- Making Space for Indigenous Feminism
Aboriginal women in Canada have debated the role of feminist theory in advancing their struggles for some time now, and Making Space for Indigenous Feminism reinvigorates this discussion. Edited by Joyce Green, this book contains a series of essays, stories, interviews, and poems from women around the world, most of whom belong to Indigenous groups. The book’s aim “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). And the stakes are high: at the Aboriginal Feminism Symposium organized by Green in 2002, participants shared stories of having endured backlash from Aboriginal men and women for taking public stances in support of Aboriginal women’s interests, making the label “Aboriginal feminist” “fraught” (p. 16).6
Green defines feminism as “an ideology based on a political analysis that takes women’s experiences seriously” as well as a process “of organization and of action” (p. 20). She critiques the gap in feminist literature on issues relating to Aboriginal women and notes that, similarly, “Indigenous liberation theory . . . has not been attentive to the gendered ways in which colonial oppression and racism function for men and women, or to the inherent and adopted sexisms that some communities manifest” (p. 23). A subsequent chapter (Verna St. Denis, “Feminism Is for Everybody”) tackles the critiques by Aboriginal women of feminist theories. Interestingly, that literature does contain some concessions toward a limited utility for feminist theory,7 and other writing by Aboriginal women uses some of the language and tools of [End Page 134] feminist theory, particularly equality rights.8 However, Green’s point is a different one—that Aboriginal feminism itself has not been theorized in an explicit way. Green provides an emerging definition of Aboriginal feminism that merges the perspectives of feminism and anti-colonialism by raising “issues of colonialism, racism and sexism, and the unpleasant synergy between these three violations of human rights” (p. 23).
Other chapters confirm some Indigenous women’s scepticism toward feminism. For example, Verna St. Denis reveals that she originally rejected feminism for its erasure of differences amongst women, although her engagement with the work of feminists of colour caused her to rethink her stance (p. 33). St. Denis now supports the possibilities of feminism for “nuanced and complex . . . analyses,” and responds here to the arguments made by some Aboriginal women that feminism is essentialist, acultural, colonialist, and overly reliant on liberalism (p. 43). At the same time, St. Denis notes that non-Aboriginal feminists still have work to do in theorizing and practising decolonization (pp. 47–48), and other contributors to this collection continue to resist the label “feminist.”9 Nevertheless, several authors advocate feminist approaches to achieving social justice for Indigenous persons and peoples, and detail the contributions that Indigenous women have made to feminist theory and politics.10
In a manner consistent with the work of non-Aboriginal feminists and Indigenous legal scholars, the contributors adopt a range of theoretical positions, although this is not always explicit. Several authors draw on postcolonial and anti-imperialist theories in their chapters.11 Others cite the work of critical race scholars, in particular critical race feminists, as influential.12 Post-structuralist feminism13 and eco-feminism14 are also relied on, and many authors advocate the avoidance of analyses that essentialize or romanticize Aboriginal women.15 The diversity of perspectives makes this collection a rich one, and further responds to the critiques outlined by St. Denis. [End Page 135]
There are several recurring themes in the book, many of which relate to matters (un)regulated by law.16 Some authors write about the impact of violence against women and note the internalization of patriarchal colonial attitudes toward Indigenous women.17 Family issues are also canvassed, including conceptions of motherhood and other traditional and contemporary roles of Indigenous women as well as child-welfare concerns.18 Several chapters examine questions of political power, self-determination, and sovereignty for Indigenous women.19 While many of these are areas of concern for both Aboriginal...