Babbler # 11463
posted 12 July 2008 04:31 PM
Making Space for Indigenous Feminism: A Review
Edited by Joyce Green.
'Making Space for Indigenous Feminism' is a compilation of essays, poetry and art from Indigenous (and some non-Indigenous) women about what feminism can mean in Indigenous contexts.
Most contributions are from Canada and the United States, but with some from Samiland (Norway) and New Zealand, opening up a dialogue on the realities and complexities facing Indigenous women who identify as 'feminist'.
Published by Zed Books, AWID presents a brief review.
By Rochelle Jones
Canada hosted an Aboriginal Feminism Symposium in August 2002. This recent publication, "Making Space for Indigenous Feminism" forms part of an effort to build on the achievements of the Symposium. Green remarks in her introduction that the purpose of the book is to "stake out some discursive space and to provide evidence that, for some Aboriginal women, feminism has some theoretical and political utility" (p 15). This comment resonates throughout the rest of the book, with the reader reminded in each chapter that to identify as feminist, and in particular to demonstrate and advocate feminist praxis, is difficult and sometimes controversial in an Indigenous context.
Laying the groundwork in the introduction, the editor reveals a continuing theme throughout the book - that Indigenous women are "cautious about claiming the [feminist] label and about publicly invoking the analysis... The contributors to this book deploy their feminism carefully, specifically – and differently – drawing on political, historical and cultural contexts and their own particular ideologies to form their feminism" (p 18).
The book is arranged into three parts (see below), with each contribution giving the reader new insight into the many and varied worlds of Indigenous feminism.
Indigenous Feminist Theory
This first part brings together contributions on Indigenous feminist theory – positing what Indigenous feminisms look like.
Green, for example, argues that "rather than using a 'white' or 'colonial' theoretical approach", Indigenous feminists "use feminist analysis as a tool for challenging racism and colonialism" (p 23). Green also touches on the issue of 'traditions' and the role they play in the rejection of Indigenous feminism, asserting that feminist critique of Indigenous traditions is an "essential part" of analysing the "power relations embedded in tradition... relative to the objective of a contemporary emancipatory formulation that will benefit Aboriginal men, women and children" (p 27).
Jorunn Eikjok, in her chapter "Gender, Essentialism and Feminism in Samiland", asserts that gender roles in the Sami movement are treated as given and unchangeable. Because of this, the cultural and societal differences within Indigenous communities are ignored, as is the influence of modernity. The result is that "...expressions of gender in [Arctic]Indigenous societies are more preoccupied with differentiating Indigenous peoples from 'the other' or 'the western' than in actually dealing with what gender really means within Indigenous communities" (p 114).
This analysis correlates with Green's assertion above in regards to the importance of a feminist critique of tradition.
Makere Stewart-Harawira's (p 124) chapter on Indigenous feminism resisting imperialism is a striking example of the power and potential Indigenous feminism has to transform hegemonic agendas. She argues that "Indigenous women have a vital role to play in the realization of alternative models of "being in the world" and highlights an urgent "need for a new political ontology of governance and spiritually grounded, feminist centred political ethics as one critical response [to contemporary imperialism]".
Eras and Issues where Indigenous Feminism has played a role; and Individual Indigenous Feminisms
In these last sections, the focus shifts from Indigenous feminist theory, to stories and accounts of where Indigenous feminism has contributed to positive change, and how feminism is defined and perceived by different Indigenous women.
Joyce Green, for example, discusses the role Aboriginal women have played in Constitutional debates in Canada, such as the adoption of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms – although theoretical guarantees in the Constitution have not necessarily translated to equitable treatment and representation.
Shirley Green's contribution takes the reader on a voyage back in time, visiting her heritage and raising important questions in relation to 'mixed blood' heritage and identity. She claims that the idea of heritage "is profound, the responsibility immense and includes not only the ancestors but parents, relatives and indeed, the entire community relating to one through cultural heritage... Who makes the decision that a person does not have the correct amount of the "right" blood to be accepted into the culture and traditions of their society?" (p 170).
Kathie Irwin's "shero worshipping" of prominent Maori women is her simple way of learning about the big picture by studying the little picture(p 174); and Shirley Bear's poetry and art adds "images on words" (p 199).
Whilst each contribution is very different, a common sentiment echoing throughout this publication is that many Indigenous women feel that their feminism is expected to be subordinate to the larger emancipatory Indigenous struggle. Verna St. Denis, for example, asserts that "Native American women risk being dismissed as "assimilated" if they identify with feminist politics" (p 49). Similarly, Makere Stewart-Harawira from Aotearoa/New Zealand, tells of how writing or speaking from a feminist position was perceived as demonstrating her lack of 'Maoriness' (p 124).
This challenge is located in culture, tradition, colonialism and patriarchy, and by teasing these delicate issues out – the book opens up an exciting and perhaps well overdue dialogue. The tone of the book is subtle yet at the same time exhibits a candid strength – with arguments and stories reflecting unique and evolving feminisms laid stone by stone over time.
As Stewart-Harawira touches on in her chapter, Indigenous feminisms have the potential to shake the foundations of normative institutions and to contribute in a transformative way to global issues such as climate change; conflict resolution; the importance of place; identity; racism and of course gender equality.
This potential emerged within the pages of the book without being directly articulated – illustrating the power of Indigenous women, and indeed the making of spaces for Indigenous feminism.
See: Green, J. (Ed), 2007. Making Space for Indigenous Feminism. Published by Zed Books.
(I received this in e-mail.)
From: "Words Matter" (Mackinnon) | Registered: Dec 2005
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