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The article explores two intertwined ideas: that the United States is a settler colonial nation-state and that settler colonialism has been and continues to be a gendered process. The article engages Native feminist theories to excavate the deep connections between settler colonialism and heteropatriarchy, highlighting five central challenges that Native feminist theories pose to gender and women's studies. From problematizing settler colonialism and its intersections to questioning academic participation in Indigenous dispossession, responding to these challenges requires a significant departure from how gender and women's studies is regularly understood and taught. Too often, the consideration of Indigenous peoples remains rooted in understanding colonialism as an historical point in time away from which our society has progressed. Centering settler colonialism within gender and women's studies instead exposes the still-existing structure of settler colonialism and its powerful effects on Indigenous peoples and settlers. Taking as its audience practitioners of both "whitestream" and other feminisms and writing in conversation with a long history of Native feminist theorizing, the article offers critical suggestions for the meaningful engagement of Native feminisms. Overall, it aims to persuade readers that attending to the links between heteropatriarchy and settler colonialism is intellectually and politically imperative for all peoples living within settler colonial contexts.


heteropaternalism, heteropatriarchy, Indigenous perspectives on feminist theory, Native feminist theories, settler colonialism, whitestream feminism[End Page 8]

Native feminist theories centrally address two intertwined ideas that are significant but often overlooked in feminist discourses: the United States and many other Western countries, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, are settler colonial nation-states, and settler colonialism has been and continues to be a gendered process. Because the United States is balanced upon notions of white supremacy and heteropatriarchy, everyone living in the country is not only racialized and gendered, but also has a relationship to settler colonialism. Native feminist theories offer new and reclaimed ways of thinking through not only how settler colonialism has impacted Indigenous and settler communities, but also how feminist theories can imagine and realize different modes of nationalism and alliances in the future (see also Smith 2007).1 This article highlights five central challenges that Native feminist theories pose to gender and women's studies. With these challenges, we offer suggestions for meaningful engagement, arguing overall that attending to the links between heteropatriarchy and settler colonialism is intellectually and politically imperative.

Although this article focuses primarily on gender and women's studies, Native feminist theories also importantly highlight how ethnic studies has failed to adequately address settler colonialism. Attending to settler colonialism requires a significant departure from how gender and women's studies and ethnic studies are regularly understood and taught. Conventionally, it is assumed that gender and women's studies is inclusive of those who identify as women and indeed all people who are gendered, and that ethnic studies addresses Indigenous concerns, along with those of other ethnic groups. These fields teach people to think about themselves in relation to a gendered and racialized society (Omi and Winant 1994). However, engaging settler colonialism involves different frameworks from the ones these fields often prioritize. While both gender and women's studies and ethnic studies unmask gender and race as social constructions, with often devastating material effects for women and nonwhite people, respectively, these fields also expose various mythologies about gender and race, including the myth of misogyny and racism as to-be-expected characteristics of human nature. Yet, within this important work, too often the consideration of Indigenous peoples remains rooted in understanding colonialism (like state-sanctioned slavery) as an historical point in time away from which our society has progressed. Centering settler colonialism within gender and women's studies and ethnic studies instead exposes the still-existing structure of settler colonization and its powerful effects on Indigenous peoples and others. This recognition within gender and women's studies and ethnic studies makes possible new visions of what decolonization might look like for all peoples. It also opens up the possibility of new forms of activism based on critically thought-out alliances, rather than always taking the shape of alliances within and between seemingly naturally formed and identifiable groups of people—namely, women and people of color—as given. [End Page 9]

In fact, the prevalence of liberal multicultural discourses today effectively works to maintain settler colonialism because they make it easy to assume that all minorities and ethnic groups are different though working toward inclusion and equality, each in its own similar and parallel way. Justice is often put in terms that coincide with the expansion of the settler state (see Scott Lauria Morgensen [2011] for a discussion of the compatibility of queer politics with white normativity and settler society). While Indigenous peoples do form important alliances with people of color, Indigenous communities' concerns are often not about achieving formal equality or civil rights within a nation-state, but instead achieving substantial independence from a Western nation-state—independence decided on their own terms. The feminist concerns of white women, women of color, and Indigenous women thus often differ and conflict with one another. In other words, within the context of land and settler colonialism, the issues facing Indigenous women, as inseparable from the issues facing Indigenous peoples as a whole, are resolved via decolonization and sovereignty, not (just) parity.

We write as three Indigenous women-identified scholars situated variously in the disciplines of ethnic studies, education, and Indigenous studies.2 Each of us works to apply Indigenous theories and decolonizing frameworks to contemporary social realities in order to contest the rampant misrepresentations of Indigenous peoples and their lives in school curricula, the media, and the sociological imagination, and Native feminism has given us important tools to do such work. We believe that the challenges this article describes will be relevant to many disciplines, including our home disciplines of ethnic studies, education, and Indigenous studies, where feminist theories have long been important. Yet, we address this article primarily to theorists and activists of mainstream, or "whitestream," feminism, as well as to other feminisms and nationalisms, including Asian, black, Latina, third world, transnational, and queer feminisms and nationalisms, because greater engagement between Native feminist theories and other feminisms is sorely needed.3

Our challenges respectfully push both conventional modes of feminism and more radical ones, as we see the need to interrogate everywhere what Rey Chow has termed "the ascendancy of whiteness," a concept denoting the multiple ways that the condition of being white, and enjoying the often nationalist privileges of that whiteness, is made to seem neutral and inviting or inclusive of racial, sexual, and other minorities (Chow, qtd. in Morgensen 2010, 105; see also Puar 2007). By being included (whether by choice, coercion, or force) in whiteness, a wide array of Indigenous peoples, people of color, and queer communities are given the "opportunity" to take part in the settling processes that dispossess just such "other-ed" peoples globally. Such opportunities include everything from participating in the global War on Terror, as scholars like Jasbir K. Puar (2007) brilliantly critique, to naturalizing and maintaining settler colonialism in the United States. We argue that allying one's self with feminism should not [End Page 10] require consenting to inclusion within a larger agenda of whiteness; indeed, we believe that Native feminist theories demonstrate that feminisms, when allied with other key causes, hold a unique potential to decolonize the ascendancy of whiteness in many global contexts.

Overall, we write in conversation with other Native and Indigenous studies scholars at a time when Native feminist theories are at the forefront of many of the most exciting and challenging works coming out of Native and Indigenous studies. Yet, Native feminist theories, and the arguments we make in this article, come from a long line of activism and intellectual thought. We, and the contemporary Native feminist theories our article focuses on, are indebted to a rich history of Native feminist theories circulated both within and against whitestream feminism and other academic fields since at least the 1960s. Native feminist theories have thrived in the past five decades, and yet, these theories have been given far too little attention by academic disciplines whose fields might benefit from such work the most.4 We view the work done by both early and contemporary Native women scholars, artists, and activists, often completed without substantial institutional support and with significant personal cost, as intellectual gifts. Without them, our uphill battle would be even steeper and lonelier and our own thinking less rich. Gifts like these come with a kind of responsibility—a responsibility that is less a burden than a desire to continue to create a future for Native feminist theories to thrive. Thus, our article is oriented by a passion to amplify Native feminist theories in a continued effort to unsettle both the academy at large and gender and women's studies in particular.

