(This is adapted from a panel presentation I did at the 2014 F Word Conference with two other strong and powerful Indigenous women, Salia Joseph and Sophie Johnston. Each of us presented on aspects of Indigenous Feminism that speaks to us.)
We are all made of stories: the stories that come from our own histories, that give us personal definition in this world, and the stories that come from our own cosmologies. These are the stories that give us grounding. It is because of this, I can only speak for myself and to the stories that create who I am. I do not, nor do I pretend that I have the authority to speak for, or over, anyone.
You see, I was raised by some strong and stubborn Metis women who have helped shape my world. It is my kokum who has gifted me the stories of who we are, my mother who gifted me life and held me in her womb for nine months, and all my sisters, aunties, and cousins who have helped me become the woman I am today. These women are why I am here. I have seen the pain that colonization, and by extension patriarchy, has inflicted upon my own family and community. It is because of both the history of my family I hold and the history of my ancestors that I carry, that I have been brought to this place. This is why Indigenous feminism is integral to my journey through this world.
Today, I want to talk about the power of Indigenous feminist resistance: what it is, what it looks like, and what it means. Indigenous women have been resilient and powerful forever, our resistance now is not anything new. What is new, is the fact that we face tensions within our communities because of our resistance. We face counter-resistance from fellow feminists, and we face colonial oppression in our everyday lives. Colonialism has been, and still is, a direct attack upon Indigenous women. We resist this every day because of our continued survival. As Anishinaabekwe scholar Leanne Simpson explains, “they (our ancestors) resisted by simply surviving and being alive. They resisted by holding onto their stories. They resisted by taking the seeds of our cultures and political systems and packing them away, so that one day another generation may be able to plant them” (1). We continue to survive and taking up this form of resistance by re-learning our ways of being and knowing in this world.
Indigenous women’s resistance is also formed out of love: love for ourselves, for each other, for our communities, our families, and our lands. Anisihnaabekwe scholar, and one of my most influential professors, Dr. Dory Nason explains:
“These profound forms of love motivate Indigenous women everywhere to resist and protest, to teach and inspire, and to hold accountable both Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies to their responsibilities to protect the values and traditions that serve as the foundation for the survival of the land and Indigenous peoples. These ways of being also provide a framework that ensures Indigenous women’s relationship to the land and their human right to bodily sovereignty remain intact and free from violation” (2).
Indigenous feminist resistance is just this: placing Indigenous women’s love at the centre of our communities and honouring both traditional and contemporary expressions of Indigenous womanhood. This also means that we are able to examine teachings that come form our own communities and hold them to a certain standard. Within our own communities, we must challenged tradition, which as Cherokee scholar, and head of UBC’s First Nations Studies Program, Dr. Daniel Heath Justice explains, “it seems useful to offer instead a different understanding of tradition and traditionalism, one that speaks to the best of our ways of being in the world, not those that fuel conservative politics and fear and resentment” (3).
Our resistances look like the annual Women’s Memorial March that happens every Valentine’s Day in the Downtown Eastside and it looks like language nests in our communities. Furthermore, as Leanne Simpson reiterates, “Indigenous women are already involved in all kinds of nation building – from raising and educating children to the front lines of direct action, to professionals using their credentials to undermine and critique colonialism. Far too often, these contributions go unrecognized, unappreciated, and uncelebrated. Women have always been resisting and re-building” (4).
Our resistance, though anchored by love is also fueled by anger at the oppressive settler-colonial heteropatriachy that has been systematically imposed upon our communities, and the hurt it has caused. It is within this resistance that I have personally learned that anger is not a negative emotion, but instead one that is deeply entwined with love and the drive to see change within my own community.
Indigenous women’s resistance is creating new ways so that our future generations have a stable foundation for our collective resurgence. We are creating a present that will be able to support whatever is coming next. This also means that as much as Indigenous feminist resistance is for Indigenous women, the work can be taken up by all. We cannot take up all the work on our own, the responsibility cannot fall on us alone. We need the help of our Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies in order to make this work more bearable, so the brunt of this is not placed upon Indigenous women.
Indigenous feminist direct action on the ground is a multifarious thing, it looks different to everyone. Direct action can look like blockades and protest, but it can also look like child rearing, birth, and creating healthy relationships, be they familial, platonic, or romantic
Within the discourse of direct action, there has been the creation of a “warrior image” that is generally hypermasculine. This image has been created on the backs of Indigenous women’s resistance, and it is in fact, our women warriors that have been on the frontlines of these actions. As the late Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, a Mi’kmaq woman and AIM member said on her first night joining the resistance, “I didn’t come here to wash dishes, I came here to fight” (5). A key aspect of Indigenous feminist resistance is deconstructing these images of hypermasculine warrior men and recreating representations that hold Indigenous women resistance fighters in their rightful place.
The intersections of Indigenous nationhood and feminism are what create Indigenous feminist resistance. It is through our love for the land and our people that we continue not only to survive, but thrive. It is from these acts that we are able to create a foundation for our future generations, so they can take up where we have left off and continue our resurgence as Indigenous peoples.
(1) Leanne Simpson, Dancing on Our Turtles Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-Creation, Resurgence, and New Emergence. (Winnipeg: ARP Books, 2010).
(2) Dory Nason, “We Hold Our Hands Up: On Indigenous Women’s Love and Resistance.” http://decolonization.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/we-hold-our-hands-up-on-indigenous-womens-love-and-resistance/
(3) Daniel Heath Justice, “Notes Toward a Theory of Anomaly,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 16 (2009): 207-242.
(4) Leanne Simpson, “Queering Resurgence: Taking on Heteropatriarchy in Indigenous Nation Building.” http://leannesimpson.ca/2012/06/01/queering-resurgence-taking-on-heteropatriarchy-in-indigenous-nation-building/
(5) Eric Konigsberg, “Who Killed Anna Mae?” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/27/magazine/who-killed-anna-mae.html