native feminism

Indigenous Feminism Without Apology
by Andrea Smith

We often hear the mantra in indigenous communities that Native women aren’t feminists. Supposedly, feminism is not needed because Native women were treated with respect prior to colonization. Thus, any Native woman who calls herself a feminist is often condemned as being “white.”

However, when I started interviewing Native women organizers as part of a research project, I was surprised by how many community-based activists were describing themselves as “feminists without apology.” They were arguing that feminism is actually an indigenous concept that has been co-opted by white women.

The fact that Native societies were egalitarian 500 years ago is not stopping women from being hit or abused now. For instance, in my years of anti-violence organizing, I would hear, “We can’t worry about domestic violence; we must worry about survival issues first.” But since Native women are the women most likely to be killed by domestic violence, they are clearly not surviving. So when we talk about survival of our nations, who are we including?

These Native feminists are challenging not only patriarchy within Native communities, but also white supremacy and colonialism within mainstream white feminism. That is, they’re challenging why it is that white women get to define what feminism is.

DECENTERING WHITE FEMINISM

The feminist movement is generally periodized into the so-called first, second and third waves of feminism. In the United States, the first wave is characterized by the suffragette movement; the second wave is characterized by the formation of the National Organization for Women, abortion rights politics, and the fight for the Equal Rights Amendments. Suddenly, during the third wave of feminism, women of colour make an appearance to transform feminism into a multicultural movement.

This periodization situates white middle-class women as the central historical agents to which women of colour attach themselves. However, if we were to recognize the agency of indigenous women in an account of feminist history, we might begin with 1492 when Native women collectively resisted colonization. This would allow us to see that there are multiple feminist histories emerging from multiple communities of colour which intersect at points and diverge in others. This would not negate the contributions made by white feminists, but would de-center them from our historicizing and analysis.

Indigenous feminism thus centers anti-colonial practice within its organizing. This is critical today when you have mainstream feminist groups supporting, for example, the US bombing of Afghanistan with the claim that this bombing will free women from the Taliban (apparently bombing women somehow liberates them).

CHALLENGING THE STATE

Indigenous feminists are also challenging how we conceptualize indigenous sovereignty - it is not an add-on to the heteronormative and patriarchal nationstate. Rather it challenges the nationstate system itself. Charles Colson, prominent Christian Right activist and founder of Prison Fellowship, explains quite clearly the relationship between heteronormativity and the nation-state. In his view, samesex marriage leads directly to terrorism; the attack on the “natural moral order” of the heterosexual family “is like handing moral weapons of mass destruction to those who use America’s decadence to recruit more snipers and hijackers and suicide bombers.”

Similarly, the Christian Right World magazine opined that feminism contributed to the Abu Ghraib scandal by promoting women in the military. When women do not know their assigned role in the gender hierarchy, they become disoriented and abuse prisoners.

Implicit in this is analysis the understanding that heteropatriarchy is essential for the building of US empire. Patriarchy is the logic that naturalizes social hierarchy. Just as men are supposed to naturally dominate women on the basis of biology, so too should the social elites of a society naturally rule everyone else through a nation-state form of governance that is constructed through domination, violence, and control.

As Ann Burlein argues in Lift High the Cross, it may be a mistake to argue that the goal of Christian Right politics is to create a theocracy in the US. Rather, Christian Right politics work through the private family (which is coded as white, patriarchal, and middle-class) to create a “Christian America.” She notes that the investment in the private family makes it difficult for people to invest in more public forms of social connection.

For example, more investment in the suburban private family means less funding for urban areas and Native reservations. The resulting social decay is then construed to be caused by deviance from the Christian family ideal rather than political and economic forces. As former head of the Christian Coalition Ralph Reed states: “The only true solution to crime is to restore the family,” and “Family break-up causes poverty.”

Unfortunately, as Navajo feminist scholar Jennifer Denetdale points out, the Native response to a heteronormative white, Christian America has often been an equally heteronormative Native nationalism. In her critique of the Navajo tribal council’s passage of a ban on same-sex marriage, Denetdale argues that Native nations are furthering a Christian Right agenda in the name of “Indian tradition.”

