- Guest Editor's Remarks
The essays in this special section represent what I hope is the beginning of a focused conversation about Indigenous women's rhetoric in our discipline. As Devon Mihesuah (Choctaw) has reminded us, "Despite colonialism's oppressions and pressures on women's tribal cultural values, political system, and identities, hundreds if not thousands of Native women are actively making life more healthy, prosperous, and spiritual for their tribespeople."1 Indeed, Native women have always worked for the well-being and continuance of their people. One of the ways this work has been accomplished is rhetorically—Native women have used and continue to use language to theorize their life experiences and effect change for us all. The rhetorical work of Indigenous women deserves not only recognition but also close and careful examination. It is in this spirit that the authors in this section have written.
In the first essay, "Translation Moves: Zitkala-Ša's Bilingual Indian Legends," Ruth Spack analyzes Zitkala-Ša's translation of an Indian legend from Dakota into English. Significantly, Spack focuses on the ways in which Zitkala-Ša uses translation to reconstruct cultural identity. Although Spack acknowledges the ways in which Zitkala-Ša's writing is an act of political subversion, she highlights the uniquely Dakota perspective revealed in Zitkala-Ša's translation, thus focusing on the continuance of a distinctive oral tradition.
Like Spack, I also chose to consider a tribally specific rhetoric in my essay "Powerful Medicine: The Rhetoric of Comanche Activist LaDonna Harris." In this essay, I examine Harris's model of leadership [End Page 41] and activism—a model based on specifically on her exercise of core cultural values. I contend that Harris has used her advocacy organization, Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO), as the means to exercise her core values in a contemporary setting. Through AIO's publications, forums, workshops, and so on, Harris has created intellectual spaces for Native people to come together and philosophize about their own situations, thus engendering a rhetoric of decolonization. An examination of Harris's rhetoric reveals that our most effective rhetorical practices may be the ones that spring from our own traditions.
Finally, in "'I Give You Back': Indigenous Women Writing to Survive," Elizabeth Archuleta (Yaqui/Chicana) considers the ways Indigenous women make meaning from life experiences as acts of theorizing. She argues that Native women's rhetorical practices, which are grounded in life experiences, constitute "theory in the flesh." By analyzing the writings of many Native women authors, as well as the activism of the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC), Archuleta argues that Indigenous women are "refusing to remain silent about the violence perpetuated by repressive hierarchies and structural inequalities even when they exist in our own communities." She posits that Indigenous women who "write to survive" broaden our notions of leadership and activism, arguing that the rhetorical practices "of writing and embodying a theory in the flesh empowers because it heals."
Read together, these essays ask us to consider the ways in which Indigenous women's rhetorics are grounded in tribally specific values and life experiences. They recognize the remarkable contribution Native women have made and continue to make in our communities, complicating how we understand leadership and activism.
Amanda J. Cobb (Chickasaw) is an associate professor of American studies at the University of New Mexico. She currently directs the Institute for American Indian Research at UNM and serves as the editor of American Indian Quarterly. In 2007 Cobb is returning to the Chickasaw Nation to serve as the administrator for the new division of history, research, and scholarship, which encompasses the Center for the Study of Chickasaw History and Culture and the Chickasaw Press.
1. Devon Mihesuah, Indigenous American Women: Decolonization, Empowerment, Activism (Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2003) xix. [End Page 42]