Photograph by Jim Watson / AP
Deb and Deborah: extraordinary women for the past and present
Rev. Bryan D. Jackson
March 3, 2021
Women’s History Month for 2021 happily appears to be part of what is becoming the year of the woman here in the United States. Women have, of course, historically served in leadership roles. It is our appreciation of that fact that often seems absent. For some reason, quite possibly related to ancient patriarchal values, America keeps coming up short in the march to permit women to reach the heights for which they were destined.
The ancient prophet Deborah seems to have had her hands full with the Canaanites (Judges 4:1-7). She was a proven leader featured in what might be some of our earliest recorded Scripture. Deborah was decisive, prophetic, and wise. By today’s standards, those qualities seem harder and harder to find in our leaders. She would settle disputes from beneath a palm tree in the Ephraim highlands (v. 5). This was a serious woman who perceived the world from a broad perspective. Most exceptional leaders have a knack for seeing the bigger picture.
Regardless of her confirmation, Deb Haaland’s nomination for Secretary of the Interior stands on its own as a historical truth. As groundbreaking as that is, what Haaland, an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna, has already accomplished speaks to Women’s History Month even more. If it’s true that Biblical prophets were covenant enforcement mediators with narrative tendencies from the broader perspective, Haaland might very well compare on even terms. For one thing, she prepared herself for this by hard work during hard times. Congresswoman Haaland was on food stamps as a single parent and completed college and law school. This focus and discipline readied her for the responsibilities of tribal administration.
When Deborah directed Barak to confront the armies of Jabin, Barak’s response was, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” (Judges 4:8). Deborah agreed, but a caveat was in order, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” (v. 9). So, off they went. The point here is active leadership. Deborah had that down. A proven principle of leadership is that of being in the “muck” with one’s people and staying there until everyone is clear of it.
Women’s History Month for 2021 happily appears to be part of what is becoming the year of the woman here in the United States. Women have, of course, historically served in leadership roles. It is our appreciation of that fact that often seems absent. Deb Haaland has demonstrated effectiveness as a tribal leader, and America is finally gaining some ground with respect to recognizing Native American women.
Dr. Gerald Mann used to tell the story of a seasoned pastor who saw his ministry in three phases. He saw his people as if in a river drowning. In the first phase, his role was to stand on the shore and provide instructions on how to get out. During the second phase of his ministry, he viewed himself as creeping to the water’s edge to help pull them out. Toward the end of his ministry, he gained the wisdom to just jump in with them and paddle to the shore together.[i] Deborah was a leader like that, and she’s not the only one.
Deb Haaland has demonstrated effectiveness as a tribal leader, and America is finally gaining some ground with respect to recognizing Native American women. Not only did Haaland extend a branch to overlooked communities in the election process, she also literally stood with others at Standing Rock to preserve land rights. Haaland objected more than once when President Donald Trump referred to Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas.” Native Americans have energetically tried to get others to understand the profound ignorance such comments represent. A clear argument can be made that American Indian women—whose ancestors were here first—are perpetually last to be understood, realized, or appreciated for the amazing leaders that they can be. Why is this? What is it about this country and its failure to comprehend the indigenous peoples who have populated the land for far longer than anyone else? Again, Haaland has been a step in the right direction.
If politics can be compared in any way to prophecy, then we have a potential space/time match-up. That is, wonderful things have emanated from the hands of Deborah and Debra. Like LaDonna Harris (Comanche Nation) and Wilma Mankiller (Cherokee Nation) before her, Deb Haaland has shown that she can assume multiple and vast responsibilities and help her people become more liberated in thought and action.
This, at the very least, is the month of the woman. Let us celebrate that for the beauty it represents and the splendid reality that it is.
The Rev. Bryan D. Jackson is an American Baptist minister and a member of the Mount Hood Cherokees, a satellite community of the Cherokee Nation. He lives on Vashon Island, Washington and is the author of Chattahoochee Rain: A Cherokee novella.