Indigenous American Women: Decolonization, Empowerment, Activism

By Devon Abbott Mihesuah | Go to book overview

12
Feminists, Tribalists, or Activists?

Chandra Talpade Mohanty writes in the anthology she co-edited, Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism, that women of color, or “third world women, ” all have the “common context of struggle.” 1 Indeed, women of color may still struggle against colonialism, racism, and stereotypes, but as multi-heritage progressive Indigenous women illustrate, these struggles have not always been the same nor are their strategies of resistance.

The reasons for differences among Native women are as varied as the tribes themselves. Each tribe's social, cultural, economic, religious, and political values will vary over time, but many cultural traditions do persist. Also, the racial heritage of women and their physical appearance have strong impacts on their identity development and political allegiances and how others perceive them. Racism within tribes often results in class systems, and so on. There are varieties of values within a single tribe as well. A mixed-heritage, educated Cherokee woman, for example, will have a markedly different worldview and values than an uneducated, full-blood, non- Christian one. An urban, educated Navajo with a terminal degree will likely have a strong Navajo identity yet different values than an uneducated reservation Navajo. Sometimes it appears that women of different tribes have more in common with each other than they do with women of their own tribe.

Because Native women vary in their cultural ideologies, appearance, and social and moral values, no one feminist theory totalizes Native women's thought, and there are differences of opinion among Native women over who among them are “feminists.” How we as Native women define ourselves as female and how we relate to the concept of feminism, to feminists, and to each other, how we define colonialism, and how men and women should behave depend on our relation to our tribes, our class, appearance, life partners, education, and religion. For example, traditional Native women—those women

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