Tribute to an icon
By Gulamhusein A Abba
On Monday, February 5, 2018 Gale Courey Toensing, after a tough battle with Parkinson’s disease, died peacefully, surrounded by family members, She was born on April 7, 1946 in Montreal, the daughter of Mae (Kenmey) and Philip Courey. She emigrated to the United States and became a citizen and received her MFA from Norwich University. She is survived by her husband Craig; her daughter Liz and husband Ethan, of West Cornwall; her son Seth and his wife Beth, of Somerville, MA; her brother Jeffrey Courey and his wife Myrna and their two children, of Mississauga, Canada; and her niece Jennifer and her husband, of NYC. She was predeceased by her sister Joyce
In Palestine, Mazin Qumsiyeh and his colleagues planted a tree in Gale’s honor and money was donated to a museum in her name.
A celebration of her life will be held in the spring and will be announced once plans are finalized
With Gale’s passing away, all those who support Palestinians and their cause, Native Americans and their cause, truth, justice, freedom and equality, those who oppose tyranny, oppression and inequity, those who know the remarkable Gale Courey Toensing -- all of us have suffered a grievous loss.
She was a writer, journalist, a gifted poet and fearless and passionate activist, a champion for the rights and welfare of the common people.
For the Palestinians, she published on her web site The Corner Report forceful articles and opinion pieces. She put not only her talents, time and work for them but put her life itself where her mouth was and was on one of the ‘aid to Gaza’ ships. It was intercepted by Israel in international waters. The entire crew, including Gale, was taken into custody by the Israelis.
|Gulamhusein Abba when he, along with Andrew Ziegler, visited Gale|
As for Native Indians, she started reporting for Indian Country Today since May of 2005. In addition she regularly contributed articles covering the array of issues in Indian country, publishing more than 100 articles per year on a variety of subjects. demonstrating mastery of the complexities of issues in Indian country.
Among her articles were:
What Really Happened at the First Thanksgiving? The Wampanoag Side of the Tale
It gave a better understanding of what really happened 401 years ago at the first Thanksgiving, and what Wampanoags do today.
Indian-Killer Andrew Jackson Deserves Top Spot on List of Worst US Presidents
Schaghticoke Tribal Nation’s $610 Million Lawsuit Against CT Inches Forward. It reported that
the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation alleges that the State of Connecticut sold off its land without paying; it's suing for $610 million.
Keith Harper on Obama, Trump and Global Human Rights
In this article attorney and Cherokee citizen Keith Harper, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council, opens up about global issues.
First Wampanoag-Pilgrim Treaty Signed on April Fools’
The first Wampanoag-Pilgrim Treaty was signed by Massasoit, the leader of the Wampanoag Nation, and the leaders of Plymouth Colony on April 1, 1621.
Expand Your Reading List With These Seven Books: 2016 Hot List
About a long list of promising titles covering the full range of reading tastes.
‘No Diplomacy with a Hungry Lion’: Native Leaders Look Ahead for 2016
Five tribal leaders were asked to revisit last year’s thoughts and look ahead to what they expect or hope for in 2016.
Sonny Skyhawk Bringing His War Bonnet to Oscars, Fighting for His People
In an eulogy to her, Christopher Napolitano, former Indian Country Today Creative Director, wrote: “Toensing was working as a reporter in Connecticut when her curiosity and nose for injustice was alerted by state-level skullduggery aimed at repealing the federal recognition of an obscure Native nation in nearby Kent. Her first article on the subject for Indian Country Today, a precursor of many more pieces to come, appeared in May 2005, “Schaghticoke Status Attacked.” The fight of the Schaghticoke was never far from view for Toensing; a dozen years later, when her health was failing but her determination to investigate and publish the truth remained firm, she came through with her last piece (pre-hiatus for the fully-staffed ICTMN)—an excellent summation of the case so far—on September 3, 2017: “Schaghticoke Tribal Nation’s $610 Million Lawsuit Against CT Inches Forward.”
She did not just write about them. She attended annual NCAI, NIGA and USET conferences and worked in Washington DC to provide coverage of issues facing tribal leaders and federal policy
She even went to their Pow Wows!
