«The Solidarity Encounter Between Indigenous Women and White Women in a Contemporary Canadian Context by Carol Lynne D’Arcangelis A thesis submitted ...»
Sherene Razack (1998) argues for “a theory of difference that accounts for the violence in the lives of women and our complicity in it.... [R]elying on the notion of an essential woman, the idea that all women share a core oppression on to which can then be grafted their differences, has enabled a masking of how systems of domination interlock and thus how we, as women, are implicated in one another’s lives. Tracing complicity thus begins with a mapping of relations among women. We can then critically examine those constructs that homogenize our differences or package them as innate, decontextualized, and ahistorical” (p. 21). Razack’s insistence on mapping relations among women to understand how oppressions interlock and our complicities therein provides a blueprint for how to make colonialism foundational to feminist praxis, and also to “acknowledge that we all share the same land base and yet to question the differential terms on which it is occupied” as called for by Bonita Lawrence and Enakshi Dua (2005, p. 126).
Sandy Grande (2004) adopts the term “whitestream” as developed by Claude Denis (1997), who had borrowed from the feminist canon: “Adapting from the feminist notion of ‘malestream,’ [Denis] defines ‘whitestream’ as the idea that while American society is not ‘white’ in sociodemographic terms, it remains principally and fundamentally structured on the basis of the Anglo-European, ‘white’ experience” (p. 9). See Maile Arvin, Eve Tuck and Angie Morrill (2013) for more critiques of whitestream feminism (p. 17ff).
Some feminist scholars of colour—such as Himani Bannerji (1993), Sherene Razack (1998) and Sunera Thobani (2007)—are noted for their exceptional work in employing colonialism as an analytical category. But the scholarship of women of colour has also been the target of critique. As Emma LaRocque (2007) states, “It is unacceptable that many feminist writers, perhaps especially white and African American writers, seem unaware of our existence, both as politically situated women and/or as intellectuals and scholars. There is in mainstream Canadian and American feminist writings a decided lack of inclusion of our experience, analysis and perspectives” (p. 67).
Tracking this universalist streak in North American feminism and echoing the sentiments of many women of colour, Grande (2004) writes, “Second-wave feminists have been rigorously critiqued for their obdurate insistence on a unified sisterhood, their failure to comprehend the difference between gender-based and race-based oppression, and their continued construction of patriarchy as the universal oppression” (p. 135).
Jo-Anne Fiske (2000) is concerned that postmodern notions of the fractured and incoherent subject undermine Indigenous sovereignty or land claims by making it difficult for the Indigenous legal subject to “claim stability and hence credibility as a legal subject” (p. 8). She calls for “judicious acceptance of the postmodern concept of the discursively constituted subject” (p. 12) and adoption of a “resistant sensibility” that allows for conceptualizing an Indigenous “postcolonial legal subject” (p. 5). This sensibility “seeks to position the legal subject within aboriginal narration of oral history understood as legal discourses grounded in ontology as distinct from the epistemological basis of dominant legal discourses.... it recognizes that each culture, through narratives that constitute statements of normativity, sets itself the task of defining subjectivity and determining the legal subject, whether this be through a rights-endowed individual or through an obligation-bearing member of a collective bound by reciprocity” (p. 5).
See FIMI (2006) for a discussion of how mainstream human rights discourse perpetuates the false dichotomy “rights” vs. “culture,” pitting “modern” (individual) cultural practices against “traditional” (collective) ones (p. 22).
Addressing a world conference of Indigenous women in 1990, Trask (1999) states, “We are here to build women’s organizations focused on the needs of other women and their families and to work these organizations into political forces that will continue to be the backbone of our people” (p. 108).
R. Bourgeois, personal communication, September 2010.
Mihesuah (2003) describes the same dynamic for US mainstream feminism in the 1970s.