Key Terms

Before we move on to the central challenges we issue to gender and women's studies, we must define several key terms we use throughout this article: namely, "Native feminist theories," "settler colonialism," "heteropatriarchy," and "heteropaternalism." In this article, we define Native feminist theories as those theories that make substantial advances in understandings of the connections between settler colonialism and both heteropatriarchy and heteropaternalism.5 Native feminist theories focus on compound issues of gender, sexuality, race, indigeneity, and nation. We privilege the specific phrasing of "Native feminist theories" in order to highlight our view of this as an intellectually wide-reaching and ambitious field. For the purposes of this article, we prefer this phrasing over "Native feminist(s)" or "Native feminism(s)" because these are identity-derived labels, referring to those scholars and activists who identify as Native and Indigenous feminist women; indeed, these are the scholars who are central in leading and advancing this field. Yet, we do not view Native feminist theories as limited to the participation of those who are Indigenous, feminist, and/or woman identified. As with other unjustly ghettoized fields like ethnic studies, black studies, and black feminist studies, Native feminist theories are meant to [End Page 11] have a much wider audience and active engagement. Further, many scholars who never identified as Native feminists have made valuable contributions to Native feminist theories. So, too, there are many good reasons why Native women protest and distance themselves from the label "feminist." Native scholar Luana Ross (2009), for example, has described "feminist" as the "'f' word" within the context of her own experiences with the persistent stigma that feminism carries within Native communities and Native academic circles because of its association with whiteness.

Our second key term, "settler colonialism," comes laden with historical connotations within the U.S. imaginary that link settlers to representations of intrepid white men who bravely conquered the Wild West. In our article, settler colonialism refers to the structure of a society and cannot be reduced to, as many nationalist ideologies would have it, the merely unfortunate birth pangs of its establishment that remain in the distant past; settler colonialism and patriarchy are structures, not events (Wolfe 1999). Settler colonialism is a persistent social and political formation in which newcomers/colonizers/settlers come to a place, claim it as their own, and do whatever it takes to disappear the Indigenous peoples that are there. Within settler colonialism, it is exploitation of land that yields supreme value. In order for settlers to usurp the land and extract its value, Indigenous peoples must be destroyed, removed, and made into ghosts. Extracting value from the land also often requires systems of slavery and other forms of labor exploitation. These simultaneous processes of taking over the land (by killing and erasing the peoples with previous relationships to that land) and importing forced labor (to work the land as chattel slaves to yield high profit margins for the landowners) produced the wealth upon which the U.S. nation's world power is founded. Profit is obtained by making property out of the land, as well as out of the body of the slave. The triad relationship among the industrious settler, the erased/invisibilized Native, and the ownable and murderable slave is evident in the ways in which the United States continues to exploit Indigenous, black, and other peoples deemed "illegal" (or otherwise threatening and usurping) immigrants, which is why we describe settler colonialism as a persistent structure.

Strategies employed against Indigenous peoples to establish and maintain the U.S. settler colonial nation-state have included: genocide, the designation of land reserves, the bestowal of land (only) to Alaska Native corporations, and the laws of blood quantum designed to diminish the recognition of Indigenous claims to land over generations. At the same time, laws have been constructed to enable white settlers to make claims of indigeneity (Kauanui 2008a; Simpson 2008). Sherman Alexie (1996) warns that "[i]n the Great American Indian novel, when it is finally written, all of the white people will be Indians and all of the Indians will be ghosts" (95). Embedded in the racial construction of Indigenous peoples in the United States is a eugenic idea, one that has never been effectively undone: that the destiny of First Peoples is to become less [End Page 12] Native (thus, less empowered to make land claims) over generations. Within this racial construction, over time, Indigenous claims are diluted and settlers indeed become the native owners of a place. Thus, settler colonialism must be understood as a multi-fronted project of making the First Peoples of a place extinct; it is a relentless structure, not contained in a period of time.

Our final key terms are linked: "heteropatriarchy" and "heteropaternalism." By heteropatriarchy, we mean the social systems in which heterosexuality and patriarchy are perceived as normal and natural, and in which other configurations are perceived as abnormal, aberrant, and abhorrent. By heteropaternalism, we mean the presumption that heteropatriarchal nuclear-domestic arrangements, in which the father is both center and leader/boss, should serve as the model for social arrangements of the state and its institutions. Thus, both heteropatriarchy and heteropaternalism refer to expressions of patriarchy and paternalism that rely upon very narrow definitions of the male/female binary, in which the male gender is perceived as strong, capable, wise, and composed and the female gender is perceived as weak, incompetent, naïve, and confused.

Toward a Different Kind of Gender and Women's Studies

In an introduction to a 2009 special issue of the journal Wicazo Sa Review, Mishuana R. Goeman and Jennifer Nez Denetdale speak to the ways in which terms like "feminist" are contested, but more importantly, they speak to the shared aims (overlaps) of Native feminist theories. They write that

we affirm the usefulness of a Native feminism's analysis and, indeed, declare that Native feminist analysis is crucial if we are determined to decolonize as Native peoples. . . . [F]or Native women, there is no one definition of Native feminism; rather, there are multiple definitions and layers of what it means to do Native feminist analysis. However, as Native feminists, our dreams and goals overlap; we desire to open up spaces where generations of colonialism have silenced Native peoples about the status of their women and about the intersections of power and domination that have also shaped Native nations and gender relations. We rely on still developing frameworks for Native feminisms to examine and reflect upon the reverberations in our Native homelands.


Goeman and Denetdale clearly delineate what is at stake in Native feminist theories for Indigenous women. We want to extend their work to consider what is at stake for feminist discourses at large. Native feminist theories yield valuable insights and analyses for gender and women's studies, yet are subject to conceptual and spatial erasures (Hall 2008) precisely because settler colonialism as a contemporary social order and structure has been invisibilized. Lorenzo Veracini (2011), a scholar who has led recent academic efforts to theorize settler colonialism as an important global phenomenon, posits that [End Page 13] settler colonialism is "characterized by a persistent drive to supersede the conditions of its operation" (3)—that is, to make itself seem natural, without origin (and without end), and inevitable. This is why a politics of inclusion is so undesirable within Native feminist frameworks. Consider a slogan created by national activist organization INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence: "Feminist since 1492" (INCITE! 2006). This slogan succinctly rejects the Eurocentric, Global North-hegemonic notion of first, second, and third waves of feminism and acknowledges that Indigenous women have been at the forefront of struggles against domination long before the nineteenth century, especially in the face of empire. We do not need permission to be included in feminist thought or writings; Native feminist theories already inform and have impacted whitestream feminist theories. We are arguing that there cannot be feminist thought and theory without Native feminist theory. The experiences and intellectual contributions of Indigenous women are not on the margins; we have been an invisible presence in the center, hidden by the gendered logics of settler colonialism for over 500 years.

