«The Solidarity Encounter Between Indigenous Women and White Women in a Contemporary Canadian Context by Carol Lynne D’Arcangelis A thesis submitted ...»
First, these conversations heightened my awareness of what appears to be one of my most deeply-held orientations toward solidarity work. This awareness in turn sparked modifications in how I conducted the research. For example, from that point forward, I added a question specifically about the role of Indigenous women as allies (see Appendices B & C). Second, my framing of solidarity as unidirectional points to a possible limitation of this work. Did I tailor my questions in a way that assumed the existence of an autonomous liberal subject (the white woman settler ally) capable of assisting the forsaken, downtrodden (Indigenous woman) other?
A highly beneficial dislodging of ideas occurred in those moments. I experienced insights into my own assumptions about solidarity that pushed me “beyond the boundaries” of my own subjection. For example, I took note of and was induced to explain the relationship between two seemingly contradictory impulses on the part of some white women allies—the desire to “help” and the desire to “be helped” through solidarity work (see Chapter 4). In short, I was moved to ask what was at stake for the white settler woman subject.
Taking seriously the premise that I am embedded in structural power relations leaves me to keep considering what my personal drama might say about power relations in the solidarity encounter. Do my assumptions reveal the existence of a default modality of solidarity as unidirectional, which is collectively shared by other settlers and in which the very language of solidarity works to eclipse the hierarchies embedded therein? Is this default mode a consequence of the encounter of differently positioned subjects? More specifically, do white women entering the solidarity encounter see themselves as autonomous individuals and how does this manifest in the encounter itself? Taking this idea further, is the liberal subject only capable of unidirectional solidarity? These are just some of the questions I take up in the following pages.
As I state in the Introduction, I use the phrase “women/feminists” to indicate my lack of presumption that women in the solidarity encounter necessarily self-identify as feminist. I provide a more fulsome account of the feminist elements of my research methodology in this chapter (see “Anticolonialist feminist approaches to research”).
I use the term Indigenous/feminist with a forward slash to indicate my use of two overlapping bodies of scholarship: feminist methodologies and Indigenous feminist methodologies.
As I explore below, I use the term “auto/ethnography” to indicate that my methodological approach merges elements of classic ethnography and autoethnography.
As noted in the Introduction, NMS is a Toronto-based group co-founded in 2004 by an activist and documentary film-maker of mixed Indigenous/Euro-immigrant ancestry and a feminist educator ally of European ancestry. In NMS usage, the term “allies” is associated with those non-Indigenous women who chose to work in solidarity with Indigenous women around the issues of violence against Indigenous women. However, we opted to refer to those of us in the group who were/are not Indigenous as simply “allies” (and not “non-Indigenous allies”) to counter the implied lack of identity of the prefix “non” and thereby to acknowledge our complicity in the colonial process.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, my mother, also a second-generation Italian immigrant, was and is sidelined in this narrative, despite her constant encouragement in relation to the education of all eight of her children.
As Richa Nagar (2014) explains, SKMS (Sangtin Kisaan Mazdoor Sangathan) is a movement based in the Sitapur District in rural India “that now comprises several thousand workers and peasants, both women and men, over 90 percent of whom are dalit” (p. 7).
As Tina Grillo (1995) writes, “It is dangerous at the least to expect that experiencing one oppression means that one understands the others. In fact, to expect so is disrespectful in that it wipes out the true, lived experience of that group in exchange for one’s own, self-serving fantasy” (p. 27).
I worked with MINUGUA for a three-year period between 1995 and 1998. The UN Mission was established to verify compliance with a series of Peace Accords signed in December 1996 between the Guatemalan Government and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG). The Accords touched upon civil and political, socioeconomic and indigenous rights, as well as the demobilization of the URNG, reform of the Armed Forces and the creation of a Truth Commission.
By integrating my experiences into the analysis, I compensate for any ostensible imbalance in the number of Indigenous participants relative to the number of white participants in the study.
