- "I Give You Back":Indigenous Women Writing to Survive
The University of Alberta recently hosted a conference called Indigenous Women and Feminism: Culture, Activism, and Politics.1 Although the call for papers stated that "indigenous women and feminist issues remain undertheorized within contemporary feminist critical theory," a colleague reminded me that Indigenous women and feminist issues have not been undertheorized, at least not in our own communities; we have always theorized our lives.2 After considering her standpoint, I recognized how the academy has led Indigenous women to believe that the various ways we use language to interpret the world or produce knowledge are not acts of theorizing, a tendency that points to problems in the way academics think about knowledge production. Because mainstream research has not used Indigenous women's intellectual traditions—constructed and utilized within our own communities—are we to believe that the ways in which we make meaning of our lives or understand the world are not theory? Research methods are socially constructed, and communities decide what constitutes knowledge. Therefore, Indigenous women should not accept the notion that our rhetorical practices do not constitute sites of knowledge production or that we cannot use our own words and experiences to reconceptualize the processes and epistemological bases of our research to create an Indigenous women's feminist theory.
This article corrects the assumption that "indigenous women and feminist issues remain undertheorized" by demonstrating that we do theorize our lives but that we theorize differently, meaning, Indigenous women do not rely solely on Western tools, worldviews, [End Page 88] or epistemologies as methods of interpretation. Indigenous women reject paradigms that ask us to disassociate ourselves from our lived experiences before we can claim to have the skills and knowledge to theorize. We believe theory comes not from abstract written ideas but from the collective knowledge of Indigenous women whose lives have not informed feminist theories, methods, or policy concerns and whose lived experiences mainstream feminists will continue to ignore unless Indigenous women question and deconstruct existing methodologies. What are Indigenous women claiming as different from existing paradigms? An examination of Indigenous women's primary rhetorical practices demonstrates that communication and sharing through writing constitutes an important location where Indigenous women theorize our lives, a claim that raises additional questions. What does it mean to theorize, what tools does one use to theorize, and who is given the authority to theorize? Theorizing involves analyzing facts and their relationship to one another. Therefore, Indigenous women's work that produces knowledge based on one's lived experience is a form of theorizing. One tool Indigenous women use to theorize is writing, which provides a space for women to make sense of the world and their place in it. Additionally, Indigenous women's rhetorical practices produce knowledge that Cherríe Moraga refers to as "theory in the flesh," a concept that grounds struggles for knowledge in women's bodies. Consequently, if Indigenous feminist scholars hope to empower Indigenous peoples, we have a responsibility to acknowledge and integrate the many insights offered by Indigenous women, meaning we should recognize that everyone has the authority to theorize. An Indigenous feminist theory also presents strategies that empower, which includes naming the enemy, "reinventing the enemy's language," and writing to survive.3 An Indigenous feminist theory also reveals overarching characteristics such as responsibility, the promotion of healing, and a call for survival, all features this article explores.
Reinventing the Enemy's Language
Analyzing Indigenous women's appropriation, reinvention, and use of English and writing as rhetorical sites of power allows us to begin [End Page 89] conceptualizing alternative methodologies for articulating an Indigenous feminist theory. Indigenous women demonstrate that theory happens when we speak out and voice opposition to oppression and the many injustices we have experienced. An Indigenous feminist ethos of responsibility compels Indigenous women to write and speak to ensure survival, to empower, and, most of all, to heal, but what if our only language is Spanish, French, or English? What if the only language we know is the colonizers' language? For too long, Indigenous peoples have been led to believe that English and writing are our enemies. It is common...