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  • Dismantling the Master's Tools with the Master's House:Native Feminist Liberation Theologies
  • Andrea Smith (bio)

I'm a feminist because I think anything else is unintelligent. And I just can't go with turning my brain into jello for someone else's fantasy fulfillment. I also think it's ordained by God. I really do think I have divine power on my side in that regard. To me you cannot advocate sovereignty without advocating feminism because feminism should be at its heart the same what sovereignty is. I do see feminism as ordering right relations and I think that's what Native American traditions are all about, being in balance with one another. Being in balance with all creation, be it the environment, be it nation-to-nation, and I think feminism is that, but it does so from the particular vantage point that women are able to provide, and have always provided.1

Mavis Etienne, a negotiator at Oka during the Mohawk uprising, joined the struggle because she did not want her "land bulldozed to expand a golf course." Etienne says of her decision to join the struggle: "I wasn't afraid because I knew they [those opposing the Mohawks] were in the wrong, and I knew God was with me."2

Native women activists' utterances such as these provide a foundation for my analysis of Native feminist theologies. Through my involvement in organizations such as Women of All Red Nations (Chicago), Incite! Women of Color [End Page 85] against Violence (, and various other projects, I have come to see the importance of documenting the theory produced by Native women's organizers as theory. I see this research methodology as intellectual ethnography. In my ongoing research projects on Native American feminisms, I focus on documenting and analyzing the theories produced by Native women activists that intervene both in sovereignty and feminist struggles.3 I believe these theories can then be part of a larger collective conversation to develop Native feminist theologies. However, before I begin this task, I must first address the theological project itself within Native studies and Native communities.

Is "Native Liberation Theology" an Oxymoron?

After five-hundred-plus years of colonialism, patriarchy, and white supremacy, it is clear that Native communities could benefit from "liberation." However, Native religious scholars have expressed great skepticism about theology, including liberation theology, as a starting point for discussing Native religiosity. Vine Deloria Jr. has pointed out that liberation theology is grounded on a Western European epistemological framework that is no less oppressive to Native communities than is mainstream theology. "Liberation theology," Deloria cynically argues, "was an absolute necessity if the establishment was going to continue to control the minds of minorities. If a person of a minority group had not invented it, the liberal establishment most certainly would have created it."4 According to Deloria, Native liberation must be grounded in indigenous epistemologies—epistemologies that are inconsistent with Western epistemologies, of which liberation theology is a part. "If we are then to talk seriously about the necessity of liberation, we are talking about the destruction of the whole complex of Western theories of knowledge and the construction of a new and more comprehensive synthesis of human knowledge and experience."5 Jace Weaver similarly argues that theology is inconsonant with indigenous worldviews, which hold that systematic study of God is both presumptuous and impossible.6 "Traditional Native religions are integrated totally into daily activity," Weaver remarks. "They are ways of life and not sets of principles or creedal formulation. . . . Native 'religion' does not concern itself—does not try to know or explain—'what happens in the other world.'"7 Even Native theologian William Baldridge states that "doing theology, thinking theologically, is a decidedly non-Indian thing to do. When I talk about Native American theology to many of my Indian friends, [End Page 86] most of them just smile and act as if I hadn't said anything. And I am pretty sure that as far as they are concerned I truly hadn't said anything."8

The challenge brought forth by Native scholars/activists to other liberation theologians would be, even if we distinguish...


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