crossed over into the South Dakota. My grandson, who was the guy who came and opened the door, he asked-
Natalie Tsui: I can still see it. We have to switch sides.
Sharon Day: [00:40:30] He always says how when people look at him, they don't see a Mexican or Ojibwe. They just see this big, brawny, black guy. He always has to try to put people at ease. He's a kind of a jovial guy, anyway.
Natalie Tsui: Okay, that's better.
Sharon Day: [00:41:00] When we're in South Dakota, and I said we're walking the Missouri River, a SUV pulled up. We had just passed a sign a couple of miles before that that said, "If you can read this, you're within range," and another sign about Obama, and another nasty sign about Hillary.
This SUV pulls up. This rancher jumps out. He's yelling, "Don't you realize how dangerous it is to be walking on this road?" Just this little county road. I tried to explain to him what we're doing. I'm thinking in my mind, " Please don't get out of the van to my grandson." He's yelling at me. He puts his hand on one. He moves his hand, and he puts it. That's when I noticed he had a pistol, not one pistol but two pistols. He puts his hand on one. Then, continues to scream at me.
Then, I hear the door open behind me. I'm just thinking I have to calm the situation down. When my grandson stepped out of the van, he did it very slowly, but when he stopped out, the rancher just took a step backward. Then, he said to me, "I don't give a damn where you walk." He jumps in his car, and steps on the gas, and takes off. His wife was in the SUV with him.
I had this moment of that adrenaline rush where this is not going to go well. You’re either going to have to fight or run. We had all these kids with us. It was just a very intense moment and very frightening. What my grandson said what's going through his mind was he could hear everything, he could see everything that was happening. In his mind, it was, "I need to make my presence known, and I'm going to do it very slowly and very carefully." There was a woman with us, Sarah Thomson, who's a lesbian from Duluth, tall, white lesbian. She came immediately and stood beside me, in her mind, thinking a white woman's presence will make a difference right here.
So what’s happening in this country is very ... You know, nobody should have to be afraid. When I think about having to worry about my grandchildren, orl my friends who live in the rural areas, and my grandson's girlfriend, the woman he plans to marry is Muslim. In our neighborhood where we live in St. Paul, if she wears her hijab, she's treated very differently.
It's always frightening, to me, to have to worry about when they leave, are they going to make it home safely? As I was saying about my grandmother, I think my grandmother saw so much tragedy, but she would always say to us when we were growing up, "Stick together." I find myself saying the same thing to the kids I work with. Sometimes, there's a shooting, and I send out a text message to all of them like, "Are you okay?" One by one, they will respond in sort of kind of a roll call of, "I'm okay." It's very scary times we live in.
Natalie Tsui: This thing is making a lot of noise.
Betsy Kalin: It made a lot of noise. Were you rolling on that?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, I never stopped actually.
Betsy Kalin: Yes.
Natalie Tsui: I wonder if I can-
Betsy Kalin: That was such a powerful statement.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, I would never not roll for that long.
Betsy Kalin: [00:45:00] Thank you.
Natalie Tsui: I wonder if there's a way for us to put even more stuff here to try and block it out even more because that thing is making a bunch of noise. I'm still rolling too. Gosh.
Betsy Kalin: Is it picking up her loud or is it just-
Natalie Tsui: It's pretty loud because it's like, "Clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk." It's like the sharp spikes.
Sharon Day: I wonder if I can find-
Natalie Tsui: Is there a way there?
Betsy Kalin: Well, you can't-
Sharon Day: ... something thicker?
Betsy Kalin: You can't get up because your mic, you're trapped.
Natalie Tsui: Is there anything we could do? I can reach back here.
Sharon Day: Look behind this door. I think there's some. We left a jacket.
Betsy Kalin: There's some jackets.
Natalie Tsui: Right here?
Sharon Day: A brown, thick jacket.
Betsy Kalin: There's only a blue.
Sharon Day: Right down this side of the wall.
Betsy Kalin: There's a blue one.
Natalie Tsui: This one?
Betsy Kalin: There's the brown one.
