- Seek to Trouble
Wilfrid Laurier University Press
288 Pages; Print, $29.99
“I seek to trouble” is a common refrain in Allison Hargreaves’s monograph about violence against Indigenous women in Canada. And “trouble” she does—providing hard hitting but thoughtful critiques of several common, contemporary activist efforts to address the tragedy of widespread violence in the lives of Indigenous women. A self-described “settler-scholar,” Hargreaves analyzes how some mainstream efforts to address the disproportionate rates of violence experienced by Indigenous women can actually be detrimental to the cause. She repeatedly problematizes many well-known activist efforts by consulting and analyzing the perspectives of Indigenous women as expressed in film, art, and literature. As such, this volume is highly recommended for Indigenous studies and gender studies scholars. Moreover, it offers significant insight for activist communities of any stripe, who will benefit from Hargreaves’ interrogation of common activist tactics.
In the Introduction, Hargreaves establishes a bold proposition—that the most widely-recognized strategies for addressing violence against Indigenous women in Canada are deeply problematic and potentially counter-productive. Seeking to understand how activism “can bring about the social and political transformation required to end violence,” she begins by questioning the mainstream “awareness” campaigns that have come to be the hallmarks of anti-violence activism in Canada. As a literature scholar, Hargreaves proposes that the creative works of Indigenous women offer insights into the limitations of these mainstream projects. Thus, the book is structured by juxtaposing a strategy of anti-violence activism with a corresponding perspective as voiced through film, poetry, or fiction produced by Indigenous women. Hargreaves uses Indigenous film and literature as the window to critique and question the value of the liberal nation-state’s most well-known efforts to acknowledge and resolve the historical oppression and colonial violence experienced by Indigenous women today.
In Chapter One, Hargreaves critiques the British Columbia Missing Women Commission of Inquiry (MWCI), a 2010–2012 government effort to solicit testimonies from families, activists, service providers, and law enforcement agencies about missing and murdered Indigenous women, with a narrow focus on Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside, a common site of disappearance. Hargreaves critiques the MWCI efforts through the lens of Metis filmmaker Christine Welch’s 2006 documentary Finding Dawn. Because the official MWCI activities were artificially conscribed and constrained as to scope and depth, many observers, including Hargreaves, saw the efforts as being a “missed opportunity to link the specific circumstances…to broader colonial patterns of systemic displacement and violence.” Finding Dawn, on the other hand, offers an expansive perspective on the nature of missing and murdered Indigenous women. The film tells the story of three missing indigenous women by exploring themes of “hope, resilience, and transformation.” By critiquing MWCI through the lens of an Indigenous filmmaker, Hargreaves is able to see a much larger and expansive project, one that focuses on the interrelationships between Indigenous women and the violent history of settler colonialism.
One of the most important aspects of Violence Against Indigenous Women is that Hargreaves’s critiques transcend the Canadian experience and become applicable in other settler nation-states. Several subjects explored by Hargreaves have striking parallels in the American context. Beginning in Chapter Two, she describes and critiques the Canadian Stolen Sisters report from Amnesty International issued in 2004. Amnesty International released a similar report in the United States (Maze of Injustice) in 2007, which explored the failure of the United States to adequately respond to sexual violence in Indian country. (In the interests of full disclosure, it should be noted that this reviewer collaborated with Amnesty International to research and write Maze of Injustice.) Hargreaves’s criticism of the Stolen Sisters human rights report is cogent and much of her insight can be applied to Maze. For example, both reports assume “the legitimacy of the colonial nation-state to protect Indigenous women’s rights” and utilize the stories of individual Indigenous women in a “certain narrative mould” that requires the primacy of victimhood to achieve reform. While not categorically condemning [End Page 8] Amnesty...