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Reviewed by:
  • Indigenous Women and Feminism: Politics, Activism, Culture
  • Rita Kaur Dhamoon, Assistant Professor
Cheryl Suzack, Shari M. Huhndorf, Jeanne Perreault, and Jean Barman Indigenous Women and Feminism: Politics, Activism, Culture. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2011, 344 p.

This innovative and richly informative collection of essays demonstrates the urgent need to conceptualize Indigenous feminist projects and, importantly, also clarifies and develops a distinctive framework of Indigenous feminisms—an area of academic inquiry that is still growing in Canada.

While the book is organized into three parts around the themes of "politics," "activism," and "culture," most of the chapters clearly touch on all three aspects simultaneously. Part 1, "Politics," reflects the multiplicity of perspectives: the authors examine the relevance of feminism to cultural traditions specific to the Inuit (Grey); Indigenous women's leadership in the context of Native feminist ethics, drawing on the ceremonies of the Navajo, Hopi, and Pueblo (Tsosie); gender and tribal politics in early Cherokee writings (Donaldson); and Indigenous women's leadership in the early twentieth century, specifically Oneida, Six Nations, and Blackfoot women leaders (Hilden and Lee).

Part 2 explores the many historical and contemporary sites of Indigenous women's activism, including the possibilities and limits of Western feminism for Indigenous feminism (Anderson); the agency of different Indigenous women in British Columbia at the "cusp of contact" (Barnum); forms of coalitional feminism between Black and Indigenous women in late-nineteenth-century America (Zackodik); case law on Indigenous women's bid to have band membership reinstated in Canada, and the role of the "Aboriginal-woman-as-feeling-subject" in generating identity and exposing the limits of law (Suzack); and Ainu women's activism in Japan and their disjunctures and commonalities with feminism, including Japanese feminism (Lewallen).

Part 3, "Culture," is the largest section of the book; here the focus shifts to art, and specifically to considering Indigenous women dramatists (Hundorf), [End Page 155] performers (Evans, Kalbfleisch), filmmakers (Demers), storytellers and story-weavers (Emberley), and memory carriers and sharers (McCallum, Perreault). These chapters expose "gender as a key signifier and instrument of colonial power" (p. 183, Huhndorf), disrupt and transform official accounts of colonial gendered violence, rework feminism, and reassemble knowledge about Indigenous experiences, especially those "forgotten" or neglected in other traditions of scholarship. Without doubt, this section establishes how theory and practice intertwine in Indigenous feminism.

The contributions of this volume are at least threefold. First, the authors reveal distinct histories and traditions across time and space while also confronting the fact that the imposition of patriarchal colonialism has transformed Indigenous societies and generated an urgent need to foreground Indigenous feminisms. As the editors note, "The contributors do not seek to create a singular or unified definition of Indigenous feminism but rather to explore the myriad, sometimes conflicting questions that result from Indigenous feminist inquiry" (p. 11). Indeed, these authors refuse a conflation between different Indigenous women's identities and their political goals.

Second, the book contributes to, critiques, and reshapes feminist theory. As the editors state, there is a fraught historical relationship between Indigenous women and mainstream feminisms (p. 4). Many of the authors—not all of whom are Indigenous—interrogate feminism as a unifying framework for women while punctuating and developing key features of Indigenous feminism. As an example, Kim Anderson, a Cree-Métis feminist, argues that even if Western feminism is unpalatable because it is based on rights, sameness, and liberal individualism, "[f ]eminist theory can help us to be more vigilant in protecting our own teachings, lest they reappear as patriarchy with an Indigenous face" (p. 89). She offers a number of Indigenous feminist principles, including a reverence for land and animals, kinship networks, and empowered motherhood that fosters Indigenous nationhood and refuses patriarchal familial structures. Overall, this collection links, rather than disaggregates, the relationships among patriarchy, colonialism, Indigenous peoples, and non-human forces. Accordingly, the authors seem to adopt an intersectional approach to patriarchy and colonialism, although, interestingly, the language of "intersectionality" is barely used, even as it proliferates in other streams of feminism.

Third, many of the chapters locate Indigenous governance and national liberation as constitutive of Indigenous feminisms. Authors critically reflect on patriarchy in dominant and Indigenous communities, and reject the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-0227
Print ISSN
0829-3201
Pages
pp. 155-157
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-07
Open Access
No
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