- Life Stages and Native Women: Memory, Teaching, and Story Medicine by Kim Anderson
There are very real and pressing realities attached to critical conversations about Anishnabek cultural practices, ways of being, language, and movement politics. In Life Stages of Native Women: Memory, Teaching, and Story Medicine, Kim Anderson offers a rigorously researched text that takes these considerations seriously. Anderson writes in her introduction that her purpose is to “dig up the medicines of the past,” (3) although the main success of Life Stages is its decolonizing effect on the future. In her first chapter, she offers a historiographical discussion on oral history and the importance of the relationship between story and storyteller. Here, the scope and relevance of her conversation extends far beyond the bindings of the book, and the impressive skill of Anderson as a writer, historian, and storyteller shines brighter than it does in the short chapter that follows, which briefly explains her interview methodology and project participants. Chapters Three to Six delineate and describe four central stages of life: from birth to walking; childhood and youth; the stage of adulthood; and the process of becoming grandmothers or Elders. Having interviewed other Native women and some men about these practices, experiences, and teachings, Anderson fleshes out the facts of the various lifestages with humorous stories and clever anecdotes. In her conclusion, Anderson does not flinch when addressing the realities of ongoing colonial concerns in Native communities; nonetheless, [End Page 161] Life Stages ends with an empowered affirmation of personal optimism that is compelling and convincing—particularly given the wider movement into which one might place Anderson’s work.
Life Stages needs to be read as part of a wider anti-colonial project that views gender justice as the platform for political resistance and resurgence in First Nations communities. It is important to remember that this struggle is ongoing, and that sex discrimination persists in the policies of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (see http://www.lynngehl.com). The Canadian government clearly needs some guidance on how to make gender equality a reality for all of its citizens, and Life Stages proves useful as a teaching tool in this respect: in sketching out what a non-colonized society looks like, Anderson helps readers to formulate and conceive of an ontological alternative to the Canadian society in which we currently live. Life Stages can also be read, therefore, as a fitting follow-up to Anderson’s previous publication, A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood. To configure this text in terms of its theoretical effect on an academic audience, one might speculate that a certain postcolonial production of knowledge is taking place in Life Stages—a decolonizing of the mind, to borrow Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s terminology. Anderson spends very little time and effort criticizing contemporary Canadian colonial policies, sets of social relations, and modes of production; rather, Anderson prefers to educate Native and non-Native readers by centering the history and the culture of Native womanhood in the text. Significantly, this remembering of the past is also an imagining of the future, and Anderson does well to close Life Stages with a final discussion on the ways in which we might apply “story medicine today, and into the future” (169).
A higher compliment could hardly be made to Life Stages than to note its interestingly similar engagement with historical narrative and political purpose as one might find in the fictional and factual stories told by Maria Campbell (who penned the foreword), Jeanette Armstrong, Ruby Slipperjack, and many, many other important Native and female scholars. Janice Acoose referred to this movement as Indigenous women “becoming authors of their own reality,” whereas Bonita Lawrence preferred to call it “rewriting histories of the land.” The most ready comparison to be made, however, is between Anderson’s body of work and Lee Maracle’s. Although Maracle writes with more teeth and less tenderness than Anderson, I believe that the effect of Life Stages is extremely similar to earlier path-breaking texts...