Decolonizing Femenism: NEW

The essay “Decolonizing Feminism: Challenging Connections between Settler Colonialism and Heteropatriarchy” by Maile Arvin, Eve Tuck, and Angie Morrill discusses two main ideas. Firstly, it explains that the United States, along with other Western countries like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, are built on the idea of settler colonialism, meaning they were formed by outsiders settling in these lands.

Secondly, it talks about how this process of settler colonialism involves gender issues.
The article uses Native feminist theories, which are ideas and perspectives from Native American women, to show how closely connected settler colonialism is to gender issues, especially heteropatriarchy. Heteropatriarchy is a system where society is dominated by men and heterosexual norms. This connection has significant effects on both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

The authors argue that understanding these connections is very important for everyone, not just those studying gender and women’s issues. They believe that by understanding these connections, we can think about nationalism and alliances in new ways. The essay presents five main challenges that Native feminist theories bring to the study of gender and women, suggesting new ways to engage with these ideas.

Overall, the article emphasizes the importance of recognizing the ongoing impact of settler colonialism and its link to gender issues. It calls for a deeper consideration of these topics in the study of gender and women’s issues.

The essay highlights how Native feminist theories show that both gender and women’s studies and ethnic studies haven’t fully addressed settler colonialism. Settler colonialism is the process where outsiders establish a community in a new land, often impacting the original inhabitants. This topic requires a new way of thinking, different from traditional approaches in these fields.

Usually, gender and women’s studies focus on women and gender issues, while ethnic studies look at Indigenous and other ethnic groups’ issues. These studies help us understand how society is influenced by gender and race. However, when it comes to Indigenous peoples, the understanding of colonialism often stops at seeing it as something that happened in the past.

Focusing on settler colonialism in these studies shows that this process is still ongoing and affects Indigenous peoples and others today. This understanding can lead to new ideas about what it means to decolonize and can create new ways for people to work together.

The essay also points out that current multicultural approaches, which aim for inclusion and equality among different groups, can actually maintain settler colonialism. These approaches often don’t fully recognize the unique situation of Indigenous peoples, who may seek independence from Western nations on their own terms. This is different from other minority groups who might be looking for equality within the nation-state.
The concerns of white women, women of color, and Indigenous women can differ and sometimes conflict. For Indigenous women, issues are closely tied to the broader concerns of their communities, which include land rights and sovereignty. These concerns are often addressed through decolonization, not just by striving for equal rights.

The authors, three Indigenous women scholars in ethnic studies, education, and Indigenous studies, aim to correct the widespread misrepresentations of Indigenous peoples in education, media, and society using Indigenous theories and decolonizing frameworks. They emphasize the significance of Native feminism in this work.
The article is intended not only for their own fields but also for mainstream (“whitestream”) feminism and other feminist movements, including Asian, Black, Latina, third world, transnational, and queer feminisms. They stress the need for these various feminisms to engage more with Native feminist theories.

They challenge both traditional and more radical forms of feminism, particularly critiquing what Rey Chow terms “the ascendancy of whiteness.” This concept critiques the perceived neutrality of whiteness and how it often includes racial, sexual, and other minorities, sometimes to their detriment. They argue against the notion that aligning with feminism should mean accepting inclusion within a whiteness framework. Instead, they believe Native feminist theories can help decolonize this dominance in global contexts.

The authors acknowledge the long history of activism and intellectual thought behind Native feminist theories, which have been somewhat neglected by academic disciplines that could benefit most from them. They see the contributions of Native women scholars, artists, and activists as invaluable intellectual gifts that have made their own work possible. They feel a responsibility to continue developing Native feminist theories, aiming to challenge both the wider academic world and gender and women’s studies in particular. Their work is driven by a passion to promote and enhance the influence of Native feminist theories.
In this section, the authors define several key terms essential to understanding their article: Native Feminist Theories: These are theories that significantly enhance the understanding of the connections between settler colonialism and both heteropatriarchy and heteropaternalism. Native feminist theories deal with complex issues of gender, sexuality, race, indigeneity, and nation.

