Beth Castle

Dr. Beth Castle, who earned her Ph.D. at Cambridge University, discusses her documentary, Warrior Women, at a meeting of the Richland County Democratic Women's Caucus on Monday evening.

MANSFIELD -- Elizabeth Castle wants to empower local women with the knowledge she has gleaned over the past two decades from indigenous leaders like Madonna Thunder Hawk.

Castle, a Mansfield native who earned her Ph.D. in history from Cambridge University, announced Monday evening she is planning a gala screening of her film, Warrior Women, on the OSU-Mansfield campus in September.

Speaking before a large audience at the Richland County Democratic Women's Caucus, Castle said she wants to have the 64-minute documentary be more just than a local screening.

"I am working at making it a community organizing project where young women from different high schools will take the opportunity to create a real cross-high school, cross-group organizing effort of young women who want to be activists and agents of change," said Castle, who now lives in Mansfield.

The film features Madonna Thunder Hawk and her daughter, Marcy Gilbert, and their fight for indigenous rights during the American Indian Movement of the 1970s.

Madonna Thunder Hawk

Madonna Thunder Hawk and Marcy Gilbert.

Warrior Women uses the relationship between Thunder Hawk and Gilbert to highlight women’s activism, its impact and the “innate power” of women in indigenous societies.

"One of the things I am trying to do now is develop the Warrior Women project here in Mansfield as kind of a satellite office to South Dakota and to the media folks we work with in New York.

"It's something I want to build because you need to give back to your community and you need to reconnect and provide what you can," said Castle, a 1991 graduate of Mansfield Senior High School who studied race, gender and electronic media at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., before going to Cambridge in England.

The film, produced and directed by Castle, was shown on PBS in March and has been featured at more than 30 film festivals. It's based on the research for Castle's upcoming book, "Women were the Backbone, Men were the Jawbone: Native Women's Activism in the Red Power Movement."

She first screened the film at OSU in May.

Castle said Monday organizing the September event and the goal of the overall project is to bring the historical information to life.

Democratic women

A large audience listened on Monday evening to Dr. Elizabeth Castle, Ph.D., during a meeting of the Richland County Democratic Women's Caucus at the party headquarters in the Kenneth E. McCartney Memorial Building on Park Street in Mansfield.

"What can Mansfield do? We can blow peoples' minds by being this little spot of transformative resistance in the middle of what's now a way-too-red state," Castle said. 

Madonna Thunder Hawk, who participated in the AIM effort at Wounded Knee in 1973, offered advice to Castle when asked what message she should deliver in her speech. Castle referred to Thunder Hawk, now almost 80, as one of the "Original Gangster Grannies."

"After this whole lifetime of being very active and willing to fight, literally, with a gun ... and being really good in bar fights against racist cowboys ... nobody can throw an elbow like Madonna Thunder Hawk, after all this work, she is like, 'It's really simple. You gotta vote. You vote against hate. You vote for justice and you're unapologetic,' " Castle said.

Castle said Thunder Hawk also cautioned Democrats that they need to work together.

"The right has solidified their power through a super, super simple platform of hate through greed and racism," Castle said Thunder Hawk told her. "You don't have to love one another, but you have to support each other."

Castle related that Thunderhawk said, "Can you imagine if Mansfield, Ohio, became the place that radically organized and filled all of the political seats with Democrats who truly, truly represent these issues and people who really stand against hate?"

While completing her doctorate at Cambridge, Castle worked as a policy associate for President Clinton’s Initiative on Race. In 2001, she served as a delegate for the Indigenous World Association at the United Nations World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. 

While working as an academic specialist for UC Berkeley’s Oral History Office, she received the University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship at UC Santa Cruz.

Castle was a professor in the Native Studies Department at the University of South Dakota and is the founder and Executive Director of The Warrior Women Oral History Project. Castle has numerous publications including “The Original Gangster: The Life and Times of Red Power Activist Madonna Thunder Hawk.”

Castle said Monday this country's founding fathers had adopted much of their ideas for democracy from The 6 Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. She said, however, the founders left out the innate power of the clan mothers that was a significant part of the Iroquois Confederacy.

The confederacy’s constitution, the Great Law of Peace (Gayanesshagowa), is believed to have been a model for the U.S. Constitution, partly because Benjamin Franklin was known to have been interested in the structure of the confederacy and partly because of the balance of power embodied in the Great Law.

"If you haven't heard that, that's not accidental. That's purposeful because we don't teach our history. That's part of the process and why I suggest we need to follow the matriarchs.

Beth Castle

Dr. Elizabeth Castle, Ph.D., has spent almost 20 years of experience as a scholar, activist and media maker, working in collaboration with Native Nations and underrepresented communities.

"If you're going to steal something, you take the whole thing. This country, the idea of democracy, the (founding fathers) are looking around and saying, 'How can we create something so we're not dealing with the repression that we came from? We can still have the privileges and the access and the power that we have by coming over here. We need a system that collectively represents individuals.'

"The 6 Nations had this beautiful, ancient system of participatory democracy, the oldest living system in the United States that existed. We adopted (that) system, but what did we leave out? What did they forget?

"It wasn't like we forgot the clan mothers. It's like 'there is no way we are going to form a system that gives this much power to women.' It was very conscious, so conscious you are going to have spend 20 years studying it if you want to unearth it," Castle said.

"To me, it's so powerful. You gotta take the whole model if you want the model to work. ... When you create a democracy, but you leave out equality and justice at the start, that's why we're playing catch up. It feels like we are in this crazy battle to catch up.

"With an incomplete history, we're always struggling. We have the ability to embrace that legacy in following the matriarchs," Castle said.

"History matters. It's our future. We made it. We can unmake it and we can remake it. That's something we tend to forget. Ask yourself at any given moment, what would an OGG do? And then you follow the matriarchs."

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"