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Reviewed by:
  • Violence against Indigenous Women: Literature, Activism, Resistance by Allison Hargreaves
  • Caroline Fidan Tyler Doenmez (bio)
Violence against Indigenous Women: Literature, Activism, Resistance by Allison Hargreaves Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2017

FAMILIES OF MISSING and murdered Indigenous women were countering violence and commemorating their loved ones long before their suffering gained widespread attention. It is only in recent years that the crisis has been publicly acknowledged by politicians, human rights organizations, and the media. Whose stories are heard or privileged in the midst of this increased focus on Indigenous women who have been stolen on stolen land? How are these narratives crafted and consumed, and to what ends? Allison Hargreaves's book emerges in a timely moment when the questions of public remembrance, knowledge making, and justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women are circulating intensely.

Drawing on Indigenous feminist theorists to guide her analysis, Hargreaves sets out to develop three main claims: that the disappearance of Indigenous women is a systemic and ongoing product of colonialism; that words and storytelling can play vital roles in countering this crisis beyond mere description; and that Indigenous women's literature engenders new possibilities for imagining and enacting resistance to violence. Each of her four chapters compares an official response to violence with an example of Indigenous women's literary interventions, including documentary film, poetry, memoir, theater, and a revenge-drama. Hargreaves emphasizes that through these comparisons, she is seeking to explore how literature "can imagine resistance differently" (22) and how it can highlight the constraints or blind spots of antiviolence activism. Through this method, one of Hargreaves's main themes emerges: looking to Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang's theorization of an "ethic of incommensurability" (4), she draws attention to the ways in which Indigenous women's insights and analyses cannot be aligned with certain presumptions undergirding recognition-based approaches. For example, it becomes clear that many initiatives are circumscribed by their failure to analyze colonial violence as structurally produced and proliferating into the present.

Hargreaves is also concerned with the consumption of the stories of missing and murdered Indigenous women. She carefully considers which values and paradigms are deployed in shaping their narratives, highlighting how certain modes of telling and listening—despite being extractive, exclusionary, [End Page 180] or depoliticizing—are often uncritically assumed to be sufficient. This troubles the notion that increased visibility will automatically lead to change. She observes dynamics within human rights and mainstream feminist frameworks, in which confessional modes of personal testimony by women of color are often mobilized to shore up the benevolence of white feminists, liberal institutions, and the settler state; their stories are construed as "'catharsis' rather than critique" (113). Subsequently, a major target of her incisive analysis is the construction of the white, liberal, conscientious citizen for whom "Indigenous death is sometimes a necessary condition of their absolution and goodness" (151). Hargreaves's work is concerned with the broader context of Canada's "culture of redress," in which a performative array of apologies, acknowledgments, and inquiries attempt to subsume Indigenous life and sovereignty into a multicultural, supposedly postcolonial present. Hargreaves is issuing a challenge to non-Indigenous readers to refuse the fantasy of easy absolution or closure. She also crafts a critical discussion of how a hierarchy of worthy life is established through the telling of specific women's stories, while others are either marginalized or vilified: Whose lives are considered worthy of mourning, and whose deaths are rendered inevitable?

This text could have been strengthened by a more pronounced focus on the critical role of family members in shaping the memories and stories of their missing and murdered loved ones. Although not explicitly an aim of the book, it is critical to center those who are on the front lines doing the hard work of memory keeping, care taking, knowledge making, and envisioning otherwise.

Hargreaves's book ultimately underscores what is at stake in how we commemorate missing and murdered Indigenous women, how non-Indigenous people must confront the dynamics that would maintain their claim to innocence, and how we must unequivocally center Indigenous women's writing and knowledge as we work against violence. Moreover, her conclusion engages the question...


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pp. 180-181
Launched on MUSE
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