The assertion that hierarchical gender relations in North American Indigenous nations are partially if not largely a colonial imposition is widespread. Here is a partial list of texts by Indigenous women in chronological order: Gunn Allen, 1986; Johnson et al., 1993; Turpel, 1993; Monture-Angus, 1995; Jaimes Guerrero, 1997; Stevenson, 1999;
Anderson, 2000; Ladner, 2000; Deerchild, 2003; Mihesuah, 2003; Grande, 2004; Horn-Miller, 2005; Lawrence and Anderson, 2005; Smith, 2005a; Bourgeois, 2006; Maracle, 2006; McGowan, 2006; Henning, 2007; LaRocque, 2007; Stewart-Harawira, 2007; Sunseri, 2008; Million, 2008; and Smith and Kauanui, 2008.
Furthermore, Indigenous feminists such as Kuokkanen (2012) point out that Indigenous traditions that presumably respect women “do not necessarily protect women’s individual rights or advance women’s leadership, but instead have been employed to re-inscribe domination and patriarchal structures” (p. 239).
St. Denis (2007) writes, “Most if not all Aboriginal people... living in western societies are inundated from birth until death with western patriarchy and western forms of misogyny. I am joined by an increasing number of other Aboriginal women who are also claiming that we have not escaped these social and political structures and ideologies at all” (p. 44).
For example, Indigenous women as well as women of colour have long rebuked the mainstream (white) antiviolence movement for its ethnocentric perspectives on and strategies to combat violence against women (Beads with Kuokkanen, 2007; Maracle, 1996; Monture-Angus, 1995; Smith, 2005a; Turpel, 1993; Vickers, 2002).
I do not review studies of Indigenous/non-Indigenous relations in the colonial past, as do David A. Nock and Celia Haig-Brown (2006). In Chapter 3, however, I do discuss Euro-Canadian settler feminists and the Canadian nation-building project.
Nine out of 24 chapters are case studies of alliances with specific Indigenous communities or around fishing/environmental issues. Six case studies discuss alliances vis-à-vis a range of topics, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the National Secretariat against Hate and Racism in Canada, academia, cyberspace and arts activism. The remaining articles consist of reflections by various individuals on their interpersonal experiences with alliance building and/or on what principles can be used to best approach the work.
Other chapters of some relevance include those by Laura Reinsborough and Deborah Barndt; Lily Pol Neveu;
and Beenash Jafri.
The other barriers to alliance building identified by Barker (2010) are empty apologies with no substantive measures to redress wrongs; the “Free Tibet” syndrome (Corntassel, 2006) when an ally engages in token acts to end oppression elsewhere, which “allows the release of pent-up guilt over opulent and privileged lifestyles through the contribution to ‘some good end’” (p. 322); and relying on “those in power to ‘fix’ oppression” (p. 327).
Barker (2010) writes, “Radical experimentation is the willingness to examine current colonial problems in both a broad and personal context, and to identify problems based on the exercise of imperial domination.... This experiment must be conducted both internally and externally. Internally, Settlers must constantly confront the colonial legacy within their own psyches, and be aware that the decolonization process is never ‘complete.’... and we should never be so arrogant as to assume that we have become somehow ‘pure,’ and transcended colonialism...
. The external component of radical experimentation stems from seeking out and building alliances based on these new understandings of principles, rather than simply strategic commonality or shared interests” (p. 326).
The Alliance Project consisted of “three interview-based case studies of the Coalition for a Public Inquiry into the Killing of Dudley George; the Coastal First Nations’ Turning Point Initiative; and a community study of a [West Coast] First Nation” (Davis & Shpuniarsky, 2010, p. 335).
Borrowing from Moreton-Robinson (2000), I use the term “self-presentation” to refer to “how one represents oneself through interpretation as opposed to how one is presented by another” (p. xxii).
Before interviewing anyone, I consulted with several Indigenous scholars and community members about the project, using the term “neo-colonial” as a matter of course. I decided to stick to “colonial” after one particularly memorable conversation in which the interlocutor reacted strongly to my use of “neo-colonial,” arguing that there is little new about the colonial process in Canada, i.e., Indigenous peoples remain dispossessed of their land.