Natalie Tsui: Is it butterfly?
Sharon Day: I don't know, the brown one or whatever color it is-
Betsy Kalin: That's the brown one.
Sharon Day: [00:46:00] ... is thicker I think.
Natalie Tsui: Okay. Yeah, this is stuck because I have the art as well. This one right here.
Sharon Day: There's my hat
Betsy Kalin: You're even looking for-
Sharon Day: I was looking all over for it.
Betsy Kalin: Let's put it on your desk.
Natalie Tsui: I didn't know where I want this really. This might be-
Betsy Kalin: [00:46:30] You know you're a storyteller, right? You know that you're the best storyteller that we've talked to. I'm just mesmerized. I could picture everything, I could picture you walking on the river. I could picture, It's beautiful.
Sharon Day: Yeah. That was really scary that day.
Natalie Tsui: Can I get your hand here?
Betsy Kalin: Sure.
Natalie Tsui: Just help us, and I'll throw over all the other suitcase.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. I mean, everybody is afraid.
Sharon Day: [00:47:00] Yeah. I'm really worried about, like I said, my friends who live up north, especially the ones who are more in the country. It's just scary.
Natalie Tsui: I can pull that right here. Actually, further down. Right there, just on the edge. See what I'm saying. We can do it over here, this side.
Betsy Kalin: [00:47:30] Yeah, that, I want to reach. It's really heavy. It's pulling it.
Natalie Tsui: I'm pulling it. I'm trying to put a tape at this. I needed a bigger piece. Yeah, we'll just place it. My size is not skinny at all. Okay.
Betsy Kalin: I can hold this one.
Natalie Tsui: Secure it. We'll secure it with that one, the piece that you're on. Just add it on.
Betsy Kalin: Add it on? Okay.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah. You see taping outside like that. You know what I'm saying? Make a T?
Betsy Kalin: [00:48:00] Yes. You can also fold it down like that.
Natalie Tsui: There, I can do that. That's great. Okay. Is that staying?
Betsy Kalin: It's staying.
Natalie Tsui: Okay, great. Okay. We're rolling. Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: [00:48:30] Great. Why don't you talk about your fears for your friends who are further north in rural communities?
Sharon Day: [00:49:00] I don't know if it's rational. I just know that my friends who live in Northern Minnesota and some who they live in the country, they live in a little cabin by the lake, they're somewhat isolated. With just sort of the way ... I think about, if there's one puppy that's wandering around, it's okay. When they get together on a rez, we call them rez dogs, then they can be quite vicious. I think that about my friends who live in the rural area. Some of these people get together. What's happening, it won't take much. There's that pack mentality, I think, that frightens me.
Betsy Kalin: [00:50:00] Thank you. Thanks for sharing about that. You mentioned this a little bit, but you were talking about that you were just on a water walk. Do you want to talk about all the water walks and what the meaning is to you?
Sharon Day: [00:50:30] Yeah. Let's see. I lead water walks, and we gather the water at the headwaters of a river. We carry the water every day until we get to the mouth of the river. In our language, the word for love is zaagi. That means to nurture and to nurture the essence of life. The mouth of the river, we say zaagiing. That's a place where our life goes to be nurtured.
Today, the mouth of the Mississippi river is a dead zone. When we gather that water at the headwaters where it's still pure and clean, and we carry it all at the length of the river, when we get to the mouth, we give the river a taste of herself. We say to her, "This is how you began, pure and clean, and this is how we wish for you to be again." It's a really spiritual journey. I love people to walk with me.
I spent my whole life protesting, protesting racism and wars, and participating in act-up and all of those things. We didn't change the world when we thought we were going to, but when I lead the water walks, it's moving towards something in the spirit of love. That's what we need to do today to bring people along with us in the spirit of love because every act causes a reaction. If we move forward together, we can make those changes. Today, our waters at Minnesota, 45% of our waters are impaired. That's true for the rest of the country as well. In climate change, we need to make some changes quickly if we hope to leave anything for those that will come after us.