Unmasking the forces that have hidden Indigenous women and Native feminist theories within gender and women's studies therefore requires critical reflection and a commitment toward structural change. Native feminist theories at their heart challenge the academy's common modes of disciplinarity; they exhort ethnic studies and Indigenous studies, as well as gender and women's studies, to address the erasure of Indigenous women and Native feminist theories in ways that are not simply token inclusion of seemingly secondary (or beyond) issues, but rather shift the entire basis of how disciplines see and understand their proper subjects. Thus, ethnic studies and Indigenous studies must centrally address theories of heteropatriarchy; and gender and women's studies must centrally address theories of settler colonialism and indigeneity. Undoubtedly, there is more work to do to achieve these goals in all these disciplines, although significant inroads have been made in recent years, particularly in Indigenous studies. What follows are five key challenges that Native feminist theories offer to feminist discourses, especially as these inform gender and women's studies, and provisional suggestions toward a productive response.

First Challenge: Problematize Settler Colonialism and Its Intersections

The first challenge is to problematize and theorize the intersections of settler colonialism, heteropatriarchy, and heteropaternalism. Native feminist theories reveal that a key aspect of the relentlessness of settler colonialism is the consistency and thus naturalization of heteropatriarchy and heteropaternalism. The heteropaternal organization of citizens into nuclear families, each expressing a "proper," modern sexuality, has been a cornerstone in the production of a citizenry that will support and bolster the nation-state. Thus, as settler nations sought to disappear Indigenous peoples' complex structures of government and kinship, the [End Page 14] management of Indigenous peoples' gender roles and sexuality was also key in remaking Indigenous peoples into settler state citizens. For example, in Canada, the Indian Act of 1876 regulated the marriage of Indigenous peoples to confer lines of descent, property, and landholding to men, even though most societies were matrilineal (Barker 2008; Simpson 2008). Furthermore, across the United States and Canada, boarding schools removed Native children from their families, aiming to both sever their ties with their families and home communities and to destroy the transfer of Indigenous identity, politics, and culture to the next generations. The boarding-school process of "kill the Indian and save the man" attempted to mold Native children into Western gender roles, and often also subjected them to sexual violence.6

The imposition of heteropatriarchy and heteropaternalism does much to interrupt Indigenous nations' very "sense of being a people" (Smith 2005, 3), with serious material consequences for Indigenous nations' futures. It is important to note that in many cases, the enforcement of "proper" gender roles is entangled in settler nations' attempts to limit and manage Indigenous peoples' claims to land. In Hawai'i, the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920 instituted a system whereby Native Hawaiians of 50 percent "blood" or more would be able to lease (never own) small plots of land called homesteads from the government, in lieu of more substantial land rights.7 Because of this state-authored blood-quantum policy, which remains in effect today with few revisions, some Native Hawaiians have come to defend the 50 percent blood definition as the "traditional" standard to be recognized as Native Hawaiian, despite the fact that Native Hawaiian genealogy has long been inclusive along both patrilineal and matrilineal lines and never been solely defined by blood amounts (Kauanui 2008b). As a consequence, Native Hawaiian women are faced with a particular pressure to partner with certain Native Hawaiian men in order to possibly produce children who can still meet the 50 percent blood quantum, and they are sometimes criticized for failing to "save the race" when they do not (Arvin forthcoming).

Yet, Native Hawaiian women, like other Indigenous women, do not need to be "saved" from the ways heteropatriarchy and heteropaternalism have taken root within Indigenous communities. They are already, and have long been, working toward decolonization within and beyond their own communities' boundaries. Many Indigenous women activists have refused the false binary between fighting for "women's issues" and fighting for "Native issues," which for Indigenous women are always coiled together. Suggesting that women's issues should be left out of Native and other radical forms of nationalisms (such as black nationalism) or dealt with only after decolonization is achieved reflects yet another way that heteropatriarchy, heteropaternalism, and settler colonialism have so deeply shaped Indigenous communities. Native feminist theories suggest that actively decolonizing the very process of decolonization is just as important as achieving Indigenous communities' political end-goals. [End Page 15]

Native feminist theories thus offer a number of useful starting points in problematizing the intersections among settler colonialism, heteropatriarchy, and heteropaternalism, particularly through demonstrating how whitestream and other feminist movements often ignore and, at times, perpetuate this triad. In acknowledging and critiquing settler colonialism and its intersections, feminist scholarship and activism may need to set different liberatory goals, ones that do not assume the innocence or desirability of the continued existence of the nation-state as we currently know it. For example, Andrea Smith (2008a) insists that Native feminist theories, unlike other frameworks, do not assume the permanence of settler colonial nation-states, but rather seek to explore and determine societal structures that do not rely on the maintenance of a nation-state. We quote from her at length here to emphasize the potential of this intellectual and political rethinking of the nation-state for both Native and non-Native peoples:

Native feminism can provide a helpful vantage point for destabilizing normative notions of nations and nation-states. That is, the colonial context of indigenous women provides them an opportunity to critically interrogate the contradictions between the United States articulating itself as a democratic country on the one hand and simultaneously founding itself on the past and current genocide of Native peoples on the other hand. When we do not presume that the United States should or will always continue to exist, we create the space to reflect on what might be more just forms of governance, not only for Native peoples, but for the rest of the world. Native women activists have begun articulating spiritually based visions of nation and sovereignty that are separate from nation-states. Whereas nation-states are governed through domination and coercion, indigenous sovereignty and nationhood are predicated on interrelatedness and responsibility. In opposition to nation-states, which are based on control over territory, these visions of indigenous nationhood are based on care and responsibility for land that all can share. These models of sovereignty are not based on a narrow definition of nation that would entail a closely bounded community and ethnic cleansing. So, these articulations pose an alternative to theories that assume that the endpoint to a national struggle is a nation-state and that assume the givenness of the nation-state system.