One of her friends, Pat Mechare has written,“Some might not know
that Gale’s interests were broad. She sought justice for the Native Americans
and worked for a prestigious Native American Journal. There she focused on
current litigations involving the Native American community. She traveled
several times to the Middle East to see first-hand the struggles of the
ordinary people in those regions and was another voice of support for them. She
became a part of several groups in the area who worked for peace there and found
|Andrew Ziegler when he went with Gulamhusein Aba to meet Gale|
“She loved to garden and see the blooms of the flowers she grew. She loved reading, debating and family and was so very proud of her children, Liz and Seth. She had a gentle and wry sense of humor. We owe her a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. We extend our sympathies to her family, especially her husband, Craig, who lovingly cared for her during her illness, with the reminder that her deeds and the person she was will not soon be forgotten.”
Gale was also an accomplished poet, having earned an MFA in poetry from Norwich University in Vermont. She wrote evocatively, tenderly, lovingly. Here is an example of her poetry, her remembrance of her mother
My mother’s nightgown lies furled at the back of the drawer,
flimsy like a shadow someone forgot to pack.
I stashed it there unwashed five years ago,
death cells still clinging to its fibers. I want to take it out
and shake it, run it through the washer by itself
on gentle cycle, small load, dry it with a sheet
of Bounce and fluff it back to when she was a paradox,
a five-foot giantess, reliquary of bad advice.
I remember her pitying stare, poised dressed-to-kill
and dripping jewels on the living room sofa,
her daily exhortations, flipping through fashion magazines—
You look like death warmed over in those black clothes.
Why don’t you make yourself glamorous?
Go get a permanent and learn how to cook,
don’t show how brainy you are, show some cleavage,
that’s the way to catch a man—and the night her own brain,
hooked by a random ruby red hardening of blood, cleft itself
into smooth-surfaced planes between clearing
the dinner dishes and serving the tea, how her body
slid to the floor, fluid as a silk negligee tossed off a creamy shoulder,
the porcelain cups tinkling into shards like the memories
she tried to piece together the next four years, and never could.
I’d enter her room from the coded elevator
and she’d say my name, then Sister! Or, lost somewhere between
Intention and expression, Blue! as she waved the only hand
she could still move to flaunt the diamond rings my father
had given her through the years, until she grew so small they slid
over the bones of her fingers and fell into the safe
deposit box at my bank where I keep them with her gold bracelets
and emerald necklace and other sparkling things,
in a rectangle of steel as dark as the coffin she was buried in
or the drawer where her nightgown lies,
so I can tell her shimmering from mine.
–Gale Courey Toensing (1997)
Though Gale has left us physically, she continues to be with us in spirit and will forever inspire us.
A personal note: Gale and I had been friends for a long time. We started exchanging views, opinions, personal news and feelings from February 2006 and wrote to each other pretty regularly
We had hoped to meet on June 15 2016. This would be the first time she and her husband Craig and my wife and I would be meeting together “to break bread” and chat. She was very happy about this and looked forward to it. On that day, after keeping a medical appointment with Craig’s doctor, they were on their way to pick up my wife and myself. Half way through, Gale’s illness started acting up and they had to return home. She called to let us know. I told her not to worry about it and that we will meet soon,” Inshallah”. Here is what she replied; “Dear Gulamusein My mother used to say "inshallah" when I asked if I could do something she didn't want me to do but didn't have a good reason to deny my request. Then when something happened to prevent whatever it was I asked for she could say "It was God's will." I never believed her. But now I find myself longing to understand and accept Allah's will. I'd very much like to talk to you about that, if that's possible. I will try to call you tomorrow around 1pm after I return from physical therapy. I was so exhausted when we got home that I fell asleep on the sofa and woke up 10 minutes ago -- just in time to go to bed 🙂 I think tomorrow will be a better day -- inshallah! Talk to you then. Good night...”
Unfortunately her illness prevented her from making a trip to Danbury again. I too became too ill to go out. Besides I had no transport. But I was determined to find a way to go and meet her. I tried very hard. Ultimately my good friend, Andrew Ziegler offered to take me there and look after me all the way. And so, armed with a urinal and assisted by my friend, at last visited her on Saturday, December2. 2017 to pay our respects to her, express our appreciation and thanks for all that she had done, and do what she loved—'break bread’ with her!. As usual, in spite of limitations due to her illness, she went about being a perfect hostess, flitting about in her wheelchair from the dining area to the kitchen area, bringing food, getting the dishes, setting the table, lovingly putting food onto our plates: “You must taste this. My husband specially made this”!! She ignored our pleas to forget about being a host and the food and just sit and talk with us. That is what we had come for, we told her. We did manage to have some conversation with her and promised to come again, bringing food with us. But that was not to be.