Betsy Kalin: [00:53:00] You hinted at this and you said that you have this past of being an activist and protestor. I think you had mentioned about the Coldwater Camp and that experience for you. Can you talk a little bit about what happened there, and what you went through?
Sharon Day: Yeah, okay. Well, it was 1998, and the county and city were going to widen this road at High Water. To do so would mean the highway would be within 200 feet of the last natural spring in Minneapolis. People gathered to try to protect the spring. The chief of our Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge called out the Midewiwin people to help the Dakota people who were saving the spring, the place where they say they came into the world.
I kind of went, I didn't really want to go. I wanted the light rail, I'm starting a school that was going to be near the airport, and I needed the light rail to get my kids from Philips neighborhood to the school, but I went because I was called to go. That was about a two-and-a-half-year process for me and my sister. We were arrested along with many other people. The largest police action in the State of Minnesota happened right at Camp Coldwater. 800 police arrested about 38 people. It was just such a shame.
Today, the spring still flows, but at a greatly diminished capacity. I believe that the only reason that it still flows today is because of all the prayers, and the offerings, and the songs that are sung at that spring. Since then, the chief asked us at that time, "What would you do for the water? What would happen if all the women of the world said no more." One of the elders, Josephine Mandamin, began the water walks in 2003. In 2011, I lead my first walk and have led 14 of them since then. I thought I would only lead one and that was enough. But then, another one, and another one. Now, I've just decided that I will keep walking as long as I'm able to, and I will continue to bring as many women and man along with me as I can.
Betsy Kalin: [00:55:30] That's great. That's good. Thank you for sharing. I know you mentioned this a little bit before. You said that the confrontation tactics, they're not where you want to be right now. Can you explain a little bit why they just don't work for you and why you think they're not successful?
Sharon Day: [00:56:00] Yeah. Well, as I said a little earlier, I've spent my whole life protesting. When I was 16, my high school is right next toward the capitol. I come out of band practice, and I'd listen to see if there's anything happening at the capitol. If there, was I'll go, and stand, and listen. I heard people like Angela Davis, Bobby Kennedy, and Clyde Bellecourt, all of these people. I just felt like it was really important to be there. That has continued my whole life.
I do think that when you resist something, when you resist something, then it creates resistance. That's not how something moves forward. I think about the rivers, they just flow. When something gets in their way, they go around it. Our language, even the language we use, I'm going to fight. I want to fight. I'm going to do battle. I'm going to all of these things. Our language is so violent. We have seven teaching among the Ojibwe. To be loving, to be kind, to be truthful, and to be humble, and courageous, and generous, and respectful.
Natalie Tsui: Wait. What's that sound?
Sharon Day: [00:57:30] The tree.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. This is a new sound for you.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah. It's really loud.
Betsy Kalin: Then, you cannot do anything about that.
Natalie Tsui: It's gone now. Continue.
Betsy Kalin: It was with the wind. The seven teachings.
Sharon Day: [00:58:00] Yes, we had these seven teachings. If we're not practicing those teachings, we're practicing the opposite. For whatever time I have left, perhaps, there is a place for resistance and for making our wishes known. I think about what's worked in history, and I think it was Gandhi who said, "You have to consider that everybody can be honorable, and that how do you negotiate with somebody if they have no honor."
To see people that way and to try to move forward, I think it's just what I wish should do. I think, I don't consider myself to be a pacifist, or if somebody were trying to hurt one of my grandchildren, I would do whatever I could to stop them. I think that's what it means sometimes to be courageous.
I also believe that if we're going to make the kinds of changes that we need to do, then we all need to move forward, and even to change the way that we speak. To say, "I wish to have peace. I wish you peace. I wish you happiness. I wish you health," is very different than, " I will fight you until I get what I want, even if what I want is peace."
Betsy Kalin: [01:00:00] That's great. Thank you. Thank you. That's amazing. That message needs to go far and wide. Everybody needs to talk about that. How does your work as a water protector connect your identity as an LGBTQ person? What's the intersection there?