The term “Native feminist theories” is chosen to reflect the broad and ambitious scope of this field. These theories are not limited to Indigenous, feminist, or woman-identified individuals, and they have contributions from a wide range of scholars. There’s also a recognition that some Native women distance themselves from the label “feminist” due to its association with whiteness.

Settler Colonialism: This term refers to a societal structure where new settlers or colonizers claim a place as their own and work to erase the Indigenous peoples originally living there. In settler colonialism, land exploitation is of utmost importance, often leading to the destruction or removal of Indigenous peoples and the use of slavery and labor exploitation. It’s a persistent structure in society, not just an event in history. The authors emphasize that settler colonialism has been central to the creation of wealth and power in the U.S. and continues to affect Indigenous, Black, and other marginalized communities.

Heteropatriarchy and Heteropaternalism: Heteropatriarchy refers to social systems where heterosexuality and male dominance (patriarchy) are seen as normal and natural, while other forms of gender and sexual expression are viewed negatively. Heteropaternalism extends this idea to societal structures, suggesting that a family model with a dominant male figure should be the basis for organizing the state and its institutions. Both concepts emphasize a rigid male/female binary where male attributes are valued over female ones.

These definitions set the foundation for the article’s arguments and challenges to gender and women’s studies, as well as other academic disciplines, by emphasizing the need to consider these complex intersections of gender, race, and colonialism in their theories and practices.

The section “Toward a Different Kind of Gender and Women’s Studies” discusses the importance and impact of Native feminist theories on the field of gender and women’s studies. Mishuana R. Goeman and Jennifer Nez Denetdale, in a 2009 special issue of the journal Wicazo Sa Review, emphasize that while the term “feminist” is contested among Native peoples, Native feminist analysis is essential for decolonization. Native feminism doesn’t have a single definition but multiple ones, reflecting the diverse experiences and aims of Native women. These include opening up spaces silenced by colonialism and examining the intersections of power and domination affecting Native nations and gender relations.
The authors argue that Native feminist theories offer crucial insights for gender and women’s studies, yet these theories often face erasure due to the invisibility of settler colonialism as a current social order. They reference Lorenzo Veracini, who describes settler colonialism as trying to appear natural and inevitable. This perspective is why inclusion politics is inadequate in Native feminist frameworks. INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence’s slogan “Feminist since 1492” highlights the long-standing resistance of Indigenous women against domination, predating the conventional waves of feminism.

Native feminist theories, according to the authors, are integral to feminist thought and theory. They contend that the experiences and intellectual contributions of Indigenous women are central, not marginal, and have been overlooked due to the gendered logics of settler colonialism for centuries.

To truly integrate Native feminist theories into gender and women’s studies, the authors call for critical reflection and a commitment to structural change. They urge ethnic studies, Indigenous studies, and gender and women’s studies to address the erasure of Indigenous women and Native feminist theories, not as token inclusions but as foundational shifts in how these disciplines view their subjects. The challenges posed by Native feminist theories to feminist discourses are significant, and the authors suggest ways for these disciplines to respond productively.

The first challenge presented by the authors is to critically examine and theorize the intersections of settler colonialism, heteropatriarchy, and heteropaternalism. Native feminist theories expose how these elements are deeply intertwined and perpetuated, especially in how settler colonial nations have historically managed Indigenous peoples’ gender roles and sexuality to assimilate them into the settler state.

Key points include:

Impact of Settler Colonialism on Indigenous Structures: In settler colonial nations like Canada and the United States, policies and institutions (like the Indian Act and boarding schools) were used to disrupt Indigenous peoples’ government, kinship systems, and cultural identity, often enforcing Western gender roles and heteropatriarchy.

Material Consequences: The enforcement of gender roles and heteropatriarchy has serious implications for Indigenous nations, including their claims to land and sovereignty. This is exemplified in policies like Hawaii’s blood-quantum law, which has significant effects on Native Hawaiian women and their familial choices.

Resistance and Decolonization: Indigenous women are actively working towards decolonization within and beyond their communities. Native feminist theories highlight the false binary between “women’s issues” and “Native issues,” stressing that for Indigenous women, these are inherently connected.

