Indigenous American Women: Decolonization, Empowerment, Activism

Indigenous American Women: Decolonization, Empowerment, Activism

Indigenous American Women: Decolonization, Empowerment, Activism

Indigenous American Women: Decolonization, Empowerment, Activism

Synopsis

Oklahoma Choctaw scholar Devon Abbott Mihesuah offers a frank and absorbing look at the complex, evolving identities of American Indigenous women today, their ongoing struggles against a centuries-old legacy of colonial disempowerment, and how they are seen and portrayed by themselves and others. Mihesuah first examines how American Indigenous women have been perceived and depicted by non-Natives, including scholars, and by themselves. She then illuminates the pervasive impact of colonialism and patriarchal thought on Native women's traditional tribal roles and on their participation in academia. Mihesuah considers how relations between Indigenous women and men across North America continue to be altered by Christianity and Euro-American ideologies. Sexism and violence against Indigenous women has escalated; economic disparities and intratribal factionalism and "culturalism" threaten connections among women and with men; and many women suffer from psychological stress because their economic, religious, political, and social positions are devalued. In the last section, Mihesuah explores how modern American Indigenous women have empowered themselves tribally, nationally, or academically. Additionally, she examines the overlooked role that Native women played in the Red Power movement as well as some key differences between Native women "feminists" and "activists."

Excerpt

I have written these essays because of my concern about tribal America. Today, American Indians of 557 tribes number approximately 2.4 million. Many of these people face numerous problems: unemployment is 90 percent on some reservations; 65 percent of American Indigenes aged twenty-five or older are high school graduates (compared to 75 percent of the total U.S. population), and the rate goes down for Indians on reservations; the median household income for Natives on reservations is less than twenty thousand dollars compared to thirty thousand dollars for the U.S. population, and 31.6 percent of Natives live below the poverty line, compared to 13 percent for the U.S. population; many Natives cannot purchase homes because tribal land cannot be used as collateral for loans; Natives suffer from diabetes, alcoholism, suicide, and infant mortality at higher rates than the rest of the U.S. population, and Indians report more spousal and child abuse than before; Natives have a lower life expectancy than any population in the New World; the Natives languages are dying— of 175 languages, 50 are spoken by two or more generations, 70 are spoken only by elders, and 55 are spoken by less than ten persons.

In addition, Natives are still stereotyped in movies, on television, in literature, and as sports team mascots. Indigenous skeletal remains and sacred cultural objects are still stored in archives and museums, pot hunters and many archaeologists continue to collect these items in the name of academic freedom, and portions of living Natives are harvested and kept for research for the “human genome project.” Lands inhabited and used by Indians are polluted and overused, affecting tribe members' health and tribal economies. Natives are often ignored as authorities on their own histories and cultures, resulting in thousands of books and essays written about Natives from non-Natives' viewpoints, and Native scholars often are accused of achieving their university positions because of their race, not on the basis of their merits or accomplishments. Negative terminology . . .

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