We see this decentering of the nation-state and the imagination toward governance beyond the nation-state as a generous and generative contribution of Native feminist theory. This is not to deny that the pursuit of civil rights within the nation-states that claim authority over Indigenous peoples is important and often vitally necessary, but simply to encourage ideas of social change and social justice that do not only look to the models of governance and community that settler nation-states are founded on. As Native feminist theories suggest, a decolonization movement must thirst for the eradication of [End Page 16] both heteropatriarchy and settler colonialism or else it will do little to achieve decolonization for either Indigenous women or men. This type of decolonization inherently requires more than the type of justice that can be pursued at a settler nation-state level. Similarly, a decolonized gender and women's studies that pays greater attention to both heteropatriarchy and settler colonialism, activating the models provided by Native feminist theories, could produce liberatory scholarship and activism for Indigenous women, non-Indigenous women, and, ultimately, all peoples.

Second Challenge: Refuse Erasure But Do More Than Include

The second challenge is to refuse the erasure of Indigenous women within gender and women's studies and reconsider the implications of the end game of (only) inclusion. At first, this may read as a fundamental contradiction, but it is important for feminist discourses to determine ways to engage Native feminist theories and the experiential realities of Indigenous women-identified people without absorbing or merely including them into the existing canon of gender and women's studies literature. Native feminist analyses contend that inclusion (of Native feminist theories within whitestream or other types of feminism, or of Indigenous peoples within settler colonial nation-states), cannot be the primary goal because inclusion confers a preeminent hierarchy, and inclusion is central to hierarchical power. The project of inclusion can serve to control and absorb dissent rather than allow institutions like feminism and the nation-state to be radically transformed by differing perspectives and goals. Instead, feminist discourses might expect to engage Indigenous women and Native feminist theories and to be changed by this engagement in ways that are meaningful and still emerging. Read only as an identity label from a non-Native perspective, Native feminism can easily be considered merely a specialized subset of whitestream feminism, which often stands in as the seemingly neutral field of feminism as a whole. This is one of the key reasons that the term "Native feminist" is contested by Native women, despite the fact that Native feminist theorists have long insisted on the plurality of Native feminisms rather than attempt to define any singular mode of Native feminism.8

Pervasive unease exists within Native communities about mainstream feminism's whiteness. Noted Native Hawaiian scholar and activist Haunani-Kay Trask (1986), for example, wrote her dissertation, subsequently published as her first book, on the promise of feminist theory. Yet, she has since stated that concerns of Native Hawaiian sovereignty now largely outweigh her concerns with feminism (Hall 2009). A major problem that Trask and other Indigenous women scholars like Aileen Moreton-Robinson find with mainstream feminism is the assumption that all women should define themselves by their gender first, while other identities like race and indigeneity must come second (Moreton-Robinson 2000; Trask 2003). As Audre Lorde (2007) has famously [End Page 17] written: "There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives" (138). Indigenous identities, much like other identities, simply cannot be separated out in this simplistic way.

Native feminist theories further point to the fact that the very categories of "man" and "woman" are creations of heteropatriarchy and settler colonialism, thereby invalidating the conventional assumption that women are singularly oppressed by men. Linda Hogan (1981b) acknowledges that "[f]eminism is a complicated issue for Indian women because what affects the women also affects the entire community. As individual nations, we have allegiances to the members of our tribes that seldom exist for non-Indian women. Political and economic injustices are practiced against entire tribes, and are not limited to just the women" (1). Native men are not the root cause of Native women's problems; rather, Native women's critiques implicate the historical and ongoing imposition of colonial, heteropatriarchal structures onto their societies. As Annie Dodge Wauneka (qtd. in Hill Witt 1981) has put it: "Ever since the development of political machinery and bureaucratic organizations among Indians, there has been a sudden perspective of women—and the roles of women—as second-class citizens. The basic reason for discrimination against Indian women stems from the Federal government's intervention in Indian affairs" (66). M. Annette Jaimes, writing with Theresa Halsey (1992), has further argued that Native peoples have long subverted heteropatriarchal gender norms, as evident in the frequency of decolonization movements led by those who are female-identified, noting that "it is women who have formed the very core of indigenous resistance to genocide and colonization since the first moment of conflict between Indians and invaders" (311). Jaimes importantly sees this resistance not as a performance of feminism, but instead as participation in Native nation-building, which has never been limited by, or wholly structured around, heteropatriarchal gender norms.

In a later article, Jaimes (2003) claims that the term "Native Womanism" is a more fitting expression, as it "promotes a prospective vision for a more humane and gender-egalitarian future exemplary of 'being Indigenous'" (67). While we find the various articulations of Indigenous peoples' multiple positions in relation to settler colonialism, heteropatriarchy, and heteropaternalism to be important, we employ the specific phrasing of "Native feminist theories" in order to highlight our view of this as a field importantly formed by a diversity of identities, but also one that critically reexamines the standard narratives of all of these identities. By placing an emphasis on theories, we seek to privilege not the classical prestige of Western male-identified theorists, but rather to pointedly draw attention to the intellectual and political contributions of this activism and scholarship for a wide Indigenous and non-Indigenous audience.

Too often, non-Indigenous readers of Indigenous scholarship may come to the work with certain expectations about its "proper" topics and how to consume them. Deborah Miranda (2002), for example, describes as the common topics of [End Page 18] Native American literature taught in U.S. K-12 and college classrooms: "a) a generalized grief; b) 'nature writing' in which the Indian 'connection to the land' is highlighted; and c) 'ceremony' or description of a ritual event" (139). Miranda's critique of these tropes as curricular add-ons does not deny that grief, connections to the land, or ceremonies are topics that can be salient to Indigenous peoples. Rather, her critique demonstrates that the consumption of these tropes maintain the structural ignorance among many non-Indigenous students of the existence of anything intellectual, political, or pleasurable and even erotic (in other words, anything that recognizes Indigenous literature as contemporary and complex) in Indigenous lives and writing. Ultimately, Native feminist writing and theories must be engaged on their own terms and not simply as a small piece of the American literary canon or whitestream feminism. Jessica Yee (2008), a Two-Spirit reproductive-justice leader, elegantly positions Native feminisms within Indigenous communities and histories, writing that "I look to my community now to reclaim our feminism and put it out there as it once was: strong, sexy, powerful, and most of all, unapologetic."

Third Challenge: Craft Alliances That Directly Address Differences

A related challenge that we posit is to actively seek alliances in which differences are respected and issues of land and tribal belonging are not erased in order to create solidarity, but rather, relationships to settler colonialism are acknowledged as issues that are critical to social justice and political work that must be addressed. One component of this challenge will be for allies who are settlers to become more familiar and more proactive in their critiques of settler colonialism, and to not rely upon Indigenous people to teach them how to become effective allies. It is also important to recognize that becoming an ally will require a long-term commitment to structural change and cannot be approached as a "pet" project in the same way that certain political causes become trendy at certain times. For example, Indigenous political causes, like Indigenous (or Indigenous "inspired") art, clothing, and jewelry, have been constantly subject to fads in ways that only further entrench the "savior" complex of heteropaternalism and the "exotic" lure of colonized subjects. As a result, Indigenous people are often understandably both weary and wary of non-Indigenous interest in their lives.