Emma LaRocque (2010) highlights the commonalities of “Native experience” to discuss “Native resistance discourse” as a literary genre: “I have taken, perhaps perilously, a panoramic view, largely because both the EuroCanadian textual dehumanization and Native response to it have been broadly, if not sweepingly, expressed.
Colonial time has collapsed some fundamental differences among indigenous peoples in areas such as resources, economies, technologies, education, parental and kinship roles, governance, language, religion, and land base. The Indian Act has determined identity and locality, defining margins and centres even within the Native community...
. Native peoples’ persevering resistance to colonization has also bonded them and provided them with similarities, similarities intricate in their cultural and political workings.... Native peoples’ colonial experience is not unidimensional or inflexible. But it is there, as Native writers across many demarcations expressively reveal” (p. 10).
I am referring to the designations of “status” and “non-status” as defined by the Indian Act.
Alfred (2005) notes that “the label of ‘aboriginal’... is a legal and social construction of the state [...] Within the frame of politics and social life, Onkwehonwe who accept the label and identity of an aboriginal are bound up in a logic that is becoming increasingly evident, even to them, as one of cultural assimilation—the abandonment of any meaningful notion of being indigenous” (pp. 23–24). See Linc Kesler (2009) for a discussion about “the various ways in which Aboriginal peoples in Canada self-identify and are defined by the state—and the ways in which these two systems of definition, one based in law and legislation, the other in family tradition and community practice, are frequently in conflict.” At the same time, I am intrigued by LaRocque’s (2010) use of “re-settler” to refer to non-Indigenous inhabitants of Canada and her persuasive argument for the Indigenous appropriation of the term “settler”: “I take the view that Native peoples were the original settlers, in the sense of being a deeply rooted and settled indigenous presence on this land we now call Canada; therefore, I refer to all other state-created Canadians as immigrant ‘re-settlers.’ Europeans cannot own the notion of ‘settler’ and ‘settlement.’ These words (and their kissing cousin ‘civilization’) represent a perniciously colonialist phraseology that Europeans have always assumed and from which they have justified the conquest and dispossession of peoples native to their lands. There are obviously many ways of settling” (pp. 7–8). Such a move could be a step toward “unsettling” (Regan, 2010) colonial narratives of entitlement.
The concept of social solidarity is most often associated with Emile Durkheim’s sociological theory. While my thesis is concerned with some of the same issues taken up in theories of social solidarity—e.g., individualism, social relations—it does not share these theories’ central concern with the matter of social cohesion (or its breakdown). See Graham Crow’s (2002) Social solidarities: Theories, identities and social change.
What Barbara Smith (1983) calls “the concept of the simultaneity of oppression [remains] one of the most significant ideological contributions of Black feminist thought” to feminist praxis (p. xxxii). Similarly to Dua (1999), I do not conflate “Black feminist thought” with the broader category of anti-racist feminist thought.
bell hooks (2000) also points to the danger of recognizing only cultural differences. While important, doing so does not guarantee an acknowledgement of power differences or alter the material, exploitative consequences of “Othering.” Razack (1998) writes, “Encounters between dominant and subordinate groups cannot be managed simply as pedagogical moments requiring cultural, racial, or gender sensitivity. Without an understanding of how responses to subordinate groups are socially organized to sustain existing power arrangements, we cannot hope to either communicate across social hierarchies or to work to eliminate them” (p. 8).
Following Ahmed (2012), I feature Indigenous participant insights into how to move forward precisely because of their location as subjects who have been “held up”: “When we are stopped or held up by how we inhabit what we inhabit, then the terms of habitation are revealed to us. We need to rewrite the world from the experience of not being able to pass into the world. In Queer Phenomenology I called for a phenomenology of ‘being stopped,’ a description of the world from the point of view of those who do not flow into it” (p. 176).