At that time, although enrolled in a doctoral program, I had not yet formulated a research proposal. Thus, I undertook the research and writing of the book chapter as part of my activism, not academic program.
That being said, most participants—whether Indigenous or white—had participated in a number of social justice groups throughout what they considered to be their solidarity experience. Many people also participated as individuals in particular solidarity encounters (in single actions or in a series of prolonged activities/meetings).
The three women in London, Ontario had been part of the same coalition of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Although the coalition was primarily comprised of women, there were some men in the group. That being said, all three participants had had other solidarity experiences with women. For this reason, I decided to include them in the study. Additionally, at one point I had contemplated a comparative case study of NMS and this London-based group, but decided against it for two main reasons: first, it would have been hard to account for the difference in gender composition between the two groups; and second, the London-based group had disbanded just prior to the interviews, which made approaching the coalition as a whole unfeasible.
In lieu of honorariums and in the spirit of reciprocity (Lavallée, 2009), I compensated participants by reimbursing for travel expenses and by providing beverages, light snacks or a meal depending on the hour. While originally intending to offer all Indigenous participants tobacco (recognizing that this would not be a protocol practiced by all Indigenous participants), I ultimately opted not to do so given my lack of clarity around the protocol. Instead, I discussed my concerns with most Indigenous participants and received diverse responses—some women would have preferred me to have offered tobacco, whereas others not. However, I was told consistently that because I didn’t understand the deep significance of the protocol, it was understandable that I hadn’t offered tobacco. I was advised to learn more about this protocol (and others) and follow it (them) when appropriate in the future.
That said, whereas some participants (more often white women) deliberately chose to engage in solidarity, others (more often Indigenous women) were drawn to political organizing and once active, became amenable to working with women from the “other side” of the colonial divide (see Chapters 4 & 5).
This is an adaptation of the title of Himani Bannerji’s (1993) edited collection Returning the gaze.
Although focusing on a different site of social relations, my research question bears a striking resemblance to that of Barbara Heron’s (1999), who asks “How do Canadian women development workers negotiate and understand our positions in relations of power in developing countries?” (pp. 41-42).
Thobani (2007) argues that white supremacy as a feature of the Canadian “collective sense of selfhood” in the initial phases of nation building “had to be constantly defended and reproduced at the level of daily life” (p. 83).
In fact, I have been reminded of this risk throughout the course of this research. One instance in particular stands out for me. In June 2010, I was presenting my preliminary research design at an academic conference. After the presentation, an Indigenous woman asked, “Why is it always about whiteness?” And while a dialogue proceeded that included other opinions about the limits and merits of my proposed research, the moment is indelibly etched in my mind as a reminder of the inherent tension that exists in the examination of white privilege.
For more on the colonial underpinnings of and consequent damage wrought by Western research methodologies in particular see Bagele Chilisa (2012) and Smith (1999). See also Mohanty’s 1984 seminal article on the discursive colonization of Western feminist scholarship vis-à-vis the construction of the “Third World woman,” which she later reconsiders, clarifies and reconfirms in Feminism without borders (2003).
In this study, I do not discuss the distinctive intersubjective relations of the solidarity encounter between Indigenous peoples and diverse groups of non-Indigenous people of colour in Canada—a subject of increasing scholarly attention (Amadahy & Lawrence, 2009; Jafri, 2010; Kaur, 2014; Lawrence & Dua, 2005; Mawani, 2009;
Miles & Holland, 2006; Morgensen, 2011; Sehdev, 2010; Thobani, 2007; Tuck & Yang, 2012). As Thobani (2007) suggests, there is a complex relationship between people of colour and Indigenous nations in Canada that deserves to be queried: “Can a citizenship conceived in, and maintained by, a genocidal violence leave untainted any group which comes to be included in its orbit, no matter how severe the forms of their own previous exclusions or how tenuous their subsequent inclusion?” (p. 95). Neither do I take up debates about the relevance of the term settler for non-Indigenous people of colour. Like Morgensen (2011), I recognize that “to say that all non-Natives are settlers may fail to explain how settler colonialism conditions non-Natives by ‘race’ or migrant/immigrant status, while stymieing efforts to link Native, diaspora, and critical race studies in defending Native decolonization” (p. 19).