Rethinking Feminist Discourse and the Nation-State: Native feminist theories challenge existing feminist discourses to reconsider their goals, especially those that implicitly support the continuity of the nation-state. They suggest envisioning forms of governance that are based on interrelatedness and responsibility, as opposed to domination and coercion typical of nation-states.

Decolonizing Feminist and Academic Discourses: Native feminist theories advocate for a decolonization that aims to eradicate both heteropatriarchy and settler colonialism. This requires a shift in gender and women’s studies to incorporate these perspectives, leading to liberatory scholarship and activism that benefits not only Indigenous women and men but all people.

In essence, this first challenge calls for a fundamental reevaluation of how settler colonialism, gender, and power dynamics are understood and addressed in feminist and academic fields, urging a move towards more inclusive and decolonized perspectives.

The second challenge focuses on moving beyond mere inclusion of Indigenous women and Native feminist theories in gender and women’s studies, towards a more meaningful engagement that transforms the discipline.

Key points include:

Beyond Inclusion: The goal is not just to include Native feminist theories within existing frameworks but to engage with them in a way that changes the very structure of gender and women’s studies. Inclusion alone may perpetuate existing power hierarchies, whereas meaningful engagement with Native feminist theories can lead to transformative changes in feminist discourse.

Contestation of Mainstream Feminism: There’s a notable unease within Native communities about mainstream feminism’s focus on whiteness and its tendency to prioritize gender over other identities like race and indigeneity. Indigenous identities are complex and cannot be simplified to fit into mainstream feminist frameworks.

Challenging Heteropatriarchal Categories: Native feminist theories argue that the conventional categories of “man” and “woman” are creations of heteropatriarchy and settler colonialism. The oppression of Native women is not solely at the hands of Native men but is deeply rooted in the colonial, heteropatriarchal structures imposed on their societies.
Native Womanism: The term “Native Womanism” has been proposed to better represent the vision of a more humane and gender-egalitarian future in Indigenous communities, emphasizing resistance against colonial and patriarchal structures.

Redefining Native Feminist Theories: The authors use the term “Native feminist theories” to highlight a diverse field that critically reexamines standard narratives of identity, focusing on intellectual and political contributions rather than adhering to Western theoretical traditions.

Engagement on Indigenous Terms: Indigenous scholarship should be engaged with on its own terms, not merely as an addendum to the American literary canon or mainstream feminism. It’s about recognizing the contemporary and complex nature of Indigenous lives and writings.

Empowerment and Reclamation: Native feminisms should be understood as part of Indigenous communities’ histories and as a means of reclaiming strength, power, and unapologetic identity.

The challenge calls for a deeper, more nuanced understanding and integration of Native feminist theories in academic disciplines, going beyond tokenistic inclusion to fundamentally alter perspectives and approaches in feminist studies.

The third big idea in our article is about creating strong partnerships that really respect and understand the differences between people, especially when it comes to Indigenous peoples and their connection to land and culture. It’s not just about having Indigenous people as part of a group; it’s about truly listening to them and understanding their unique experiences and perspectives. One big part of this is for people who aren’t Indigenous, especially those who are settlers, to learn about how settler colonialism affects Indigenous peoples. They shouldn’t just rely on Indigenous people to teach them everything. Being a true ally means being dedicated to making big changes, not just being interested in Indigenous cultures because it seems cool or trendy at the moment.

Sometimes, people who aren’t Indigenous get really interested in Indigenous art, clothing, or stories, but they might not understand the deeper meaning behind these things. This can make Indigenous people feel like their culture is being used as a fashion statement or a way for others to feel good about helping, without really understanding the struggles they face. There’s a long history of settlers copying Indigenous identities, like when some early American settlers dressed as Mohawk people during the Boston Tea Party. This kind of behavior can erase the real stories and rights of Indigenous people.
We also talk about how it’s important not to just see Indigenous people as victims who need saving. There was a news story that showed Indigenous people in a very sad and poor light, but young people from that community responded by making their own video. They wanted to show the world that they’re more than just their struggles; they have intelligence, traditions, love, and hopes for the future.