This trend is equally apparent within racial justice struggles in other communities of colour. As Cathy Cohen contends, heteronormative sovereignty or racial justice struggles will effectively maintain rather than challenge colonialism and white supremacy because they are premised on a politics of secondary marginalization. The most elite class will further their aspirations on the backs of those most marginalized within the community.

Through this process of secondary marginalization, the national or racial justice struggle either implicitly or explicitly takes on a nation-state model as the end point of its struggle - a model in which the elites govern the rest through violence and domination, and exclude those who are not members of “the nation.”

NATIONAL LIBERATION

Grassroots Native women, along with Native scholars such as Taiaiake Alfred and Craig Womack, are developing other models of nationhood. These articulations counter the frequent accusations that nation-building projects necessarily lead to a narrow identity politics based on ethnic cleansing and intolerance. This requires that a clear distinction be drawn between the project of national liberation, and that of nation-state building.

Progressive activists and scholars, while prepared to make critiques of the US and Canadian governments, are often not prepared to question their legitimacy. A case in point is the strategy of many racial justice organizations in the US or Canada, who have rallied against the increase in hate crimes since 9/11 under the banner, “We’re American [or Canadian] too.”

This allegiance to “America” or “Canada” legitimizes the genocide and colonization of Native peoples upon which these nation-states are founded. By making anti-colonial struggle central to feminist politics, Native women place in question the appropriate form of governance for the world in general. In questioning the nation-state, we can begin to imagine a world that we would actually want to live in. Such a political project is particularly important for colonized peoples seeking national liberation outside the nation-state.

Whereas nation-states are governed through domination and coercion, indigenous sovereignty and nationhood is predicated on interrelatedness and responsibility.

As Sharon Venne explains, “Our spirituality and our responsibilities define our duties. We understand the concept of sovereignty as woven through a fabric that encompasses our spirituality and responsibility. This is a cyclical view of sovereignty, incorporating it into our traditional philosophy and view of our responsibilities. It differs greatly from the concept of Western sovereignty which is based upon absolute power. For us absolute power is in the Creator and the natural order of all living things; not only in human beings… Our sovereignty is related to our connections to the earth and is inherent.”

REVOLUTION

A Native feminist politics seeks to do more than simply elevate Native women’s status - it seeks to transform the world through indigenous forms of governance that can be beneficial to everyone.

At the 2005 World Liberation Theology Forum held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, indigenous peoples from Bolivia stated that they know another world is possible because they see that world whenever they do their ceremonies. Native ceremonies can be a place where the present, past and future become copresent. This is what Native Hawaiian scholar Manu Meyer calls a racial remembering of the future.

Prior to colonization, Native communities were not structured on the basis of hierarchy, oppression or patriarchy. We will not recreate these communities as they existed prior to colonization. Our understanding that a society without structures of oppression was possible in the past tells us that our current political and economic system is anything but natural and inevitable. If we lived differently before, we can live differently in the future.

Native feminism is not simply an insular or exclusivist “identity politics” as it is often accused of being. Rather, it is framework that understands indigenous women’s struggle as part of a global movement for liberation. As one activist stated: “You can’t win a revolution on your own. And we are about nothing short of a revolution. Anything else is simply not worth our time.”

Andrea Smith is Cherokee and a professor of Native American Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and co-founder of Incite! Women of Color Against Violence and the Boarding School Healing Project.

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R.I.S.E.:
Radical
Indigenous
Survivance &
Empowerment


https://www.facebook.com/RISEIndigenous
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Hi y'all! 

I’ve compiled a list of readings that speak to issues of nationalism, indigeneity, colonialism, and resistance/decolonization

The list is of course limited to what readings I’ve encountered at some point. They also come from a variety of academic disciplines and political movements (settler colonial studies, native studies, queer theory, postcolonial studies, feminist studies, trans studies).

And, with a few exceptions, these files were legally uploaded and shared… a lot of the time by the authors themselves, which I feel the need to point out because I love when authors can/do share their work online for free. (I say this not because I’m worried about the sanctity of ‘intellectual property’ but because I’m worried about things being deleted.)

Also re-linking to this list of pdf readings, “Natives Read Too,” from The Yáadihla Girls!

 human rights/war/nationalism/sovereignty 

transnational/native/postcolonial feminisms & feminist critiques: 

decolonization, art, and resistance (not necessarily feminist):  

queer theory/sexuality studies/native studies/trans studies 

*Actually just going to link to this page of Dr. Puar’s work because it’s  great and relevant (and she also has a lot of work on Israel/Palestine).


critiques of humanitarianism/developmentalism: 

[Really wish I knew more about this kind of work.] 

