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  • Indigenous Women and Transnational Feminist Struggle:Theorizing the Politics of Compromise and Care
  • Cheryl Suzack (bio)

Situating indigenous issues within the conceptual terrain mapped out by the terms "transnational" and "triage" for the purposes of this special issue requires something of a theoretical leap. Because questions about indigenous issues invariably raise concerns about indigenous identity, the intersection between "issues" and "identities" in transnational contexts occurs in politically complex ways. Indigenous scholars have shown, for example, that indigeneity or "indigenousness," at the nation-state level, represents "an identity constructed, shaped and lived in the politicized context of contemporary colonialism," wherein "state-imposed conceptions of supposedly Indigenous identity read to Indigenous peoples" as "signs" that they have been "dispossessed and disempowered in their own homelands" (Alfred and Corntassel 2005, 597, 598). Conversely, when indigenous groups have participated in international forums "to attain state recognition of their political, social, economic, and cultural autonomy," they have encountered "rigorous definitional standards [that] conform [End Page 179] to typical state-centric bureaucratic practices—practices that are alien to most indigenous belief systems, which place an emphasis on inclusiveness" (Corntassel and Primeau 1998, 139, 140).

The politics of making "visible" and "invisible" indigenous identities by nation-states in order to manage "indigenous difference" has also lead to a corresponding tension between the recognition of indigenous goals in international forums, goals that include "self-determination, land rights, and promoting cultural integrity," and the "emergence of new global and regional legal instruments to protect the rights of indigenous peoples" (Corntassel and Primeau 1998, 94). As Jeff Corntassel explains, even as international associations "have advocated an unlimited right to 'self-identification' in order to counter possible actions of 'host' states who might deny indigenous claims within their borders," host states have continued "to deny the very relevance of indigenous identity" and thus "disrupt an ongoing global indigenous rights discourse over the passage of key human rights protections" (2003, 75, 95). Indigenous identity is thus paradoxically situated under regimes of colonial governmentality: on the one hand, it is made visible through nation-state discourses concerned with its management, and on the other, it is made invisible through international relations that universalize its political aims. In this paper, I explore how these transnational practices of making visible and invisible indigenous identities displace the concerns of indigenous women.

The protection of indigenous rights and identities for indigenous women is equally as fraught as the recognition of indigenous concerns within transnational relations. In Canada, the regulation of indigenous identity under colonial legislation known as the Indian Act has a long history, one that illuminates the disparities that occur for indigenous peoples, particularly indigenous women, through its ongoing control by the nation-state.1 Although scholars have shown how this legislation specifically targets women and their children, they have also demonstrated that the issues raised by colonial laws have implications for debates about indigenous self-determination, autonomy, self-government, and justice (Napoleon 2005; Lawrence 2003).2 Whereas these latter issues are decidedly transnational in scope, they are complicated by the politics governing when and how indigenous women's [End Page 180] concerns arise. Colonial case law shows these tensions by demonstrating not only how law produces contradictory forms of identity for indigenous women, but also how these identities are naturalized through the hegemony of the nation-state. I focus here on two cases known as the McIvor decisions (2007, 2009) from Canada to demonstrate how legal identity figures as a site for the continuing disempowerment of indigenous women's rights to their homelands and inheritances. My purpose is to illustrate the contradictions within colonial policies that are creating new classes of indigenous peoples who are not only "landless" (Lawrence 2003, 6) but also "placeless." Scholars such as Bonita Lawrence have argued that in spite of indigenous peoples' assertions that "individual identity is always being negotiated in relation to collective identity," colonial law continues to define and control 'Indianness' and thus both "distort[s] and disrupt[s] older Indigenous ways of identifying the self in relation not only to collective identity but also to the land" (4). These disruptions, as a number of scholars have shown, disproportionately affect indigenous women. Despite these interventions and demands...


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pp. 179-193
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