- Felt TheoryAn Indigenous Feminist Approach to Affect and History
An ideology is made of what it does not mention; it exists because there are things which must not be spoken of—Pierre Machery1
We were not normal children at these schools, we were more like robots, always taking orders, never involved in decision-making of any kind. We were never asked what we thought or even encouraged to think for ourselves. We learned soon after arriving at the schools not to express ourselves. We got into trouble when we spoke our minds, expressed feelings, or dared to question anything.—Bev Sellars2 [End Page 53]
In this essay I make the case for remembering and understanding the impact of Canadian First Nation women’s first-person and experiential narrative on white, mostly male mainstream scholarship. I argue that these narratives were political acts in themselves that in their time exploded the measured “objective” accounts of Canadian (and U.S.) colonial histories. First Nations women in Canada changed the actual conditions for what could be said about the poverty and discrimination that were their daily fare. I wish to discuss the conditions under which these women spoke at all: of sex discrimination in their lives and communities, of what it took to challenge their own families, particularly the men. It is these women’s acknowledgment of their actual experiences that illuminated a space for both men and women to speak one of colonialism’s nastiest “domestic” secrets. First Nation men’s and women’s personal testimony in the early 1990s put Canada in an international spotlight for genocidal child abuse spanning a century. Their personal testimonies shamed Canadians’ simple belief in the benign nature of their child education–assimilation policies. But their stories hadn’t magically appeared. They were at the heart of the struggle. Native women’s personal narrative explored the racialized, gendered, and sexual nature of their colonization. In doing so, they transformed the debilitating force of an old social control, shame, into a social change agent in their generation. I explore here their sixth sense about the moral affective heart of capitalism and colonialism as an analysis. A felt analysis is one that creates a context for a more complex “telling,” one that illuminates the deeper meaning of their “education” in Canada.
By exploring the early work of Maria Campbell, Lee Maracle, Ruby Slipperjack, and others, I suggest ways that Indigenous women participated in creating new language for communities to address the real multilayered facets of their histories and concerns by insisting on the inclusion of our lived experience, rich with emotional knowledges, of what pain and grief and hope meant or mean now in our pasts and futures. It is also to underline again the importance of felt experiences as community knowledges that interactively inform our positions as Native scholars, particularly as Native women scholars. Our felt scholarship continues to be segregated as a “feminine” experience, as polemic, or at worst as not knowledge at all.
I also argue that academia repetitively produces gatekeepers to our entry into important social discourses because we feel our histories as well as think them. How is it that our oral traditions and our literary and historical voices are suppressed? What are the arguments that have been used to reduce what we say to the margins of public and academic discourse in the United States and Canada? Our voices are still positioned in a particular way, definitely reminiscent of the past silences we know so well, contingent [End Page 54] to our colonized position now. Indigenous women have spoken and written powerfully from experiences that they have lived or have chosen to relive through the stories they choose to tell. Our voices rock the boat and perhaps the world. They are dangerous. All of this becomes important to our emerging conversation on Indigenous feminisms, on our ability to speak to ourselves, to inform ourselves and our generations, to counter and intervene in a constantly morphing colonial system. To “decolonize” means to understand as fully as possible the forms colonialism takes in our own times.
Violence Is the Game and Sex Abuse Is Its Name