The non-Indigenous desire to "play Indian" may seem like a passing trend, but it is actually a fundamental condition of life within settler colonialism, as settlers continuously seek to capitalize on what they understand as their country's own "native" resources, which include Indigenous cultures and peoples themselves. Indigenous artists, scholars, and activists have had to combat such appropriation since the earliest days of settler colonialism. In the United States, for example, the nation's founding mythologies depend heavily on befriending Indians (as in the storied version of the Pilgrims' first Thanksgiving) and performing Indian-ness—the settlers who dressed as Mohawks to stage the Boston [End Page 19] Tea Party being one of the most famous performances. There, the settlers played Indian because it helped illustrate their difference and independence from Great Britain, but the Mohawk costumes effaced actual Mohawk sovereignty, something that American nationalism would continue to do through systematic genocidal violence against Native peoples.

Today, examples of attempts to appropriate indigeneity are evident almost everywhere. Fashion reproducing stereotypical Indigenous motifs has become en vogue again, leading Urban Outfitters, for example, to market a "Navajo" line of clothing, an action that violates the trademark the Navajo Nation holds over the Navajo label (Fonseca 2012). In another instance of relying upon stereotypical motifs, in October 2011, Diane Sawyer aired a news special titled "A Hidden America: Children of the Plains," which largely told a victimized story of the people of the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, resulting in a kind of "poverty porn" (Schmidt 2011). In response, students from Rosebud, South Dakota, created a YouTube video with a resounding message: "I know what you probably think of us. I saw the special, too. . . . But I want you to know: we're more than that. We have so much more than poverty" ("More Than That . . ." 2011). The students go on to illustrate for viewers their confidence in the things they do possess: intelligence, tradition, love, perseverance, hope, and perhaps most importantly, futures (see also "Students Respond to ABC's 'Children of the Plains'" 2011). As the Rosebud students remind us, both playing Indian and uncritically "helping"/victimizing Indians are both modes of perpetuating violence against Native peoples through denying them complexity and disregarding their hopes and plans for a future that they were never supposed to realize under settler colonialism.

Asked in a 1983 interview about whether she thought "the interest in the American Indian is just a fad," poet and scholar Wendy Rose similarly noted a cyclical interest that was more about consumption than engagement: "The publishers, editors, and listeners were more interested in the fact that I was Indian than in my work. . . . The consumers had their Indian books on the table along with their pottery and baskets and rugs" (Hunter 73). Having one's intellectual and artistic work consumed as a trend in this way reflected an underlying colonialism that for Rose was also mirrored in the efforts of white women to "save" Muslim women by wanting to (literally and metaphorically) rip off their veils. Rose points out the familiar colonialism embedded in such efforts:

There's a missionary zeal attached to the women's movement that I find very suspicious and unattractive. They seem to want to "pioneer," to "penetrate the frontier" of sexism however they perceive it in cultures other than their own. They go into situations where they are guests in another person's house and try to run the household. They want to spread their brand of feminism based on their own history to other cultures where there are different histories.

(81) [End Page 20]

Native feminist theories are not meant to be easily consumable, and they explicitly stand against sparking a wave of white women saviors intent on "helping" those Indigenous women that they understand as victims. As Rose says, different histories and different concerns of various women must be acknowledged rather than smoothed over in an attempt to remake Indigenous women as white women. Thus, potential allies must be able to thoughtfully reflect on the specifics of why and what they are interested in engaging in work with Native communities, and expect Native peoples to have to weigh similarly complex considerations.

Fourth Challenge: Recognize Indigenous Ways of Knowing

Another challenge that Native feminist theories offer to feminist discourses is to recognize the persistence of Indigenous concepts and epistemologies, or ways of knowing. We offer this challenge in concert with the plea that feminists must avoid New Age forms of recognition that idealize and appropriate Indigenous cultures and religions. At first, these challenges may seem contradictory (as with our second challenge's urging to refuse erasure, but to do more than just include) or impossibly difficult to achieve without the assistance of an Indigenous person's counsel. However, recognizing the persistence of Indigenous concepts and epistemologies does not mean blindly copying or performing them oneself, nor does such recognition require excavating "authentic" Indigenous traditions out of a distant past; instead, feminists must recognize Indigenous peoples as the authors of important theories about the world we all live in. Native feminist theories make claims not to an authentic past outside of settler colonialism, but to an ongoing project of resistance that continues to contest patriarchy and its power relationships. The intellectual work of Native feminists is changing the fields of Native and Indigenous studies and gender and women's studies, as well as ethnic and American studies, and it is making major contributions to studies of education, law, history, anthropology, and sociology. While we can hardly do justice to the wide range and broad implications of such work, as starting points we introduce in this section a selection of several concepts important to Native feminist theories: namely, land, sovereignty, and futurity and decolonization.


Within Indigenous contexts land is not property, as in settler colonialism, but rather land is knowing and knowledge. Conceptualizations of land and place that rely upon latent notions of property are tangled in the ideologies of settler colonialism, dependent on constructions of land as extractable capital, the denial of Indigenous sovereignty, the myth of discovery, and the inevitability of the nation-state. Native Hawaiian scholar Manulani Aluli Meyer (2008) says it this way: "Land is our mother. This is not a metaphor. Land was the central theme that drew forth all others. You came from a place. You grew up [End Page 21] in a place and you had a relationship with that place. . . . Land/ocean shaped my thinking, my way of being, and my priorities of what is of value. . . . One does not simply learn about land, we learn best from land" (218). It is precisely because of this centrality of land—or as Meyer notes, "land/ocean"—to the epistemologies of Indigenous Pacific Islanders, whose relationship with land is importantly interlaced with the ocean, that the dispossession of land and access to the ocean have been so materially and spiritually destructive to Indigenous peoples. For many Indigenous peoples, the desire to reclaim or retain their relationships with the land/ocean requires sacrifices that non-Indigenous peoples find difficult to understand. For example, due to the exorbitantly high cost of living in Hawai'i today, some Native Hawaiians face the impossible "choice" of either leaving it or being forced into "house-lessness"—not homelessness, because they are home (Isaki 2011). Indeed, many Native Hawaiians live on the beaches of O'ahu, a precarious position that subjects them to routine evictions by the police (Kelly 2009).


