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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ruth Dial Woods, June 12, 1992. Interview L-0078. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Goal to spread knowledge to later generations

Woods discusses why, at the time of the interview, she one day wished to write a book entitled "Growing Up Red" about her experiences as a Lumbee Indian over the course of the twentieth century. Woods describes how in the Iroquois Indian culture, it was the responsibility of women to pass on knowledge to younger generations. Woods hoped her forthcoming book (which presently exists as a doctoral dissertation) would teach later generations of Indian children what it was like for earlier generations.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ruth Dial Woods, June 12, 1992. Interview L-0078. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

So, last Fall I enrolled in the Ph.D. program in Curriculum and Instruction at Chapel Hill and did fifteen hours last year, '91-'92. I'm at a crossroads now, really, trying to decide if I want to pursue that or if I'm grown enough to write my book. I realize that there's many things out there that I haven't explored. There's many things that I haven't done and I want to make sure that when I write the book, which will be entitled Growing Up Red, I want to make sure that I'm mature enough, experienced enough, and seasoned enough not to let a lot of biases from deprivation and discrimination both as a woman and as an Indian prevent me from being very objective, from sharing not only with others but particularly to my grandchildren and the children of my grandchildren the story of what life was like before their generation and the mantle of responsibility that they will be expected to carry on to the next generation. [interruption]
I wanted to talk about what it was like growing upߞnot just historical fiction, but a challenge, I guess, to the future generations to remember that there were folks that lived in different times and different places with different struggles, but to give them, I hope, a sense of responsibility. In Iroquois Indian culture and tradition it said that a woman is responsible for perpetuation of the culture for five generations and, as I talk with young peopleߞand of course that was a matriarchal cultureߞthey should stop and remember the traditions even now about family get-togethers and annual family meetings and they should realize that the purpose of those meetings for bringing the great grandmothers and the great grandfathers and the grandmothers and the grandfathers and the mothers and the fathers and the young people has a purpose, that they establish that sense of responsibility. I also like to quote Mary McLeod Bethune that said that service is the price that you pay for the space that you occupy and its been a very guiding force because I don't think there's any greater challenge than being involved in something that you can grow, that you can develop and that you can learn from and at the same time extend part of yourself and what it is you do that touches other people, whether you see it right now or whether it's long term. And I used to wonder when my grandmother kept saying that the Bible said that you were promised only four score or three score and ten and I got real upset when she was talking about how she didn't have much time left. And now I realize that sixty or seventy years is a short span of time to see change if you're really interested in seeing change. So I've reached the point where I cannot, never would be, never will be, and cannot be all things to all people, so the best thing I can do is put my message in writing and leave it and hope that someone will pick it up and say, "Well, you know, I do have a responsibility to make life better for my children and my grandchildren and for the children and the grandchildren that follow all of us." And I think that's not only true of Indians, but I think it's a sense of responsibility that I think all of us in more recent generations have lost. And some of us have never had the opportunity to really experience the rewards and the challenges of that kind of mantle of responsibility. And please note that I call it "mantle of responsibility" and not "mantle of leadership," because I perceive it as being a responsibility, as opposed to a, quote, leadership role, end quote. So, what created all these changes and all these things? I like to think of myself as we say about the turtle. You know, they say turtles are hard-shelled and stick their necks out and take risk and I collect turtles and I sort of keep them around me to remind me that you have to continue being hard-shelled and you have to continue taking risk if you are, indeed, committed to making a difference. I first got involved, and I call that my years of becoming, in the sixties and the civil rights movement. It was there, because of many mentors and because some folks took me by the hand and thought that I had the potential to grow and to develop and to serve and to be of purpose, not only to the movement to people and to my own people. With their nurturing and their support and their guidance I think I sort of said that "Well, maybe this is my niche."