The words “Indigenous feminism” can be triggering in Indigenous communities. I’ve read op-eds in the Navajo Times saying “feminism is against our culture,” and when I do workshops on the topic, audiences are often defensive and push back on the phrase. I get it. I cringed the first several times I heard the phrase when I imagined strong Diné matriarchs like Juanita or my own grandmother transforming into powerless, basic “Karens,” like “before and after” photos at Carlisle Indian School.
We tend to associate it with mainstream feminism, an out-of-touch white worldview that devalues reproductive work—“women’s work”—and reinforces white supremacy and capitalism. But those of us Indigenous women who are privileged to be raised by our grandmothers and matriarchs know that the creation and caretaking of home is of the utmost sacred importance. And how could we be a part of a movement that does not value or even understand this?
Indigenous feminism can change our world, if given the chance. The particular words aren’t the important thing, and if others would rather call themselves “matriarch” or “matriarch-in-training,” or a word in their Indigenous language that means more to them, I say go for it. My goal is not to debate words or force everyone to use the same ones, but to insist that Indigenous feminism, like all solutions to problems in Indian Country, is about decolonizing. It’s about recognizing, naming, and discarding the worldview forced, reinforced, and enforced by this colonial experiment called the United States of America, and picking up the teachings and practices of our ancestors.
Indigenous feminism, or whatever you want to call it, is a part of that, or it should be.
Loosely defined, Indigenous feminism is an intersectional theory and practice of feminism that focuses on decolonization, Indigenous sovereignty, and human rights for Indigenous women and their families. In my experience, unfortunately, it’s mostly theoretical and relegated to opinion pieces and books by professors. But we should go beyond definitions and theorizing: there is feminist work happening in Indigenous communities that I’d consider part of a uniquely Indigenous feminism (even if it isn’t explicitly named that).
Read the full article about Indigenous feminism by Jihan Gearon at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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