Native feminist theories also radically reshape notions of Indigenous sovereignty, at times seriously threatening the investment that Indigenous peoples themselves have made in the nation-state and heteropatriarchy and its manifestations. There is power in tribal governments whose claims for sovereignty are dependent on recognition by a racist colonial empire, power that Native feminist theories and their centering of gender and indigeneity undermine. For example, when First Nations activists in the 1980s fought to overturn the sexist ideologies of Canada's Indian Act of 1876, many who identified as First Nations men were intensely hostile to these changes (Barker 2008, 259; Million 2008, 269). These opponents of the changes borrowed settler colonial gender norms to strictly divide their First Nations communities into men and women, laying blame on the latter category for being too feminist and thereby complicit with a long history of colonization and racism that imposed, often violently, non-Indigenous principles and institutions on Indigenous peoples.

The work of Joanne Barker, Dian Million, and Audra Simpson (2008), among others, has recently reframed the debates over the Indian Act as not simply a matter of First Nations people who identify as men versus those who identify as women, but rather as another site where settler colonialism effectively operates through heteropatriarchy. Yet, other Indigenous scholars have also long insisted on understanding Indigenous modes of gender as fundamentally different from Western norms, suggesting that modeling Indigenous communities on historic concepts of gender complementarity and balance could be an appropriate path toward decolonization. Theda Perdue (1998), for example, notes that historically for Cherokees [End Page 22]

women balanced men . . . their concern with balance made hierarchy, which often serves to oppress women, untenable. Men did not dominate women, and women were not subservient to men. Men knew little about the world of women; they had no power over women and no control over women's activities. Women had their own arena of power, and any threat to its integrity jeopardized cosmic order.


Margaret M. Caffrey (2000) notes a similar concept of gender reciprocity among the Lenni Lenape. "This was not a metaphorical reciprocity," she writes, but rather depended on equally important gifts of food and other resources given among friends, family, and husbands and wives (47). Even in marriage, each Lenni Lenape person held their own property, rather than holding property in common or adhering to a patriarchal scheme where only men could own land.

Other Native feminist theories similarly question the gendered "traditions" that can, at times, seem conventional to Indigenous sovereignty. For instance, Goeman (2008) analyzes the spatial politics of relocation and its contemporary legacies, drawing attention to "the spatial dichotomy between rez and off-rez that begins to develop at this time as a marker of 'Indian' identity and as a barrier between community members" (297). Relocation refers to the mid-twentieth-century U.S. state policy that sought to relocate significant portions of certain Native American tribes to urban cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, ostensibly to hasten their assimilation into mainstream society. Thinking through the contemporary legacies of relocation with the poetry of Esther Belin, Goeman calls for "a dialogue that imagines space not as bounded [as with the legal boundaries of the reservation] but as the result of continuous, ongoing storytelling. . . . Conceiving of space based on living traditions will provide the political basis for interconnectedness" (300). Thus, for Goeman, Indigenous sovereignty means recognizing Native communities as they are currently living across multiple spaces, rather than in the "proper" Native space of a reservation.

In another example, Lisa Kahaleole Hall's scholarship carves out a space for Native Hawaiian feminists amidst multiple erasures, from the literal maps of the United States that place Hawai'i in insets snugly close to California rather than showing its actual distance of over 2,000 miles to the erasure of Native Hawaiian indigeneity by the ill-fitting ethnic category of "Asian/Pacific Islander." Her critiques aim to place Native Hawaiian feminism within, rather than separate from or forgotten by, other Indigenous and women-of-color feminisms. Hall (2009) explains that "[t]he experience of Kanaka Maoli [her preferred Hawaiian-language term for Native Hawaiian] women is not contained within any of the islands of feminist work I am discussing but nevertheless resonates with all" (16). For her, Indigenous sovereignty requires better recognition of interconnectedness not just within dispersed Native spaces, but also across Native and non-Native feminisms. [End Page 23]

Futurity and Decolonization

As our discussions of Indigenous epistemologies about land and sovereignty have demonstrated, recognizing that Indigenous sovereignty struggles are gendered frequently requires revising conventional concepts of sovereignty, decolonization, and social change altogether. For us, the real promise of Native feminist theories lies precisely in the ways that, along with recognizing the very real challenges that Indigenous peoples face daily, these theories are simultaneously constructing what Smith (2008b) compellingly describes as "the history of the future of sovereignty, what sovereignty could mean for Native peoples" (257). By directing our attention toward the beautifully evocative "history of the future of sovereignty," she is reframing futurity—a concept important to a number of disciplines, including queer studies and performance studies—with Indigenous peoples at the center. Thus, Smith demonstrates that one of the most radical and necessary moves toward decolonization requires imagining and enacting a future for Indigenous peoples—a future based on terms of their own making.

In a GLQ special issue titled "Sexuality, Nationality, Indigeneity," Smith (2010) specifically elaborates on the concept of futurity as theorized by queer theorist Lee Edelman. She notes that Edelman's book No Future forwards a useful critique of the figure of "the Child" as the symbol of society's reproductive future and an excuse for justifying the reproduction of the existing social order (46). Yet, Smith also demonstrates that refusing to participate in the reproduction of society by declining to reproduce the Child is a mode of radical activism that is only possible, desirable, and otherwise "thinkable" for certain economically privileged white queers. She argues that

[a]n indigenous critique must question the value of "no future" in the context of genocide, where Native peoples have already been determined by settler colonialism to have no future. If the goal of queerness is to challenge the reproduction of the social order, then the Native child may already be queered. For instance, Colonel John Chivington, the leader of the famous massacre at Sand Creek, charged his followers to not only kill Native adults but to mutilate their reproductive organs and to kill their children because "nits make lice." In this context, the Native Child is not the guarantor of the reproductive future of white supremacy; it is the nit that undoes it.


Smith's critique exposes the ways that radical queer theory can participate in the "ascendancy of whiteness" even when it disavows it—in Edelman's case, because he fails to acknowledge or consider the ways that having children is a privilege that has been historically denied to many nonwhite and nonaffluent people. Given the pervasive violence perpetuated on Indigenous peoples through campaigns focused on managing Indigenous reproduction and child-rearing (from boarding schools to eugenics and forced sterilization), proposing to invest in "no future" seems not only irrelevant to Indigenous peoples, but a rehashing of previous settler colonial tactics. [End Page 24]

Smith's critique is meant to be a generative one, insisting on making real connections between Native and queer studies for the future of both fields and all of the peoples these fields engage. She further argues that "while both 'tradition' and 'the future' must be critically engaged, it does not follow that they can be dismissed" (ibid.). We also place importance on ideas of Indigenous futures, which are always also interlaced with Indigenous traditions, histories, and even ghosts, in our own theories of decolonization. Eve Tuck (2009) has written about desire-based research as a key counterpoint to damage-centered research frameworks, which too often present Indigenous peoples as broken, arguing that "[d]esire is involved with the not yet and, at times, the not anymore. . . . Desire is about longing, about a present that is enriched by both the past and the future" (417). Angie Morrill (forthcoming) further writes that "[g]hosts haunt the future with expectations," noting that we share desires with ghosts, therefore Native desire is a kind of time machine. For Maile Arvin (forthcoming), decolonization involves regeneration, which she defines as "desires and practices oriented by transforming settler colonial dispossession and recreating a people-possessed (rather than an individually self-possessed) Indigenous future." In each of our approaches toward decolonization, we do not intend to recommend to our readers one proper set of decolonial practices, but rather create spaces in which decolonization can be deeply considered and experimented with in the specific contexts of different places. Overall, with this challenge to recognize Indigenous ways of knowing, we insist that it is most important to acknowledge Indigenous concepts and epistemologies as complex, knowledgeable, and full of both history and desire. Engaging Indigenous epistemologies, without appropriating them or viewing them merely as a mystical metaphor, is a method of decolonization that could play a significant role in creating a future for Indigenous peoples and Indigenous ways of knowing.

