Invisible no more – stories of remarkable women supporting their families

The following column originally appeared in a number of APG of East Central Mn newspapers, including the Morrison County Record.


Invisible no more – stories of remarkable women supporting their families


“I’ve spent a lot of time feeling invisible.” That’s the first sentence in Staci Lola Drouillard’s superb new book, “Seven Aunts” (University of Minnesota Press).


Staci Drouillard (courtesy of Ms. Drouillard)

It’s one of the very best books I’ve ever read. So I hope she won’t feel invisible a year from now. I also hope that families will use the book this summer to deepen their understanding, knowledge of and appreciation for older people in their family.

This first and foremost is a book about how women — starting with seven of the author’s relatives — support, encourage and even sometimes save each other. She writes, “This book is about the hidden lives of women … because the truth is that our grandmothers, mothers and aunties have all committed great acts of heroism, devotion and self-sacrifice so that the people they love will have a chance of being seen one day.”

When we talked, Drouillard told me: “Yes, that’s the crux of the matter. It’s definitely about my seven aunties. It’s also about what we as women and girls still go through.”

Drouillard and the women she described have lived in many rural Minnesota communities. She describes some of them, such as Monticello, Grand Rapids, Warba and Grand Marais. They’ve also spent time in Minneapolis. But their clear preference is rural. She currently lives outside of Grand Marais.

Like most of us, Drouillard is of mixed heritage. She describes her father as “Grand Portage Ojibwe.” Her mother’s family came from Germany. And there are many other backgrounds represented among the aunts. She views the Ojibwe culture as much more egalitarian than European/American.

This is a deeply personal book. Drouillard describes physical and mental abuse via alcohol and other forms of drugs, violence, unfaithful men and intense poverty. She describes her mother’s electroshock therapy. She’s also very clear that the women she describes — as well as herself — have made plenty of mistakes.

Yet, shining through, these seven women carried on and supported their families. When we talked, she told me: “There’s a lot of wisdom that gets ignored or passed by. We have a desperate pressure to be individuals and make our own way. My advice for young women is to make sure your feet are always firmly planted and you understand there are different kinds of love including the love of your mother, sister, aunties, grandmothers — don’t run away from it. Don’t let anyone put you in a box or make assumptions about you.”

Drouillard asks, “Why are some people’s lives and histories held up like shining stars, while other people’s lives and histories are kept in the dark like an amaryllis bulb, withered away in a pot of dirt and deprived of sunlight?”

This is not an “anti-male” book. But it is a strong affirmation of women’s critical roles.

I hope that Drouillard inspires families to spend time this summer learning about the challenges that family elders, alive and passed on, have faced and survived. She told me: “These stories come from a place of unconditional love, forgiveness, support and encouragement. I really want to empower others.”

I hope many people read and are inspired by this book. They, and Drouillard, should feel respected, not invisible.

Joe Nathan, Ph.D., formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome: or @joenathan9249 on Twitter.