Biopolitics, science, environmental justice 

and…. U.S. politics  

Why I need Chicana feminism

Because I was taught to stay away from certain styles because they were too “mexican”. With phrases like “the bigger the hoop, the bigger the hole” when I loved wearing big earrings. Being told that red hair against my brown skin looked “ghetto” instead of fierce and bold. Wearing stylish flannels like the pretty pastel haired girls on tumblr and being told I look like a “chola”. Working hard to get rid of my slang because society taught me that it was “unflattering”. That bright red lips were too much. That my natural intense brows are now a makeup “fad”. When in reality all this shit was made up by people that want to put us down for claiming our own identity. 

High resolution poster of Juanita, wife of Diné Chief Manuelito, taken by Charles Milton Bell in the late 1800s. As with all our posters, feel liberated to print out and wheatpaste at will!


R.I.S.E.:
Radical
Indigenous
Survivance &
Empowerment


https://www.facebook.com/RISEIndigenous

#DECOLONZEFEMINISM #FEMINISM #NOWAVE #NOWAVEFEMINISM #NATIVEWOMEN #AMERICANINDIAN #NDN #NATIVEEMPOWERMENT#RADICAL #INDIGENOUS #SURVIVANCE #EMPOWERMENT #DEMIANDINEYAZHI #RESISTANCE#RISE #RISEindigenous #WARRIOR #RESPECT #PUNKROCK
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Courtesy of Ruth Cankudutawin Hopkins, The Truth Behind Pocahontas.

Image description: a picture of Disney’s version of Pocahontas with the following words:
“Pocahontas was a nickname (meaning The Naughty One). Her real name was Matoaka. If we believe John Smith’s account of events, she would have been 10 or 11 when she met him. That’s hardly a romantic scenario, unless you’re a pedophile.

Pocahontas was kidnapped by the English. She was imprisoned at the Jamestown colony for over a year, where she was assaulted. While still a teenager, our young heroine married John Rolfe. Marrying the Englishman was a condition of her release.

Pocahontas was then taken to England, as a sort of living specimen and advertisement for colonization. She died at the tender age of 21, unaware that the English would create the Pocahontas Myth; one where she was the good Indian who rescued the whiteman from her brutish, savage Tribesmen.

This myth birthed many colonial stereotypes of Native people and was used as justification to make war against us.”

Planned Parenthood is often championed as an organization that supports women’s rights to choose, and one with whom women of color should ally. Yet, the roots of the organization are in the eugenics movement. Its founder, Margaret Sanger, collaberated with eugenics organizations during her career and linked the need for birth control to the need to reduce the number of those in the lower classes. Today Planned Parenthood is heavily invested in the population establishment and continues to support population control policies in the Global South.
—  Andrea Smith
An Open Letter to JK Rowling

To the beloved queen of the Harry Potter Universe:

Let me begin by first thanking you for being an inspiration to your millions (if not billions) of readers. Your writing has touched souls across the world, perhaps even saved lives. You have captured the essence of what it means to be human: to have a little bit of light and dark in every one of us. And while we might begin a little biased towards one side or another, it is ultimately our choices and the power of love that define us. We choose who we become, and you have single-handedly whispered that powerful truth into the minds and hearts of countless strangers you will likely never meet. I am one of them, for your universe is truly magical.

But with such accomplishments in mind, I’d like to ask you one thing.

Please stop.

I don’t mean stop writing, forever, because that would cruelly deprive the world of the continuation of your magic that you still have so much to give. But I’d like you to take a step back, stop, and breathe.

As I am loathe to do on sleepless nights, I turned to the newest update on Pottermore, excited to immerse myself again in the Potter-universe, but with a distinctly American twist. Ilvermorny, an intriguing name, seemed a promising treasure trove of new secrets to discover.