Fifth Challenge: Question Academic Participation in Indigenous Dispossession

The final challenge is to question how the discursive and material practices of gender and women's studies and the academy writ large may participate in the dispossession of Indigenous peoples' lands, livelihoods, and futures, and to then divest from these practices. While we cannot offer any simple checklist of how to question and divest from participation in Indigenous dispossession, we suggest that one place to start is with the assigned curriculum of one's department and individual courses. Take a hard look at how Indigenous peoples are represented in the materials used to teach undergraduates and graduate students about gender, race, sexuality, and nation. In addition to curriculum, assess how relevant Indigenous concepts and epistemologies might be engaged in ongoing research in the field.

In terms of curriculum, for example, teaching the struggles of storied Native American women, such as Sacajawea or Pocahontas, as "foremothers" [End Page 25] of American feminism relegates Native American women to a static place in history and erases the post-facto violent imposition of American citizenship onto these women. Instead, one might teach Native feminist scholarship as co-contemporary with other feminist scholarship, with an eye toward placing Indigenous peoples within, instead of outside of, modernity. There are many Native feminist theories available to teach that directly address the violence imposed on Native women in the retellings of Sacajawea's and Pocahontas's stories. Rayna Green, one of the earliest scholars to publish on Native women, wrote a seminal piece on the "Pocahontas perplex" (1975). This perplex references the tendency of American Indian women to be constantly caught between images of a seductive though saintly Indian princess who helps white men (a representation with a history far preceding the actual life of Pocahontas) and the "Princess' darker twin, the Squaw"—a fat, beleaguered, and crude woman who is shamed for having sexual relationships with white men (701-04). Green concludes: "Delightful and interesting as Pocahontas' story may be, she offers an intolerable metaphor for the Indian-White experience. She and the Squaw offer unendurable metaphors for the lives of Indian women" (714).

More recently, Chris Finley (2011) has elaborated on the Pocahontas perplex by suggesting a queer reading of the Pocahontas story, which disrupts the romance embedded in the heteropatriarchal and colonial mythos within which she has long been trapped: "Under the disciplining logics of colonialism, Native women need to be heterosexualized in order to justify conquest" (35). Yet, Finley suggests that if we read Pocahontas and other Native figures who are routinely tokenized as part of American history as queer, rather than always assuming their straightness and/or straight-forward participation in Western gender and sexual norms, those nationalist narratives can be exposed as stories of conquest rather than universal love (36). Finley argues that Green's analysis can also be extended to Native men who have been "sexualized, gendered, and racialized as penetrable within colonial and imperial discourses" (35).

In another example, in the United States context, Manifest Destiny is often taught as a positive or benign development strategy that afforded the expansion of a new, important, and superior nation. However, when Manifest Destiny is reexamined at the intersection of colonization and patriarchy, it is evident that the strategy is not at all benign, but a convenient rationale that has permitted genocide. Manifest Destiny relied upon gendered and arrogant notions of the dominion of man over the earth, the divination of the founding and expansion of the United States, and narratives of American exceptionalism, which still are employed to defend the country's role in global politics and occupations. Manifest Destiny, somewhat after the facts, became the explanation for the atrocities of settler colonialism, more for those who benefit/ed by settler colonialism so that they might more easily stomach their own complicity in ongoing colonization. [End Page 26]

Beyond scrutinizing Indigenous representation in the curriculum, scholars in gender and women's studies can also address Indigenous peoples in their own research and writing. Qwo-Li Driskill (2010) offers Two-Spirit critiques, in conversation with Native feminist theories, as an important avenue toward rethinking queer studies, but the critiques are also useful to gender and women's studies. S/he writes of the lack of representation of Native people in queer studies:

This un-seeing—even if unintentional—perpetuates a master narrative in which Native people are erased from an understanding of racial formations, Native histories are ignored, Native people are thought of as historical rather than contemporary, and our homelands aren't seen as occupied by colonial powers. This brings us to question whether Native people, histories, and decolonial struggles are actually part of scholarly and political consciousness and imagination. While I don't think that scholars need to change the focus of their work, I do expect scholars to integrate Indigenous and decolonial theories into their critiques.


Driskill points out here that those who are generally supportive of Indigenous causes but feel that their research has nothing whatsoever to do with Indigenous issues may need to reassess what Indigenous theories are actually concerned with. As we have argued throughout this article, such theories are much more expansive than many non-Indigenous peoples have been led to think.

Driskill also asks "for queer studies in the United States and Canada to remember exactly on whose land it is built" (71). The questions s/he raises may be equally important as starting points for scholars of gender and women's studies working in settler colonial nations:

If you are reading this in the United States or Canada, whose land are you on, dear reader? What are the specific names of the Native nation(s) who have historical claim to the territory on which you currently read this article? What are their histories before European invasion? What are their historical and present acts of resistance to colonial occupation? If you are like most people in the United States and Canada, you cannot answer these questions. And this disturbs me.


Said another way, we follow Driskill, Green, Finley, and many others in challenging disciplines like gender and women's studies to take seriously the notion that settler colonialism is a structure, and not an event, that continues to shape the everyday lives of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. This might mean learning more about contemporary struggles for recognition of sovereignty over land claims and use and most recent analyses of the anti-Indigenous practices of governments, corporations, and entrepreneurs. Further, gender and women's studies professors and students should question what kinds of relationships their universities and other organizations in which they invest have to local Indigenous peoples. Carefully investigate and reconsider contributing to [End Page 27] and participating in organizations that sustain damaging relationships with local Indigenous peoples. Janet McCloud (qtd. in Jaimes 1992), noting the frustration that Indigenous women thinkers and activists express with the various waves of feminism, issues a similar challenge:

So let me toss out a different kind of progression to all of you feminists out there. You join us in liberating our land and lives. Lose the privilege you acquire at our expense by occupying our land. Make that your first priority for as long as it takes to make happen . . . but if you're not willing to do that, then don't presume to tell us how we should go about our own liberation, what priorities and values we should have. Since you're standing on our land, we've got to view you as another oppressor trying to hang on to what's ours.