Sharon Day: [01:00:30] As a woman, we have the ability to give birth, to bring life into the world. Even if we choose never to do that, we have that ability. Water is a source of our life. It is my responsibility, then, to protect life and to protect that which brings life into the world.
Dr. Emoto is somebody I had the opportunity to be in his presence, at least, four times over the last 15 years. Before he died, I was with him up in Duluth, and he said somethings that he had never said before, that I had not heard him say before. What he said was, "I believe that God is in the water," As an Ojibwe woman, that really resonates with me because when we carry the water, when we're singing those water songs. We're speaking to the spirit of the water. In our language, the word for God, the spirit is Manidoo. Then, I believe what he said is absolutely true.
It's such a beautiful ... As we walk, and we sing, and we pray, and we're silent, it's like being in meditation every time you're walking. That's where that transformation takes place. I can see it in the walkers as they come along. Sometimes, somebody will come, and they will say, "I can be here only for half a day," but then you see something in their eyes, and they're there for the next day, and next day, and as often as it can be, and that is love.
Betsy Kalin: [01:02:30] Does that relate to you being a lesbian specifically?
Sharon Day: [01:03:00] Sometimes, people will say about two-spirit people that we are spiritual people. Historically, we were spiritual people. We were name givers, and we were this, and that, and the other thing. I like to say we are everywhere and we do everything. Indeed, some of us are spiritual people, and some of us are just worker bees. We do what we think is right. I like to tell people on the water walks and make it very clear that I'm a lesbian, I'm a two-spirit woman, and we are everywhere.
Betsy Kalin: Great. Thank you. These are a lot of questions we already have gone through. Is it Midewiwin?
Sharon Day: Midewiwin.
Betsy Kalin: [01:04:00] Midewiwin. What does it mean to you that you are a second-degree Midewiwin and that you follow that spiritual path?
Sharon Day: [01:04:30] For me, being a Midewiwin was something that I've been going to ceremonies for many, many years. To become Midewiwin is to be Midewiwin for life. I've always had a little bit of problem with this, commitments. I finally decided to do it when a friend of mine said, " Sharon, we've been doing our work by ourselves all our life." She said, "Well, not by ourselves, but you know what I mean. This could only help us." We both made our wishes known, and made our offerings, and asked the grandmothers to become Midewiwin.
To be Midewiwin, I always say it's easy to be Midewiwin when you are in ceremony when everybody is being kind, and gentle, and respectful, and honest, and humble. It's hard to be Midewiwin outside the lodge. It's hard to be Midewiwin in everyday life. Yet, that's where it's most necessary. Those seven teachings are the foundation of how I try to live. Every day, I have to ask to be kind and gentle. I have to try to be that way because as humans, we have all those opposite things.
As somebody who was, I got into recovery when I was 21 years old, now I had a really wild and crazy youth. I think I was really injured by some of the things that have happened in my early life. As a two-spirit person, I remember being in Nova Scotia at a two-spirit gathering-
Betsy Kalin: [01:06:30] We're going to stop for a second.
Natalie Tsui: Until it stops beeping. I think, we're
Betsy Kalin: I'm going to go back to when you were in Nova Scotia.
Sharon Day: Okay, yeah.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, absolutely. It was like as a two-spirit person but start backing up. It's still there. I'm just going to ... Okay, rolling.
Betsy Kalin: Okay, great.
Sharon Day: [01:07:00] I think that some of the things that happened in my youth, and as a child, as a very young child really damaged me and my psyche. I had this wild and crazy teenage years of rebellion, and using a lot of drugs, and all those things. My mother told me when I was 21, I'd already been married and divorced, "If you don't go to treatment, I will take your children." I thought she was bluffing. Then, I got afraid and decided I better go.
Then, I was sober and in recovery, and I thought I was doing pretty well, and a partner said to me, I don't know how old I was, 34 or 35, she said to me, "In so many ways, you're so healthy, but there's some things that come in the relationship, that insecurity, and so on." We went to Nova Scotia. We're actually splitting up at that time. I don't know why when it was crazy. She stayed in the cabin. I slept in the tent. We were at the gathering. There were these grandmothers there, these native women who are older than me. I went to them and I said, "I need you to help me." I already did talk therapy and-
Natalie Tsui: Shoveling.