The possibilities were endless - the spoilers about the house names seemed to point towards Native American folklore. Would we learn about the magical traditions of the Cherokee or the Apache? Perhaps they would open up a whole new world of creating magic – without the European influence of wands, perhaps their magic would be channeled through sacred stones that had been carefully carved and treated. How could they cast spells through their ritual song and dance? How might they view “No-Majs” differently from European cultural norms? What if instead of disdain, they held the utmost respect for non-magicals – for those people had to be the most imaginative to invent ways to go about their daily lives where magic could not ease their paths?

But while well-written and certainly heart-tugging, I was simply left with another sour-cream-white traumatic orphan sob story (not to trivialize whites, orphans, or tragedies that numerous people face) that was eerily reminiscent to Harry’s orphaned past and defeat of a dark wizard through the power of love.

And I get it, Jo. It’s a theme with you – that despite the thousands of obstacles people face, love and tenacity conquer all.

But why couldn’t we have had wandless healing, channeled through song, dance, and herbology? Why couldn’t we have learned how to identify the magic thrumming in the soil, stones, trees, and animals around us? Why couldn’t we have learned how the Native Americans sought balance in dark and light magic, and performed magic that no European had ever encountered before?

Why couldn’t we have had a narrative about the European colonization of the Americas, where Native Americans had to run to the most isolated parts of the continent, ward their homes with heavy enchantments, and struggle to brew new potions to battle the horrible, foreign, diseases that came with it? Why couldn’t we have seen a population learn from each school of magic, mixing in perfect harmony? Classes could include Transfiguration, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Charms, and Herbology, but with Amulet Creation, Harmonic Healing, Ritual Spell-casting, and Elemental Charms?

Let’s have an openly LGBTQ+ character, not a closeted Dumbledore that is only confirmed after publication and book sales. Let’s investigate the Native American gender and sexuality identities - take a new perspective on what it means to be human. Let’s deal with income inequality in a whole new light - two friends from opposing worlds who constantly find themselves reevaluating what they know to be true. Add some more strong female characters - I want to feel the subtle condescension, passive aggressiveness, and glass ceilings as we watch them struggle through their careers. Let’s see the post traumatic stress of the entire generation that fought a war as children. Let’s have canon (confirmed before, not after the fact), strong, and compelling people of color in your writing, where the characters’ names aren’t two surnames (Cho Chang… really?) and as dimensional as the sad pancake on which someone sat.

When you write your next installments about the other schools in Brazil, in Africa, in Japan, I want you to do some serious research. I want you to try, at least try, to understand and explore the cultural beauty that you’ve allowed yourself the freedom to pioneer. I want to hear about family, not blood-prejudice in Japan, and how honor and a history of ancestors in warring states still hold onto that enmity today. I want you to detail the families that were ripped apart in Africa by the slave trade, and the inventive magical ways that different tribes avoided detection. I want to see the conflict between magic and the religion that Portuguese colonists began to impose on the indigenous people in Brazil, and how somehow they were able to reconcile that religious-magical barrier. I want you to treat each culture with respect instead of white-washing, and even if you don’t get it quite right and you come under fire, you will know in your heart that you tried to understand and that you will learn so much more from what people say is different to your outlook.

You deal with so much prejudice in your books, in gruesome detail outlining the harm it causes to all. Unintentionally or no, are you really doing much better when you maintain the same, incredibly British storyline and try to apply it to other places?

Perhaps this is harsh of me. Perhaps this perfect cultural melting pot is too idealistically American of me, as it will never be the same to tell a story that you have not experienced yourself. But instead of more of the same, why can’t you try?

Stretch yourself, Ms. Rowling. I want you to challenge the world you created, for there is so much possibility and so much room to grow. I want you to challenge your own rules, explore and pioneer and learn because that’s another fundamental truth that Hermione Granger not only knows, but epitomizes. You’ve become too comfortable in your own universe, writing installments that are really just repurposed storylines with characters of different names. Instead of wasting your time taking swipes at Donald Trump on Twitter, grow your universe. It’s time to upend it, throw it in the wash, and look at it again with a new perspective.

So please stop. Why don’t you stop writing for a little bit, and try listening? There are so many interesting and different stories for you to tell.

With much love from a faithful fan,

AW

#DearNonNatives: Don’t call yourself a feminist if you’re going to ignore the missing and murdered Indigenous women in this country, or the 1 in 3 Native women who were sexually assaulted, or the white washed and hypersexualized images of Native women in the media.