In closing, we submit these challenges because we believe that feminism simply cannot afford to permanently remain that "'f' word" that many Indigenous women and women of color have had good reason to disdain (Ross 2009). As feminism and gender and women's studies continue to grow as political and scholarly projects, their future is dependent on a willingness to, as we have written, not just include Native feminist theories as a specialized subfield, but instead to reexamine and rewrite the very terms by which they operate. If such a rewriting is accomplished, feminism might realign its end goals toward dismantling not just heteropatriarchy, but also the settler colonial nation-states that heteropatriarchy upholds, and will achieve not only gender parity, but also decolonization. Through this realignment, gender and women's studies might lose its whitestream stigma and innovate deeper alliances among various feminist movements.

There are real barriers to effectively decolonizing gender and women's studies and we are already familiar with counter-arguments to the greater integration of Indigenous issues that emphasize the already marginalized and uncertain position of many gender and women's studies departments. In effect, resistance to greater integration of Indigenous concepts and epistemologies in gender and women's studies can, at times, take on the same language and form as the resistance to Native feminist theories by Native people invested in conventional, heteropatriarchal forms of Native nationalism. African American and queer studies scholar Sharon P. Holland (2010) notes in her "Afterword" to the "Sexuality, Nationality, Indigeneity" special issue of GLQ that

[i]t is clear from reading the essays here that a thoroughgoing critique of "settler sexuality" and settler colonialism is overdue in queer studies, even though such a critique has the potential to shift the nineteenth-century historical grounding of queer studies in a nascent "homosexuality" or in a "homosocial" platonic public to the biopolitical emergence of what is now called the United States. The challenge is certainly here. Whether queer studies will answer is [End Page 28] yet to be seen (come out, come out wherever you are). I have serious doubts that what-its-got-they're-gonna-wanna-put-it-in-them.


The same doubts might be harbored about any impending answer to our challenges from gender and women's studies. Yet, we never meant for the challenges we assert in this article to yield simple, easy fixes. We understand the difficulty and complexity of laboring in and against settler colonialism, which is often convenient to accept as the norm. Nevertheless, although it will require much struggle and energy, we believe that such a radical transformation of whitestream feminism and gender and women's studies is both possible and desirable. In the end, decolonizing feminism in this manner is an important step toward not only writing a different "history of the future" for Indigenous peoples, but also pushing what feminism could mean, for all peoples, in revolutionary new directions (Smith 2008b, 257).

Maile Arvin

Maile Arvin is a PhD candidate in ethnic studies at the University of California, San Diego. She is the Charles A. Eastman dissertation fellow in Native American studies at Dartmouth for the 2012-13 academic year. Her dissertation, "The Science of Settler Colonialism: Native Hawaiian Indigeneity Amidst Hawai'i's 'Racial Mix,'" examines the legacies of scientific constructions of race in Hawai'i for Native Hawaiians. She can be reached at

Eve Tuck

Eve Tuck is an assistant professor of educational foundations at SUNY New Paltz. Her writings are concerned with the ethics of social science research, participatory action research, urban education policy, and Indigenous theory. She is the author of Urban Youth and School Pushout: Gateways, Get-aways, and the GED (2012). Tuck is an enrolled member of the tribal government of St. Paul Island, Alaska. She can be reached at

Angie Morrill

Angie Morrill is a PhD candidate in ethnic studies at the University of California, San Diego. Her dissertation, "Native Futures: The Secession of the Modocs, the Native Mother, and Other Im/possibilities," examines the invention of the deficient Native Mother and explores her liberatory possibilities. Her research interests include settler colonialism, global indigeneity, Indigenous feminisms, futurity, and black and Native subjectivity and pedagogy. She can be reached at


The authors acknowledge the journal editors, anonymous reviewers, mentors, and Native feminists, everywhere. [End Page 29]


1. A nation-state can be understood as a self-declared and independent geopolitical entity that asserts control within boundaries of land and water and is populated by a citizenship.

2. We are rooted in varied experiences and research on U.S. settler colonialism, including Alaska, Hawai'i, and the Pacific Northwest, among other locations. This article reflects this positioning in centrally referencing the United States as a settler colonial state. Although the Native feminist theories we draw from are also attentive to the specificities of several different settler colonial contexts, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, this article does not offer comparative analyses of these various locations. For further discussion on heteropatriarchy and settler colonialism in the Canadian context, see, for example, Bonita Lawrence (2003), Lisa Perley-Dutcher and Stephen Dutcher (2010), and Sherene Razack (2002). For further comparative work across global contexts, see, for example, Daiva K. Stasiulis and Nira Yuval-Davis (1995), and Angela Wanhalla (2008).

3. We borrow the phrasing of "whitestream feminism" from Native scholar Sandy Grande (2004), as it is precisely mainstream feminism's whiteness (which goes unmarked far too often) that is the subject of critique in many Native feminist theories. Grande's use of whitestream is, in turn, drawn from the work of Claude Denis (1997).

4. Our article is not intended to be a comprehensive explication of Native feminist theories and their genealogies, although we have attempted to draw on both historic, groundbreaking works and more contemporary trends in Native feminist theories.

5. See, for example, the following four collections of Native feminist theories: "Native American Women," a collection of Native women's writings edited by Linda Hogan (1981a); "Indigenous Women," edited by Inés Hernández-Avila and Gail Tremblay (2002); "Forum: Native Feminisms without Apology," edited by Andrea Smith and J. Kēhaulani Kauanui (2008b); and "Native Feminisms: Legacies, Interventions, and Indigenous Sovereignties," edited by Mishuana R. Goeman and Jennifer Nez Denetdale (2009).

6. Founder of the Carlisle Indian Boarding School in Pennsylvania, Richard Henry Pratt is infamous for describing such boarding schools' goals as to "kill the Indian, and save the man." See also K. Tsianina Lomawaima and Teresa L. McCarty (2006).

7. We write "blood" in scare quotes to mark how, although claiming to be a scientific, objective measurement, assessing these blood-quantum amounts is, in fact, subjective. While this blood is officially tallied through birth certificates and other genealogical documents (which are often incomplete or incorrect), other characteristics, such as skin or hair color, birthplace, and cultural knowledge and practices, can always call such blood amounts into question. See, for example, Chadwick Allen (2002), Joanne Barker (2011), J. Kēhaulani Kauanui (2008b), Tiya Miles (2005), and Circe Sturm (2002).

8. This is also why we find the term "Indigenous" important, in conjunction with rather than opposed to "Native," as Indigenous more easily lends to connections among peoples across a global range of settler colonial contexts. [End Page 30]


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