HOW SHOULD I READ THESE? Native Women Writers in Canada Helen Hoy Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001; 264 pp.
How Should I Read These? Native Women Writers in Canada is a book I found refreshingly different from the usual ways that Aboriginal issues and writing get taken up by non-Aboriginal readers. It offers a respectful request to honour the sustaining power of resistance, resilience, and defiance. The analysis Helen Hoy draws on (postcolonial, feminist, poststructuralist and First Nations theory) underscores the importance of cultural-specific, insider-knowledge, and the need to reclaim, renew, and restore our voices. It also critiques the markings of Euro-legacies: colonialism, cultural genocide, oppressions, and Eurocentric dominance that are the maps to understanding Native writers.
Throughout, Hoy respectfully examines a "variety of prose works by Native women writers in Canada" (p. 11) whose own sense and significance of their works are clearly different from mainstream narratives. Hoy takes a critical look at ways non-Aboriginal readers, reviewers, and teachers, as cultural outsiders, have often inappropriately critiqued literature written by Aboriginal women. She critiques the reviewers for their lack of sensitivities and sensibilities to the differences that separate Aboriginal women writers and non-Aboriginal reviewers. Through her complex critical analysis she is thorough in demonstrating how the Native Women writers' works have been misunderstood and dislocated when using western Eurocentric filters to explore distinctly unique bodies of work.
By her own admission, Hoy discusses in details her own intentions and the practice of her stance as cultural outsider and the possible pitfalls of reading Aboriginal Women's literature through colonial, Eurocentric, hegemonic, and western elitist lenses. She offers a clear stance regarding her outsider role: a place where a lot of self-reflective behaviour is needed. She raises thoughtful and provocative questions for non-Native educators and academics to consider when working with this body of works. Drawing from personal examples of her own life of reading non-Aboriginal critiques of Native women's literature, she exposes and critiques the "othering" practices of cultural appropriation and Eurocentrism that abound. She raises many questions and brings to light the need for understanding cultural sensitivity, personal and professional biases, insider-outsider political tensions, and the complicated spaces on the borders of reading about writings that are not culturally understood. For me, Hoy's positioning of herself as an example of how she tried to understand reading with respect, becomes a "teaching" for individuals who engage with Aboriginal Women's writing. They ought to understand and critique their own positionality and find ways to work in a respectful and informed way without "othering" Aboriginal writers. Hoy shows how this delicate balance can be achieved in challenging ethnocentrism in a way that the reviewer's location does not become the dominant focal point. That is, the writings should be about the individual and collective experiences and themes taken up by the writers' works she examines. She is clearly challenging white readers/reviewers when she addresses the issue of cultural appropriation and her belief that although whites may want to engage in antiracist work, in reality "anything we do is a violation" (p. 49). Through this admission, she encourages anti-racist activists to move beyond personal enlightenment towards concrete action in our everyday lives.
Hoy takes on the challenging task of examining the following authors and their works: Jeanette Armstrong's Slash; Maria Campbell and Linda Griffith's The Book of Jessica; Ruby Sipperjack's Honour The Sun', Beatrice CuIleton's In Search of April Raintree; Beverly Hungerwolf's The Way of My Grandmothers; Lee Maracle's Ravensong; and Eden Robinson's Traplines. …