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  • We Are Dancing for You: Native Feminisms and the Revitalization of Women’s Coming-of-Age Ceremonies by Cutcha Risling Baldy
  • Sierra Watt (bio)
We Are Dancing for You: Native Feminisms and the Revitalization of Women’s Coming-of-Age Ceremonies
by Cutcha Risling Baldy
University of Washington Press, 2018

cutcha risling baldy’s We Are Dancing for You: Native Feminisms and the Revitalization of Women’s Coming-of-Age Ceremonies traces the resurgence of the Flower Dance among the Hupa people of Northern California—her own tribal community—after an eighty-year hiatus (73). Utilizing interview and ethnographic sources, she argues that ceremony revitalization is critical to Native identity formation and the assertion of sovereignty. This work also deconstructs the relationship between researchers and the researched, reevaluating the ways that menstruation and coming-of-age ceremonies have been misinterpreted within existing scholarship. Her articulation of Indigenous feminism(s), California Indian history, and the power of ethno-graphic refusal sets this debut work apart as an important contribution to the field of Native American studies.

Chapter 1 outlines her use of Native feminism(s) as an analytical framework, specifically, a “Hupa feminist analytic” (31), adding to the growing works that use tribe-specific Indigenous knowledges to ground scholarly research. Chapter 2 traces the history of European settlement of California and its impact on the lives and bodies of Native women (61). The chapter underscores the way that California Indian history links to contemporary tribal communities’ lived experiences. Chapter 3 critiques existing historical research on menarche and coming-of-age ceremonies by anthropologists in salvage ethnography texts, followed by a deconstruction of menstrual taboo among scholarship and the broader public in chapter 4 (80, 103, 106). Finally, chapter 5 outlines the impact of revitalizing the ceremony on the lives of participants in the first ten years since its return (125).

Risling Baldy is strongest when linking revitalization to the troubling history of research on Native peoples. She excels in tying Spanish missions and the gold rush to the violent, gendered impacts of colonization. The influx of settler males made Native women particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, [End Page 138] often targeted at a community’s most vulnerable: young girls celebrated during their coming-of-age ceremonies. These ceremonies became tied to the “narrative of loss” as simply another part of a disappearing race (5). However, the author pushes back, arguing that the ceremony was always “waiting for us to recall it” (99). Likewise, she asserts the written violence of researchers who became the “voice of Indians” and with the stroke of a pen wrote in and out that which became accepted fact, in particular, Alfred Kroeber (74). This includes menstrual taboo, which she disputes, using oral history and creation story to iterate the ways that menstruation was considered a sign of power and celebrated among her community.

For tribes across the Americas, common questions become: What remains, and how do we excavate the past? How do we reinvigorate and spread our languages, dances, and lifeways? The irony of Flower Dance revitalization is that it uses writings—from the positionality of false objectivity for subjective purposes—meant to preserve a “dying race” and finds the Indigenous knowledge woven within (especially evident in ethnographic refusal practice). Our own communities have histories written over by those in power with something to gain. This book brings forward the tribal informants hidden behind those histories, dictionaries, and field notes, arguing their agency and reminding readers that Indigenous peoples have always been here.

We Are Dancing comes amid a time of growing discussion on what should and should not be shared in an academic setting—that Indigenous people have already surrendered enough. Because she handles traditional material in relation to tracing reclamation efforts to bring back the ceremony rather than explicit details of the ceremony itself, the author maintains a confidentiality with her informants and, more importantly, her people. She notes aspects, in particular, those already included in ethnographic writings, but it is no manual or performance guide—that is sacred. Instead, she connects Native epistemologies of empowerment to the way that elders, medicine women, and young girls worked in collaboration to sift through the...


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pp. 138-139
Launched on MUSE
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