To Honor Our Women IndigenouslyTweet
By: Renee Holt
I was born in the city of Los Angeles, California, Huntington Park proper to a Navajo woman and a Nez Perce/Delaware man. With limited financial resources, after my father left our mother to tend to two children on her own, our mother found jobs where she could and as a result, my sister and I grew up living with extended relatives. Having the varied experience of an urban life and the Rez, I consider myself to be grounded in the urban and reservation cultures. From the subtle nuances to the obvious, both experiences have shaped my Indigenous worldview and identity. I was blessed with the fortune of a varied experience that provided me the opportunity to write as an Indigenous woman from urban and reservation communities.
I would like to preface, I am not an expert. I view myself as an Indigenous woman who was humbled as a mother, daughter, granddaughter, niece, sister, aunty, and friend knowing the experience has blessed me and my children in more ways than one. Being a mother has shaped how I view the world and how I would like my children to view the world.
As a student of higher learning, I attend classes that are predominantly white and read books from Indigenous scholars like Taiaiake Alfred (Mohawk). This last spring semester I was provided the opportunity to take a course in Feminist Theory, during which I self actualized my early years of formal education in self-reflective reading/writing responses. I realized it was going to be a challenge to unlearn and decolonize all that I have been taught with regard to how I view the world, but more importantly, how I viewed myself in this world AND how I was taught to view the world regarding women.
In the words of the 1491s, I had an epiphany! and Feminist Theory reminded me of the many times I believed I could not be a leader because 1.) It was a male domain; 2.) Culturally it was not our way; 3.) Women were not capable. After sharing in class what I experienced and grew up knowing as normal only to discover it was actually not normal because mainstream society did not honor their women, I began to see how a system of formal colonized education is also like being a part of the system in the Matrix (believe me, this is only half the battle!)
As an inspiration, I thought it would be insightful to write about and question Indigenous Feminism. While I begin to prepare for my qualifying exams, I have had to do quite a bit of reading that has helped me reflect on my formal education journey. I posit, what exactly is Indigenous Feminism? More importantly, what does it mean for Indigenous women around the world? The readings have taken me back to living in border towns and the vivid memories of visiting my grandparents and extended family on the Rez in Navajoland. Reading Indigenous scholarly works from Paula Gunn Allen, Devon Mihesuah, Sandy Grande, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, and Manulani Meyer to name a few have opened my mind. Consequently, I understood my faith and belief system is rooted in an Indigenous worldview that crosses over into the world of academic research as an Indigenous woman and activist scholar. I am also aware that as Indigenous people, we hold a deep value for the Indigenous way of life. Whether one is a Dine, Nimiipuu, Lakota, Nehiyaw, Maori, Ohkay Owinge, or Anishnaabe, over all, the Indigenous world honors women, but not enough.
In a time when the Mayan calendar, which both prophesizes the ending of a time of war and violence that ends during the ending of the fifth sun, this moment in time that we are living and moving towards is also a spiritual awakening and time for world consciousness to start a new way of living, thinking, and existing. The transformation and contributions to scholarly works during this time, which started over 20 years ago, is about to come to a close and a rebirth will occur.
During this transition from the fifth to the sixth sun, which began in 1988 and will be completed in 2012, the Indigenous community has seen many changes. Although this auspicious time has seen some changes within our Indigenous community, still, we have more work to do. As quoted by Colby Tootoosis (Poundmaker Cree):
The truth is women will never be equal to men because the Indigenous perspective is that women are at a higher plane; they are at a sacred degree that no man can ever obtain. Women give birth to nations and are the backbone of the family. Men need to step aside, revere our women, and see them as decision makers within our nations. In the last 100 years or so, men have made many of the mistakes that have diluted our nationhood. There needs to be a reconciliation and forgiveness between our men and women. Maybe its time for women to step up and perhaps correct the mistakes that men have made so our nations can have strong foundations once again. Strong relationships between our men and women are equivalent to having strong nations.
After I saturated my mind with those words, I was certain that writing from an Indigenous female consciousness is necessary. I know now that what my grandmothers and aunties shared and continue to teach me is relevant to my existence and experience as an Indigenous woman. I am exactly where I am meant to be and was born into the families that I represent for a reason.
I think about my role as a mother, a sister, a daughter, a granddaughter, a niece, an aunt, grand-aunt, and friend. Relative to what I may have felt, my experience is parallel to many other Indigenous women and we cannot be absolved of our responsibility and/or our unwillingness to be responsible for the future of our community by refusing to heal ourselves. It is now our turn to stand and speak up so that other young, up and coming Indigenous women can feel the same. I believe Indigenous Feminism includes rewriting our histories, to include that our future belongs to the Indigenous women who will carry on the culture of our community.
The work of a conscious Indigenous woman, whether in the academy, on the Rez, in the urban Rez working in mainstream society, is to break down the barriers that have prevented and limited our Indigenous thoughts and beliefs. Indigenous Feminism means showing others what it means to transcend time as Indigenous women and to help find answers; to be solution oriented, rather than victimized, and to live as a Lakota woman named No Moccasins and reclaim what is rightfully ours through our Indigeneity. Indigenous Feminism means healing the relationships between our women, our men, our culture (and within that) our languages and our Indigenous thoughts. In order to heal our communities, we must first heal ourselves and free ourselves of the limiting colonized thoughts and beliefs that plague our communities which unfortunately reflect racist and sexist views of women.
The fight to protect and keep Indigenous lands, languages, cultures, and way of life is more than a movement to build up our community; it is an evolution one person at a time and an act of ancestral faith and belief. I was awakened by a Mestiza woman who challenged me to think beyond those colonized walls of limitation and boundaries because I was too afraid to believe in what she believed in. It took a Japanese-Black woman who challenged me to search deep within my Indigenous roots to help awaken my Indigenous consciousness.
Indigenous feminism, in my opinion, involves deconstruction and decolonizing how I view the world, especially as a woman. Not through a colonized world view, but through an Indigenous world view. Indigenous Feminism is necessary and although there is opposition to decolonization, it has different meanings to Indigenous people- women in particular. Decolonization is a transformative process and as I continue to read through scholarly works, I am aware there is a voice for the voiceless.
In humility, I am a mother and my mother is her mother, and my grandmother was her mothers mother, and my great-grandmother was her mothers mother; essentially, we are infinite women who have lived generations and will continue to live. The life of an Indigenous woman does not end when she dies or when one world ends, it continues, and lives on through her children, and if she did not have any children, through her legacy, never dying.