The Voices of Indigenous Feminisms
Feminists all around the world have much to gain from the voices of indigenous feminists not only when it comes to gender equality and equity but also when it comes to understanding and working toward sovereignty and decolonization. Western feminism, so often associated with middle-class white women, continues to need to listen and learn from women around the world in order to create truly beneficial feminism(s). In my own path to learn, I want to share with you the women and writings that have inspired me lately.
Wilma Mankiller was a recent candidate for the Women on 20s campaign (womenon20s.org), which was a feminist effort to increase visibility and appreciation for feminist activists. However, I was disappointed that many of the candidates were white feminists, and that I didn’t know much about some of the potential winners. Although I voted to replace Andrew Jackson (responsible for the Trail of Tears) with Wilma Mankiller (a women’s rights activist and first female chief for the Cherokee people), I didn’t know all of the inspiring details of her life. Did you know that she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom? Talk about an impressive role model! So I’m reading her autobiography, which includes her knowledge of tribal government and leadership as well as personal experiences.
As an educator, her efforts toward helping education and health-care for her nation are inspiring. And as a feminist, I find her civil rights struggles haunting and motivational. Soon, I hope to also read her book: Every Day is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women.
As a literature major, I have been captivated by literary works from authors such as Leslie Marmon Silko (Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today) and Louise Erdrich (Tracks). I’m also interested in books, lectures, and articles, so I can learn more about feminism from multiple perspectives. One book on my list is Joyce Green’s Making Space for Indigenous Feminism. Additionally, I enjoyed reading about a 2010 lecture from Dr. Jennifer Nez Denetdale, “Claiming the ‘F’ Word: Native Women, Feminisms, and Visions of Sovereignty”:
Academic articles and books are valuable, but so are news and magazine articles, especially for quick reading and learning. Celeste Liddle’s 2014 article, “Intersectionality and Indigenous Feminism: An Aboriginal Woman’s Perspective,” was a great way for me to connect what I have learned about in Women and Gender Studies classes (like the Combahee River Collective Statement) to individual terms (“fair skin privilege”), experiences different from my own, and people I did not know about (Kelly Briggs & Aileen Morton-Robinson). For the full article: http://postcolonialist.com/civil-discourse/intersectionality-indigenous-feminism-aboriginal-womans-perspective/
Definitions of third-wave feminism may be difficult to come by because it represents so many different things; however, it most importantly embraces the realistic multiplicity of people’s lives in order to analyze identity intersections and how they relate to gender issues. This is important because people are more than just their gender, and other factors also impact their oppression, including race, sexual orientation, and religion.
I believe in the efforts of third-wave feminism and support the reality that all voices can be vital to the feminist movement. If you’re a white, middle-class feminist like me it is important to avoid acting like a “white savior” or overshadowing important voices, but we can all help lift up these voices regardless of our demographic information by remembering these steps:
- Continue to educate yourself
You can do this in formal ways by taking Women and Gender Studies classes on campus and through smaller, more informal ways such as liking and sharing articles like the following from everydayfeminism.com: http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/01/feminism-now/
- Be aware of your privilege and how it impacts your understanding of the world
Truly embracing intersectionality means that we need to value the rights of others just as much as our own, leading to the importance of “checking the privilege” we may have as feminists. For an informal “quiz” about privilege, visit: http://www.buzzfeed.com/regajha/how-privileged-are-you#.tp09O26Kbr
- Listen and respect the thoughts and experiences of others
We live in a patriarchal system that ignores and devalues people who are considered “other,” but being a feminist means we need to listen to these “other” voices in order to change this oppressive system for all those who are negatively impacted. That means learning other points of view, being aware of your place of privilege within this system, and listening to others to find out how we can change the system together. Stepping back from positions of power and listening more than talking are valuable ways to let other voices in. Supporting activist efforts that you didn’t know were important can also be beneficial. Listening shows you care and are willing to stand up for those around you; now is the time for all of us to listen to indigenous feminist voices.