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Reviewed by:
  • Restoring the Balance: First Nations Women, Community, and Culture
  • Andrea Smith
Gail Guthrie Valaskakis, Madeline Dion Stout, and Eric Guimond, eds. Restoring the Balance: First Nations Women, Community, and Culture. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2009. 384 pp. Paper, $27.95; cloth, $59.95.

Restoring the Balance highlights the importance of First Nations women in social policy, community healing, and cultural continuity within the Canadian context. This edited anthology brings together First Nations intellectuals (both inside and outside the academy) who work in diverse areas, including law, social welfare, literature, language revitalization, and art. This diversity is both a strength and a weakness for this volume. By covering such an expansive terrain, Restoring the Balance convincingly demonstrates the critical contributions Native women make to all areas of life as well as the importance of developing social policy through a gender lens. At the same time, the volume seems to lack [End Page 271] cohesion, especially since the relatively short introduction does not detail a theoretical framework for why these essays fit together. The volume is divided into four sections: “Historic Trauma”; “Intellectual and Social Movements”; “Health and Healing”; and “Arts, Culture, and Language.” All of these themes are covered in the volume, but it is not always clear why essays are grouped in the sections they are.

In spite of this concern, the essays in this book make important contributions to the development of Native women’s studies. Particularly helpful is the manner in which several essays detail extensively the contributions made by Native women in various fields. Viviane Gray profiles the work of several Native women visual artists. Kim Anderson highlights the work of female chiefs in Canada—the interventions they make as well as the challenges they face. Jo-ann Archibald provides a genealogy of some of the first Native women who became professors in the academy. She argues that, contrary to the popular notion that those in the academy are necessarily divorced from the realities faced by Native communities, these Native scholars all used their positions within the academy to advance the well-being of their communities. The essays raise the profile of many Native women scholars and activists whose work is often marginalized within male- or white-dominated venues.

Within Native women’s studies some of the work that is emerging today takes on an explicitly feminist analysis by centering gender as an analytic of power that enables the logics of settler colonialism and white supremacy. In this volume the essays are less interested in a gender/feminist analysis and more interested in highlighting the importance of gender inclusion within social policy and promoting women’s contributions to Native studies and Native communities. As an example, Anita Olsen Harper outlines the importance of the Sisters in Spirit campaign, which developed in response to both the alarming rate of Native women who have been murdered/disappeared in Canada as well as the lack of response by the police to this crisis. Harper’s essay provides an excellent overview of this campaign as well as a genealogy of its emergence. The general strategies for addressing this crisis focus on pressuring the state to stop this crisis through more police action, social service programs, and so on. This response would differ from some of the work by other Native antiviolence activists who understand the state itself as a primary perpetrator of gendered colonial violence rather than as a solution to it.

Many of the essays, such as those by Cynthia C. Wesley-Esquimaux, Yvonne Boyer, Anita Olsen Harper, and Kim Anderson, analyze how colonialism is a gendered process. Wesley-Esquimaux explains how Christian missionization instilled patriarchal values that became internalized within Native communities. Anderson explains how the Indian Act replaced traditional systems of governance with electoral systems that prohibited women from seeking office or voting. [End Page 272] Harper and Boyer examine how the colonial processes and legal policies rendered Native women inherently disposable and rapable in Canada. Most of the essays do not focus on a politics of decolonization. That is, the proposed solutions tend to presume the continuance of the Canadian settler state rather than explicitly calling for the dismantling of the settler state or...


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pp. 271-274
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