Finally, we discuss how partnerships with Indigenous communities should be thoughtful and respectful. People who want to work with these communities need to think carefully about why they’re interested and what they hope to achieve. It’s important to remember that Indigenous peoples have their own goals and perspectives, which might be different from what others expect. Just like in feminism, where some people want to help women from other cultures without really understanding their unique challenges, it’s important to recognize and respect the different histories and concerns of Indigenous women and not try to change them to fit a certain idea of what a woman should be. This means that true partnerships and alliances need to be based on deep understanding, respect, and a commitment to listening to and learning from each other.

The fourth big idea is about understanding and respecting Indigenous ways of knowing, or how Indigenous people understand the world. This means acknowledging their unique perspectives and knowledge, but it’s important not to just idealize or wrongly use Indigenous cultures and religions, like what sometimes happens in New Age practices.

This challenge might seem a bit tricky at first. It’s not about trying to copy Indigenous traditions or digging into the past to find “authentic” Indigenous ways. Rather, it’s about seeing Indigenous peoples as creators of important ideas and theories about our world. Native feminist theories are not just looking back at a past unaffected by settler colonialism; they’re about an ongoing effort to resist control and unequal power relations.

Indigenous thinkers and activists are making big changes in many fields of study, like Native and Indigenous studies, gender and women’s studies, education, law, history, and more. They bring new ideas and ways of understanding things that are really valuable. We can’t cover everything here, but we can talk about a few key concepts that are really important in Native feminist theories. These include ideas about land, sovereignty (or the right to govern oneself), futurity (thinking about the future), and decolonization (working to undo the effects of colonialism).

By focusing on these ideas, we can start to understand how Indigenous knowledge and perspectives are shaping discussions and studies in many different areas. This isn’t just about adding Indigenous views to the mix; it’s about recognizing these views as essential and transformative.

In Indigenous cultures, the idea of land is very different from what most people are used to. For Indigenous peoples, land isn’t just something you own or a resource to make money from. Instead, land is about knowledge and a deep connection to the place where you come from. It’s not just a piece of property but something much more meaningful and spiritual.

A Native Hawaiian scholar, Manulani Aluli Meyer, explains it like this: Land is like a mother to us. It’s not just a saying; it’s real. Land is where you’re from, where you grow up, and it shapes how you think and what you value. You don’t just learn about land in books; you learn from being on the land, living with it, and feeling it. For people in the Pacific Islands, this connection includes the ocean too. That’s why when Indigenous people lose their land or can’t access the ocean, it’s really harmful to them, not just physically but spiritually too.

For many Indigenous people, keeping their connection to the land and ocean means making really tough choices. In places like Hawai’i, where living costs are extremely high, some Native Hawaiians have to decide between leaving their homeland or living without a traditional house. They might end up living on the beaches, which can be risky because they could be forced to leave by the police. But for them, it’s not about being homeless, because the land and ocean are their true home. This shows just how important and deep the connection to the land is for Indigenous peoples. It’s a part of who they are and how they understand the world.

In Native feminist theories, the concept of sovereignty – the right for a group to govern itself – is seen in a new light. It challenges both the traditional ideas of nation-states and the usual gender roles that come with them. Sovereignty in Indigenous contexts often clashes with what we usually think of as government power, especially when that power is recognized by a colonial system that doesn’t really understand or respect Indigenous ways.

For example, in the 1980s, First Nations activists in Canada fought against the Indian Act of 1876 because it was unfair to women. But, many First Nations men didn’t like these changes. They thought the women were being too influenced by non-Indigenous ideas about feminism, which they saw as part of a bigger problem of colonization. This situation shows how settler colonialism can use gender roles to create divisions within Indigenous communities.

Recent studies have shown that these debates about the Indian Act aren’t just about men versus women. They’re really about how colonial ideas and gender roles are used to control Indigenous people. But, some Indigenous scholars think that looking back at traditional Indigenous ways of understanding gender could help in the fight for sovereignty. They talk about how, in some Indigenous cultures, men and women had different roles but were seen as equally important, each with their own area of influence and respect.
These Native feminist theories also question some traditions that might seem like they’re part of Indigenous sovereignty but are actually influenced by outside ideas. For example, the idea that you’re only truly Indigenous if you live on a reservation is challenged. Instead, Indigenous sovereignty is seen as something that exists wherever Indigenous people are living their lives, whether on reservations or in cities.