Sharon Day: It's a plane.
Betsy Kalin: It was a plane.
Natalie Tsui: I'm terrible at identifying sounds. I can just hear them.
Betsy Kalin: It sounded like a ... Clap.
Sharon Day: [01:09:30] There were these grandmothers, these two-spirit grandmothers, and I asked them to have a sweat for me and a purification ceremony. They said yes. These were women who were so much older that they had our time. You have to get on your knees and crawl into the sweat lodge, but they did. Then, once again, we had to have little stools for them to sit. I barely remember what they said to me. I just remember crying the whole time.
After that, I felt as though when maybe
maybe everything else needed to happen to get to that point. At that point I felt that there was actually some true healing that took place. Those grandmothers, Muriel Miguel, Janet Spotted Eagle, Barbara Bruce, I believe they saved me, just their presence and their willingness to hold me. I can't remember what the question was.
Betsy Kalin: [01:10:30] It was about how did you get on that spiritual path.
Sharon Day: [01:11:00] Yes. That was at the beginning of ... It was after that healing that, then, I was able to feel good enough about myself to ask to become Midewiwin, that I was at a place where I could do that, and so I did. In our teachings, there was one time in the lodge where the chief was saying, "Everybody is welcome in lodge. Everybody, men, women, people of any persuasion." When he said people of any persuasion and my ears kind of perked up.
After he was done, we went outside. I said to our friend, "Was somebody talking bad about me?" I guess, we all have an ego. Then, she laughed, and she said, "No. He was making a correction to one of the road people that something had been said to two-spirit person." What he said at that time was when the creator is looking for-
Betsy Kalin: We're going to have to hold the strings.
Natalie Tsui: Sorry there's another siren.
Betsy Kalin: it's really ... Something happened.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, okay. I'm going to ... Okay, speed.
Sharon Day: [01:12:00] What the chief of our lodge said was that when the creator was looking where to plant that first seed of life on the earth, prior to that, and it was a single thought that rang out that created all the planets and placed them in the heavens. When the earth was first created, there was nothing on it except, first, water. He thought to himself, "Where shall I plant that first seed of life?" Then, she turned to herself, and she said, "Life cannot be created by thought alone. Life can only be created with love."
What he said was, "If you understood the language, and you understood these teachings that we've been sharing, you would know this that the great mystery is the person. It's the one entity that can fully be masculine, and feminine, and in perfect harmony. Again, this lodge is a place of love. It's a place for people of all persuasions."
Betsy Kalin: [01:13:30] Beautiful story. That's amazing. That's really incredible. Yeah, that's great. I did a documentary of Tantra. It was about recognizing the masculinity and femininity of each person and celebrating that. Tell us now about the book that you edited, Sing, Whisper, Shout, Pray!: Feminist Visions for a Just World.
Sharon Day: [01:14:00] Barbara Smith had invited four of us to write a book that would be the sequel to This Bridge Called My Back. It was myself, Jacqui Alexander, Mab Segrest, and Lisa Albrecht. We worked on this book for about five years. We met with women all over the country, California, North Carolina. There used to be a racism conference in Iowa, we went there. Then, of course, at the NWIC conference here. We met with people all over, women. We asked them to talk about what was happening in their community. The result was this book called Sing, Whisper, Shout, Pray!: Feminist Voices for a Just World.
Then, we had no sooner finished editing the book when Kitchen Table Press went out of existence, so the book sat for about five years. Then, a publishing company, a collective of women authors in California called us up and said they wanted to publish it. It wasn't even in electronic form, so we had to go back and read the whole thing. I still liked it. I took the lead. I think I can't remember who got it into a digital form. Then, we contacted all the writers. It really is still a wonderful book. We had just a variety of women, women of color from across the country and outside of the country even talk about what were their visions for a just world. I am still very proud of it.
