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Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 23.2 (2002) ix-xviii

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"It Is What Keeps Us Sisters" 1 :
Indigenous Women and the Power of Story

Inés Hernández-Avila

In the Midst of War, We Bear Witness, We Create

This special issue on indigenous women is framed for us, as coeditors, by the sad, outrageous, horrifying facts of September11, 2001, and all that has come in the aftermath. It would be hard to speak of the work of the women included here without so much as a mention of the times in which we live. This collection of Native women's writing and art marks the new century and the moment of its birthing is a time of grievous upheaval for humanity and for the planet. This volume must be seen as an articulation and rendering of our voices in the face of the current war. Yet, it is important to note that for us as indigenous women, the war is not so new. It is, in fact, all too familiar and intimate to us. We have only to look at some of the earlier collections of indigenous women's writing to bring this point home strongly. In Spider Woman's Granddaughters: Traditional Tales and Contemporary Writing by Native American WomenPaula Gunn Allen writes,

War stories seem to me to capture all the traditional themes of Indian women's narratives: the themes of love and separation, loss, and most of all, of continuance. Certainly war has been the major motif of Indian life over the past five centuries, so it is perfectly fitting that we write out of our experience as women at war, women who endure during wartime, women who spend each day aware that we live in a war zone. 2

This volume reflects these same themes in 2002. We live in the war zone; "how well have we 'survived the onslaught of destruction[?]'" This is a question posed by Joy Harjo in the introduction to Reinventing the Enemy's Language: Contemporary Native Women's Writings of North America, as she notes, "We are coming out of... a war that hasn't ended." 3

How do indigenous women writers and artists manifest, critically and creatively, their awareness of this unending war? How do they acknowledge and [End Page ix] pay tribute to their own and others' expressions of indigenous ways of knowing, including principles of humanity and relationship to all that lives? One crucial way is through bearing witness and giving testimony; most importantly, they "tell story." Conscious of the power of language(s)—spoken, visual, silent, sensual, defiant, courageous, laughterful, the languages of song, of the body, the heart, the spirit, the earth, and yes, the mind—they/we tell story. Conscious of the way language(s) mediate, conscious of how narratives are created, how and where and why they emerge, whose interests are served, which stories become official (for some), which ones are ignored (by some), which ones could help humanity and the relations of the earth, they/we tell story. And as Gloria Bird says about Reinventing the Enemy's Language, "Each piece [in that collection] has gone into the creation of a narrative that is part of an even larger narrative." 4

We join this Frontiersspecial issue on indigenous women to that larger narrative; it is our contribution to the story. Leslie Silko, in Yellow Woman and a Beauty of Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Todaywrites, "This perspective on narrative—of story within story, the idea that one story is only the beginning of many stories and the sense that stories never truly end—represents an important contribution of Native American cultures to the English language." 5 The stories help us all (not only Native peoples) to know who we are in relation to all that is. And as Rayna Green writes in the introduction to That's What She Said: Contemporary Poetry and Fiction by Native American Women, "Whether it comes directly from the storyteller's mouth and she writes it...