A telling statement in the Preface of the Handbook of critical and Indigenous methodologies (Denzin & Lincoln, 2008a) suggests that white women often remain the unmarked norm, even in potentially progressive texts. Note the first entry in the long list of oppressed persons: “Because of their liberatory commitments, we believe critical methodologies can, in concert with Indigenous methodologies, speak to oppressed, colonized persons living in postcolonial situations of injustice: women, women of color, Third World women, African American women, Black women, Chicana and other minority group women, queer, lesbian, and transgendered, Aboriginal, First Nation, Native American, South African, Latin American, and Pacific and Asian Islander persons” (p. x, emphasis added).
For my rationale, I draw on Sherene Razack’s (1998) work on the subjectivity of the dominant, where “the question What do the eyes of the dominant group see when they encounter subordinate groups? is raised both to name the epistemic violence of this vision and to interrupt its consequences” (p. 16).
Mohanty’s (2003) commitment to centre the knowledge of marginalized communities “draws on the notion of epistemic privilege as it is developed by feminist standpoint theorists” (p. 231). Rebecca Clark Mane (2012) argues compellingly in favour of such privileging while embracing a non-essentialist view of the subject. While agreeing that this epistemic privilege is often a consequence of having “both to critically navigate dominant worldviews and to make sense of... alternative and marginalized experiences,” she also acknowledges that “[critical] standpoint is achieved (and contested and constantly under revision and historically contingent)... [and thus] is not guaranteed” (p. 76). See also Patricia Hill Collins (2000) and Sandra Harding (2004).
A promising avenue of further research would be to articulate the merits of Indigenous social and political thought for understanding how to fashion non-colonizing modes of subjectivity. Coulthard (2007) sees the potential for Indigenous cultures/scholarship to exemplify non-imperial relationships or modes of being “within and amongst peoples and the natural world” (p. 456). See also Garroutte (2003) and Smith (2008a).
Visweswaran (1994) writes, “the third moment in articulation between autobiography and ethnography emerges in the sixties and seventies, loosely correlated with a ‘reflexive’ turn,’ and might roughly be termed ‘experimental ethnography’” (p. 7).
Butz and Besio (2009) use the phrase “personal experience narrative” to describe the work of “scholars who focus intensely on their own life circumstances as a way to understand larger social or cultural phenomena” (p.
1665). The lines between these genres often can become blurred, as Butz and Besio (2009) point out: “In striving to write themselves into narrative ethnography, researchers may begin to constitute themselves more fully as objects of knowledge, in a move that brings narrative ethnography closer to personal experience narrative” (p. 1667).
I identify as cis-gendered (as opposed to transgendered) given that my self-ascribed gender (female) matches the gender I was assigned at birth.
Notably, although I did ask participants to define feminism and their relationship to the term, I do not focus on this theme per se (i.e., how participants define feminism and whether or not they self-identify as feminists) in my data analysis. Issues around feminist designation were not of particular concern to Indigenous or white participants.
George Sefa Dei and Arlo Kempf (2006) identify the central assertion of “contemporary anticolonial thought” as follows: “that colonial constructions affect knowledge production with profound material consequences” (p. 13).
Cannella and Manuelito (2008) stress the dangerous possibility of “the creation of new power hierarchies” even by self-professed anticolonialist researchers: “Anticolonialist research perspectives would, themselves, require continued examination as positions from which new forms of power could be emerging” (p. 50).
In fact, some Indigenous scholars upon whom I draw such as Sandy Grande (2004) explicitly do not identify as feminist. Other scholars, such as Bonita Lawrence and Andrea Smith, would likely define themselves irreducibly as both Indigenous and feminist in their approach to research.