Betsy Kalin: That's incredible. That's all the stuff you studied in school. Thank you. You have said, "Perhaps there will come a time again where I'm ready to engage in confrontation, and I'll be willing to put my life on the line. For right now, I choose ceremony, allowing asemaa." Is that-
Sharon Day: Asemaa, correct, yeah.
Betsy Kalin: Asemaa.
Natalie Tsui: Where did you find that?
Betsy Kalin: I think was online. Maybe, it was an interview.
Betsy Kalin: [01:16:30] Can you explain that?
Sharon Day: [01:17:00] Well, I guess, it's trying to practice what I believe. What I choose to believe today is that if we are going to create a just world, then, it has to start somewhere. If it can't start with me, then how do I expect other people to live and act a certain way. Especially on the water walks, we really require people to follow certain protocols, and to begin with ceremony. We begin every day with ceremony, and we end every day with ceremony. In between, everybody works together in the community. A common goal, that it's simply to pray for the water.
There might come a time where I might choose to participate in civil disobedience, but I can't really see what would cause me to do that today. Whatever time I have left, I really want to move forward and to move forward in a loving and kind way.
Betsy Kalin: Perfect. Thank you. You haven't really talked about relationships, or partners, or anything. Is there anything that you want to speak to about that?
Sharon Day: [01:19:00] Yeah. I think that some people are good at some things, and some people are not so good. Maybe it goes back to having so much turmoil as a child. I'm very good at loving the world, I've not been so good at being in a single relationship. Sometimes I think it's we reap what we sow. Much of my energy in my life has been devoted to trying to protect the people. That, hasn’t always been very easy for people in my life, if you're gone all the time. And we all want to be adored, sometimes, it's been a bit of a difficulty.
One day, not too long ago, I said on Facebook about I wonder if I will ever have another relationship. Josephine Mandamin, the elder who taught me about walking the rivers wrote on my page, "You're already married, Sharon. You're married to the river." Maybe that's it.
Betsy Kalin: [01:21:00] Okay. Thank you. Let's see. We didn't talk that much about your work here at the Indigenous Peoples' Task Force. Is there more that you want to say about the organization and your long time here?
Sharon Day: [01:21:30] Yeah. Here at the Indigenous Peoples' Task Force, we really try to incorporate these cultural values into the work. Sometimes, we do it better than others. I like to think that the Youth Theater Program that we started with Spiderwoman Theater back in 1990, it was the first program I created when I started work here. We knew nothing about theater, we just knew that storytelling was an important part of our culture and was an important way to get the message to youth, especially about HIV prevention.
We had to go back and think of, what is healthy sexuality in our community? What is a way that we can grieve these losses that we had, in a way that's part of our culture as opposed to Kübler-Ross or anybody else? We had to go and do all this research. There are many spiritual elders in the community who worked with us and helped us along that path. Most of our work has been experiential, we've learned as we go. We do have curriculums that we had created for our garden program, for the theater project, and for our women's programs. We developed this curricula over time, and we tried to incorporate our cultural teachings into them.
If there's anything that I wish to live as a legacy here, it will be that the Indigenous Peoples' Task Force is a cultural agency. I tell my staff, if we want to be like everybody else, if we want to be the Minnesota AIDS Project or aliveness, and we do think exactly the way they do them, there's really no need for our existence. I tried to tell them, think indigenously. Do the best that you can. Our spirituality, those seven teachings, they need to be at the core of what we're doing. They need to be at the center because at that center, love is the healing grace. I think probably most organizations don't.
It is kind of language, but, like I said, if we're going to be like everybody else, then there's really no need for our existence. When we hire a social worker, a person with a mental health background, we spend a little bit of time retraining them. It's not to throw out everything they've learned but how to blend that, then, into the cultural teaching, so that, then, our services will be about truly healing as opposed to putting a band-aid on a symptom.
I have youth now who I worked with in those first early years. In its first years when we did theater, I traveled to 27 states with these kids, and we did performances everywhere. Some of those kids now are, gosh, they're almost middle-aged people, but they're working at the Children's Hospital. One of my youth has won national poetry contest. Some of them have directed in theater for other theater programs.
