The White Feather Story:

Inspired by the Cherokee Beloved War Women

In 2015, I was invited to Ghost Ranch as a Blackbird Fellow of AROHO, a gift made possible by Cathleen Richland, a woman I'd never met but who became beloved to me by her generosity. This same year, the author of The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston came to Ghost Ranch as a featured speaker. My old, dog-eared copy of her iconic book was in my backpack and she signed it for me, "Sisters." Alongside many AROHO sisters, we shared meals together, talked about books and dragons and braiding long hair, and considered Georgia O'Keeffe, how she was afraid every moment of her life, but it never let her keep from doing anything she wanted to do.

I was invited to present my narrative on the Ghigau, the Beloved War Women of Cherokee, as an opening before Maxine shared her feature presentation. So I brought a woven basket full of white feathers to share the gift of metaphor, to symbolize the swan wing carried by the Ghigau as a sign of their extraordinary compassion and courage. A gift from their tribe, the Ghigau waved her swan wing to decide the fate of captives, freeing them or silencing them forever. As the women passed the basket around, I shared how these gifted white feathers could remind them to claim the same for the narrative in our own lives. My story matters. My story will live.

An unexpected wave upon wave, Maxine got up afterwards and held up her white feather, and said a significant archetype had just been altered. In her culture and many others, a white feather has long been an archetype representing the cowardice of men. She took the white feather I'd given her, stuck it in her hair, and claimed the white feather as a symbol of courage for all women. I looked around the great hall; and I saw a wave of white feathers, women had tucked them into books or pockets or hair. Two days later, getting ready for a horseback ride deep into O'Keeffe's country, I saw a wrangler walk into the stables, right past me, tucking a white feather in her hat. 

Maxine is wearing her swan-white feather, a gift I gave her alongside other women at Ghost Ranch, inspired by the Ghigau, Cherokee's Beloved War Women. Nearly two years later, I would sit in another circle in New Mexico, and pass around more white feathers during A Room of Her Own's Board Retreat, the fire-stoking women I'm proud to work alongside as we share the message for all women, your stories matter, your stories will live.

Waves Anthology

Alongside original works by Maxine Hong Kingston and other creative women, the story of the Ghigau will continue in the pages of the Waves Anthology: A Confluence of Voices, a publication featuring the voices of women around the world, edited by the wonderful Diane Gilliam, Pushcart Prize author and poet, teacher, and AROHO's 2013 Gift of Freedom award-winner. Publication date to be announced.

Using Format