Book Review

 

 

Rumi Roy, Assistant Professor at Metropolitan University, Bangladesh, is particularly interested in Gendered Subalternity and Third World Feminism as a field of her higher study and research. Currently, she is in pursuit of completing her Graduation Program in the Department of English Literature, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, ON. She also writes for scholarly journals. Rumi loves music and reading fiction.  As well, she is volunteering for Northwestern Ontario Women Centre, Thunder Bay.

 

 

 

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Indigenous Women’s Strength in Tradition
from

A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood by Kim Anderson

 

No matter how far human civilization has progressed, women in the different corners of the earth are still recognized as second-rated citizens. The history of colonization, differences in class, race and ethnicities always reproduce a stereotyped image of women. Nevertheless, as “to tell the truth is revolutionary” (Antonio Gramsci), a voice from the margin is to the fore. A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood by Kim Anderson, renders such a concern. This timely and superb collection of writings about women’s issues is available to borrow from Northwestern Ontario Women Centre Resource Library, Thunder Bay.

Kim Anderson, Associate Professor in the Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition, University of Guelph, is keen in the study of Indigenous subjects. Her scholarly endeavors have contributed to a wide variety of book chapters and journal articles that reflect her interests in Indigenous feminism, Indigenous masculinity, health and well-being of Indigenous families, oral history and Indigenous knowledge translation etc. Besides her academic scholarship, Anderson has also worked for social health and public policy development. A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood is one of her popular works, published in the year 2000.

The book encompasses a large scope of understanding the status of Indigenous women, the role of family, tradition, culture, and the story of their bondage and freedom. The writer substantially relied on interviews with Indigenous women to enrich her notions and arguments about the recognition of Indigenous women, which gives the book an aura of authenticity and life experience. I am greatly fascinated by the book’s use of tradition and cultural values as the weapon to face the challenges of life in the complex local and global politics of present day world. Anderson denies the interpretation of tradition from “a western patriarchal framework” (37), instead, in her appraisals of the Indigenous traditions, she seeks to establish the notion of tradition as ‘a liberating force’ for Indigenous women. To her, tradition and culture “reaffirms the feminine as we move into the next stage of our development” (39). Moreover, though the book specifically focuses on North-American Native womanhood, it infuses a broader sense of indigeneity and cultural values that echoes the values and life-story of land-based peoples. A Recognition of Being addresses a process of self-definition of Indigenous womanhood in four steps:

  • Resisting negative definitions of being;
  • Reclaiming Indigenous tradition;
  • Constructing a positive identity by translating tradition into the contemporary context, and
  • Acting on that identity in a way that nourishes the overall well-being of our communities.

Thus, the book offers a macroscopic analysis to rethink the misrepresentation of Indigenous womanhood in all its negative image, and it guides our direction to the wellbeing of families, communities and nations. Anderson’s analysis of Indigenous womanhood from the vantage points of family, community, culture, history and nation, renders a better way of life which requires a fine integration of all these institutions, and the author confirms her belief that the “planet depend (s) on us finding our voices, nurturing ourselves and reclaiming our authority and power” (238). Hence, though violence and abuse against Indigenous women are old stories, it is time to know about how they fight back, who has taught them to fight, and what teaches them to fight in the struggle of survival. I learned a lot about Indigenous women’s power of resistance from Anderson’s book, which I am highlighting here:

Strength in Tradition

Strong Motherly Caring:

    • Grandmothers in Indigenous families have a strong sense of Indigenous values and sharp eyes against the ways of colonization. They inject a sense of indomitable spirit in young Indigenous girls.
    • The community of extended family, with many caregivers and siblings, emphasizes intimate human relationships, and a vision of a friendly world.
    • Traditional child rearing practices and reinforcement of native values create strength for resistance.
    • Traditionally there was a division of labour in the household between the parents, which taught girls that women do not exist to serve men.
    • The learning of basic survival needs was valued and practiced, regardless of gender associations.

Ties to Indigenous Community:

  • Indigenous women, permanently or temporarily, removed from their community to urban areas try to reinstate communal ties either by merging with other native people of the same home community, or by joining the groups or families of other Indigenous people.
  • Urban Indigenous associations or organizations built by Indigenous communities help and take care of any women in vulnerable conditions- i.e. member of a dysfunctional family or drug addicted.
  • Indigenous political movements create political consciousness among many Indigenous women and infuse a sense of political identity among women.
  • The caring and involvement of elder women in the community mother their spirits, minds, emotions and bodies.

Connection to Land and Language

  • Indigenous women look upon land and nature as their teacher and a source of restoration, solace, comfort, and wisdom.
  • The persistence to Indigenous languages promotes a sense of respect to Indigenous women.
  • In the Dakota Nation females have a distinct language and the males, though they understand it, do not speak in it as a show of respect to the female whom they obey as life givers.
  • In the Okanagan language there are no pronouns for male or female.
  • In Mohawk there is no derogatory fashion relating to femininity to insult someone as used in English.

Role of Storytelling and Spirituality:

  • Traditional stories in Indigenous culture show utmost respect and provide a positive image of womanhood.
  • Continuing spiritual practice is a reaffirmation of the inherent sacredness of Indigenous values, and a resistance to the Euro-Christian worldview.
  • Dreams, visions, and existence of spirits in nature give them inner strength and a sense of identity that is connected to the natural world.

These are the foundations of Indigenous women’s power of resistance. The traditional values work as catalysts to strengthen their identity and makes a way to redefining Indigenous womanhood against oppressions and gender challenges.

 

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Our guest blog program provides an opportunity to reach a supportive, politically engaged, and quickly growing audience of women and allies in our region and beyond; and it provides the Women’s Centre with a means to reach out and connect with women who may not yet be aware of our services and programs.

Do you have ideas for a guest blogger or for an open call for articles? Contact Lori at 345-7802 nowcadmin@tbaytel.net

Here are some potential upcoming guest posts: MMIW, Truth and Reconciliation, Feminist Girls/Back to School, Reproductive Rights/Freedom/Health, Women’s History, Feminism and Art, Feminism and Craftivism. And so much more!