- A Review of Indigenous Women and Violence: Feminist Activist Research in Heightened States of Injustice
Indigenous Women and Violence is an edited volume by Lynn Stephen and Shannon Speed focusing on the topic(s) of racialized and gendered violence under settler-colonialism. Each author’s own research is based in the United States, Mexico, and/or Guatemala, with much of the research crucially extending past artificial borders and challenging the reader’s relationship to land and territory. Each researcher discusses different contexts, communities, and events, but they all share and demonstrate the omnipresence of settler-colonial violence and the power in resistance and self-organization executed by Indigenous women. Some of the topics covered by the authors in this volume include the case of Sepur Zarco (chapter 4), two tribunals on the armed conflict in Guatemala (chapter 7), the experiences of Indigenous women in a Texas immigration detention center (chapter 1), and a creative writing workshop for Indigenous women imprisoned in Mexico (chapter 2). While these authors’ research is most obviously connected geographically and topically, they also share a commitment to engaged and activist scholarship.
Engaged scholarship for these authors is specific to the context of working with Indigenous women who have faced sexual, physical, and spiritual or emotional violence. This type of work demands collaboration, care, and time. It requires an intersectional feminist lens, which the authors implement in their own research, but it also requires a framework that interrogates the way the structure of settler-colonialism makes [End Page 74] Indigenous women “multiply vulnerable” to many kinds of violence (Stephen and Speed 2021, 3). Each chapter emphasizes the inseparability of “domestic” or private violence, empire building or maintenance, and global neoliberal capitalism. The modern settler state “is structured on that violence [against Indigenous women], at once generating it and normalizing it” (Stephen and Speed 2021, 11). Settler colonialism effectively engenders and racializes Indigenous women, forcing them into being colonial subjects and, in doing so, rendering them vulnerable, rendering them killable, disposable, rapable. Thus the violence faced by Indigenous women across Central America and North America cannot be disentangled from the structures of ongoing settler-colonialism, racial capitalism, and heteropatriarchy. The authors note that this violence is a continuity of the historical violence of settler-colonialism, highlighting the way that colonialism acts as a structure and process rather than a temporally defined event.
This emphasis on emotions and strong bonds is also central to this volume and to the authors’ shared understanding of an engaged anthropology. The authors do not merely denounce “objectivity” but uplift the tools of engagement, emotion, and embodiment as a legitimate alternative. After all, Speed asks, if we are meant to “suspend” subjectivity, then what does one do with the subjective experiences of race, gender, sexuality, class? “Why is it reasonable to draw on these aspects of our subjectivities, but not our emotional knowledge?” (2021, 39). She is not alone in this book in demonstrating how emotions are a strength and essential to a type of knowledge production that rejects hegemonic and positivist epistemologies. The subjectivities that Speed initially mentions are part of one’s embodied knowledge, but, importantly, so are emotions, traumas, and our political commitments (chapter 1).
The role of embodiment is central to this volume. Embodiment gets used in a way similar to its use in feminist geography. A geographic approach is just below the surface. It is not an object of study but informs our understanding nonetheless. Movement, borders, intimacy, dispossession, bodies, and territory saturate the text. Essential to this is embodiment and embodied knowledge. Embodied knowledge is understood as a generative source of knowledge production that runs counter to objectivity and grounds itself in emotion. It is reminiscent of Standpoint Theory. The authors touch on their own embodiment when discussing positionality and lived experience. They discuss how trauma remains in [End Page 75] the body and how secondary trauma can trigger this. They value bringing these experiences and these bodily feelings to the foreground. In doing this, they ground experience in the body, in the collective, and in the land, which are always at risk of seizure and vulnerable to violence in a settler-colonial state.