The Youth Theater Program, I think, really exemplifies that experiential education of doing. We don't spend a lot of time talking to the youth we work with about the problems in the neighborhood. They see it every day. We don't have to explain to them what's wrong in the community, but we can help them to become people who are the solutions to the problems. A youth who comes into our program, like coming to the theater program, and then go through our tobacco prevention program, Waybinagay. They may work in the garden program. Then, cycle back into the theater program, and so we're working with this youth.
One young woman that I worked with came to work with me when she was 12 years old. She stayed here through her graduation with a master's Degree in Public Health and is now developing programs herself. I have two youths right now whose mother was on the program.
What I try to say, I guess, goes back to my own childhood of needing security and safety. I say this to the youth that I work with, while you are with us, we will make sure that you are safe. When you leave our doors, there's nothing we can do about that outside world, but while you're with us, we want you to feel good and happy about who you are as a Native American, whatever your tribe is, as a male or as a female, as a two-spirit person, or as a heterosexual. We want you to feel good about yourself.
When we began, we worked with kids for three years before we ever wrote down what it was. We knew what we intended to do, but we didn't know how we're going to do it until we actually did it for a while. Then, we've created this program. I think it's something that, then, has filtered over into some of our other services. In this program I say, give me a kid of six months, and I'll show you changes.
Betsy Kalin: Wonderful. Thank you. Thank you so much for talking more about your work here.
Natalie Tsui: I'll just switch cards.
Natalie Tsui: All right. We're rolling.
Betsy Kalin: Okay, great. You listed on your questionnaire three people who you'd like to talk about further contributions to the development of the LGBTQ community. That was Paula Gunn Allen, Muriel Miguel, Beth Brant.
Sharon Day: Yeah. I think talked about them.
Natalie Tsui: [01:29:00] I don't think Paula Gunn Allen.
Sharon Day: [01:29:30] When we held our first gathering here, I called Paula. I was so surprised when she answered the telephone. I asked her if she would come. She said she really wanted to come, but her health didn't allow it. Her writing, I think, was so important to everyone. I did have the opportunity to meet her several times. Then, a young friend of mine made a film about her life. She asked Paula if she could interview her, and she said yes.
They didn't finish the timeline that they had set up because Paula walked on. She was such an important person and her writings. She was one of those first people who were out. At one time, I thought about doing a book about those early native women who came out in the time when it wasn't cool before Ellen, and Zena. There were Paula Gunn Allen, Beth Brant, Muriel Miguel, Barbara Bruce, and Leo Longdog. They were the ones who came out, and were out, and vocal.
Muriel was here in town doing a play, her and her sisters. I was working at a halfway house in St. Paul, it's the first time I met her, I believe. I think my partner and I went to see every show, she did three shows. It was a theater called at the foot of the mountain , one of the first feminist theaters in the country. The second night, the second show I saw, Muriel came up to us, and said, "Are you two partners?" We didn't know what to say. Like, "What?" Just like that, she just asked us. We're certainly like, " Yeah." They were incredible women.
Betsy Kalin: [01:32:00] That would be a wonderful book maybe for retirement. I mean, the sad part is I don't want their names to be lost. That's why we're doing the work that we're doing. Maybe encourage many young people too, I would like to see that. What do you regard as the most significant change that LGBTQ people experience today as compared to 50 or 60 years ago?
Sharon Day: [01:32:30] I think it's the Marriage Act here in Minnesota, it was so incredible. I remember when AIDS first became a known illness, I remember some of my friends, we were thinking about, "Where's all the attention on lesbians and breast cancer?" Then, when people you love are dying, when my brother came to me, then you jump in, and you do whatever you have to do. Then, there was the ‘don't ask and don't tell’ dogma. Again, the whole thing about gays in the military. Who the hell cares? Why should we want our people to go to war? We used to protest against wars. Now, we want gays in the military. That was a difficult period.
The same thing with marriage really. Marriage has been such a heterosexual thing and a religious thing. Even friends of mine who said they will never get married, once as the law was passed,, they got married because it gave them different tax in benefits for their partners. I think the importance of it though was the idea that love is the law, and that we were included in that. I think that is why it's the most important law that was passed.