Native feminist theories also strive to make space for Indigenous women’s voices in broader feminist movements. For instance, Native Hawaiian feminists are working to ensure their unique experiences are recognized within the wider feminist movement, not just lumped in with other groups or forgotten. They want to show that Indigenous women’s experiences are connected to, but also different from, other women’s experiences around the world.

In short, Native feminist theories are reshaping how we think about Indigenous sovereignty. It’s not just about political power; it’s also about respecting Indigenous ways of knowing, recognizing the importance of gender balance, and understanding the interconnectedness of all these issues.

The fourth big idea is about how Native feminist theories are changing the way we think about the future and the process of decolonization. It’s about imagining a future for Indigenous peoples that they shape themselves, based on their own values and ways of knowing.

In discussing this future, Native feminist theories talk about the concept of futurity. This means thinking about what the future could be like, especially in ways that are different from the past and present. It’s about creating a future where Indigenous people have control over their lives and communities. This idea is really important because, for a long time, Indigenous peoples were treated as if they didn’t have a future or as if their ways of living and thinking weren’t important.

One example is how some queer theorists talk about the idea of “no future.” This idea is about refusing to follow society’s expectations, like having children just because it’s expected. But for Indigenous peoples, the idea of “no future” is different. Their future has often been ignored or taken away by colonization. So, when Native feminist theories talk about the future, it’s about creating a new path that respects Indigenous ways and fights against the harm done by colonization.

Native feminist theories also look at how traditions and history are important in shaping the future. They don’t just want to reject the past but to use it to build a better future. This includes understanding the harm that’s been done to Indigenous peoples and finding ways to heal and move forward. For example, some scholars talk about using desire-based research instead of just focusing on the damage and problems in Indigenous communities. This means looking at what Indigenous peoples hope for and dream about, not just what they’ve suffered.
In each approach to decolonization, the goal is not to give one perfect solution, but to create a space where people can think deeply about what decolonization means in different places and situations. The main point is to see Indigenous knowledge as rich, complex, and full of history and hope. By truly understanding and respecting Indigenous ways of knowing, we can help make a future where Indigenous peoples and their knowledge are valued and central.

The final big idea challenges us to think about how gender and women’s studies, and even the whole academic world, might be involved in taking away from Indigenous peoples – their lands, their ways of life, and their futures. We need to change these practices and stop being a part of this problem.

A good place to start is by looking at what we teach in our departments and classes. We should really think about how Indigenous peoples are talked about in these materials. Are they shown in a fair and accurate way? Also, how can Indigenous ideas and knowledge be included in research?

For example, teaching about famous Native American women like Sacajawea or Pocahontas as just historical figures misses the point. It makes it seem like they’re only part of the past and doesn’t show the real impact of American citizenship and control on these women. Instead, we could teach Native feminist scholarship as something that’s happening right now and include Indigenous peoples in our modern understanding of the world.

There’s a lot of Native feminist work that talks about the problems with how Sacajawea’s and Pocahontas’s stories are usually told. They’re often stuck between being seen as either perfect, helpful women or negative stereotypes. This kind of thinking doesn’t help us understand the real lives and challenges of Indigenous women.
Another big issue is how the idea of Manifest Destiny is taught. It’s often seen as a good thing, but when you look at it closely, you see it’s really about taking land and power, and it’s caused a lot of harm to Indigenous peoples.

In our research and writing, we should also be careful about how we talk about Indigenous peoples. For example, when studying queer issues, it’s important to include Indigenous perspectives and not just assume everyone fits into the same categories of gender and sexuality.

Finally, we should think about the relationships between universities and local Indigenous communities. Are these relationships respectful and helpful, or are they causing more problems? We need to be careful about supporting organizations that harm Indigenous peoples.
In conclusion, this challenge is about looking at everything we do in gender and women’s studies and making sure we’re not part of the problem. It’s not going to be easy, and there’s no simple solution. But it’s necessary if we want to really support decolonization and make a better future for Indigenous peoples. This means changing how we think about feminism and working towards not just equality for women, but also fighting against the harm caused by colonization. This could lead to a new and better direction for feminism and for everyone.

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