Indigenous Feminist Theory & Thought Class Assignment

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Each week we had the opportunity to engage a number of readings and write reflections. Here I respond to Decolonizing Feminism: Challenging Connections between Settler Colonialism and Heteropatriarchy” by Maile Arvin, Eve Tuck, and Angie Morrill. They published the piece in Feminist Formations 25(1) 2013: 8-34

This group of authors notes that “attending to the links between heteropatriarchy and settler colonialism is intellectually and politically imperative for all peoples living within settler colonial contexts” (8). Doing so will allow for “new visions of what decolonization might look like for all peoples” (9). The main focus of this piece is the inclusion of an analysis of settler-colonialism as one of the ongoing structures of oppression that ethnic studies and women and gender studies must wrestle with…and when it doesn’t, those areas of study meant to support liberation inadvertently reinscribe it. There is a way in which feminisms can participate in white possession as well as the project of elimination (Wolfe), if an analysis about heteropatriarchal settler-colonialism is not explicit and influential on how all feminist theorizing work happens–both what it concludes and futures it imagines. Furthermore, it’s not just about inclusion of the analysis. It’s allowing the analysis to shift and impact current alliances and solidarities. These become alliances that address difference, not eschew them in order to try to appear as a particular type of “united front” facing the academic or cultural powers that be.

 As an undergraduate women and gender studies major at Spelman College, a HBCU, I resonate with the desire to decenter whitestream feminism, and had a lot of practice doing so. We engaged with Indigenous feminists, but not enough during my matriculation (2002-2006) to decenter an ethnic studies approach to the black feminism we accessed. Though we struggled mightly against US militarism and the prison industrial complex, we did not assume that the US nation-state wouldn’t always exist. For example, the 1977 Combahee River Collective statement in all its amazingness didn’t problematize the settler-colonial capture of the place called Combahee where Harriet Tubman acted boldly to create space for freedom. If it would have, then the statement would have mentioned the land, river, the more than human species, and the Combahee, Yamasee, and other peoples who called that place home. The Combahee River Collective statement does however provide a framework to continue to look towards those who are marginalized for direction–as their freedom is key to everyone else’s freedom because their “freedom necessitates the destruction of all forms of oppression.” Though in 1977 that was written as Black women, and this remains true, and, following the direction of Arvin, Tuck, and Morrill, there is an imperative to also center the lives of Indigenous women.

One of the Combahee statement writers, Demita Frazier, said in a 2022 panel at the Allied Media Conference (at 35:30) shared invaluable insight into what was in the minds of the writers.

“Back in the day when we, Barbara and Beverly and I, were trying to write the [Combahee River Collective] statement, there is something about the statement that ‘if Black women are free, then everyone else will, of necessity, be free.’ And I still don’t feel 100% comfortable with that.

We are on land that was stolen and colonized and we struggle to make Indigenous women and the lives of Indigenous women at the center…and so I’m still trying to figure out how we braid those human experiences together so that when we talk about who’s—what does freedom really mean and for whom—I think we have to begin more…we have to expand our vision on that.”

So the “Decolonizing Feminism” authors have a willing participant in Demita and so many more of us. We all recognize that “greater engagement between Native feminist theories and other feminisms is sorely needed” (10). The theoretical background in transnational feminism gave me some of the tools I need in order to do this, as well as years of solidarity work alongside indigenous feminists in other countries that were not just struggling for parity and recognition, but sovereignty within the settler-colonial (in Palestine) and colonially mandated spaces (in Kurdistan) where they lived. Why I took Indigenous Feminist Theory and Thought class in the Fall of 2022 is precisely to address one of the challenges the article’s authors issue: to study Native feminist theories to learn about the claims they make, “not to an authentic past outside of settler colonialism, but to an ongoing project of resistance that continues to contest patriarchy and its power relationships” (23). The challenges in the fifth section are so important. I see some folks here taking them seriously as they try to destabilize the tourist narrative surrounding the heroic white suffragettes in central New York. Sally Roesch Wagner and others continue to say that those women saw Haudenosaunee women and they got extremely jealous of their autonomy, authority, self-possession, vision, and expansiveness, in a phase, their sovereignty and decoloniality. Matilda Joslyn Gage was an intersectional feminist before it was cool–and if she hadn’t been written out of history (and herstory) by the impact of colonial, Christian hegemonic, white supremacy in the suffragette movement led by Susan B. Anthony–we’d be much deeper along in addressing heteropatriarchy, racism, and settler-colonialism in Women’s and Gender Studies.

About SEN

Born on United Nations Day, I am actively involved in the process of figuring out how we can live together well on this planet, given our similar and different truth claims. Thanks for joining me on the journey!

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