Betsy Kalin: [01:35:00] Great, thank you. We have four more questions. These are short answers, two to three sentences. Then, Natalie, if she has some questions, she's going to walk after that. These four questions are, if a young person came to you today, and in your work, they probably do come to you, and they said, "I want to come out," what advice would you give to them?
Sharon Day: Yeah, come out.
Betsy Kalin: Any reason you're so gung-ho?
Sharon Day: Well, I think, it goes back to those spiritual teachings. It can only make your life better. It can make you a healthier person.
Betsy Kalin: [01:35:30] Great, thank you. What is your hope for the future?
Sharon Day: [01:36:00] Well, my hope for the future is that we all begin to look at differences as something to be explored, that we could live in a world where every person is cherished for who they are regardless of skin color, ethnicity, gender, or who they love.
Betsy Kalin: [01:36:30] Beautiful. Thank you. Then, why is it important for you to tell your story?
Sharon Day: I think, it's important to make sure that all stories get told, and that it's really that mosaic of stories that mean we learn about each other, and how we can all live together on this Planet Earth.
Betsy Kalin: [01:37:00] Why is OUTWORDS important, and what we're doing with OUTWORDS important, and if you can say OUTWORDS in your answer?
Sharon Day: [01:37:30] Well,OUTWORDS is important because we, I guess, those of us who are aging now, leave some legacy and some footprint for other people to follow or to make their own footprints, but to share a little bit about what we've lived through and how it can be better.
Betsy Kalin: Great. Thank you so much. Is there anything else that I haven't asked you?
Sharon Day: No.
Natalie Tsui: I guess my question is, what do you hope your legacy will be?
Betsy Kalin: [01:38:00] You can answer it to me.
Sharon Day: [01:38:30] Okay. I hope my legacy will be that someday those great, great, great-grandchildren, both by blood and by love, will still sing water songs, that Ojibwe DNA will still flow through their veins, and that they know that someone loved them, and sent that love forward for them just as my ancestors did for me. Okay?
Natalie Tsui: Can I ask a number of follow-up questions.
Betsy Kalin: We just made her cry.
Natalie Tsui: [01:40:00] I know. We'll go do it again. The follow-up question is I was wondering what happened with your brother. You don't have to answer if you don't feel comfortable with it. Then, also how as a queer person, chosen family is like a very major thing, and how that plays into your life, and your legacy for your descendants.
Sharon Day: What is it with my brother?
Betsy Kalin: Because she said what happened.
Natalie Tsui: Okay. I wasn't sure. I think I was paying attention to something there.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. More about chosen family.
Natalie Tsui: [01:40:30] Then, the next thing would be your chosen family, and how that factors into legacy as a queer person, or maybe as an indigenous person as well, with those things coming to play.
Sharon Day: [01:41:00] Well, I have many relatives who I have made along the way. I think about a young musician I met in Memphis walking the Mississippi River. She showed up, and she shows up at almost every walk no matter where she is, she'll fly from New York city to meet me in Montana, or another young woman who is teaching at the University of North Dakota or, I'm sorry, the University of Minnesota, who started calling me up, and asking me about this and that. Then, she would just pop in. She's going to have a baby next month and looking forward to being a grandmother again.
William, the young man who lives down the street who has a difficult time, but he's always the first one at the theater, and learns every line of every part. One day, I said to him, "Hey, kid. Can you sing?" He said, "Yes." "Come here and sing." These young people, I see so much in them. They truly are the future. Yeah, chosen family has been really important in my life. I hope that they will do the same with others that come after them, extend a hand, help them along.
Natalie Tsui: Great, great.
Betsy Kalin: Thank you. Those are beautiful questions.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, I think I have a lot of time to think back here. There's a plane. Then, we have to get room tone.
Natalie Tsui: This is room tone. Room tone. Okay, got it.

Interviewed by: Betsy Kalin
Camera: Natalie Tsui
Date: March 05, 2018
Location: Office Of Sharon Day, Minneapolis, MN