Indigenous American Women: Decolonization, Empowerment, Activism

By Devon Abbott Mihesuah | Go to book overview

6
Colonialism and Disempowerment

We, collectively, find that we are often in the role of the prey, to a predator society, whether for sexual discrimination, exploitation, sterilization, absence of control over our bodies, or being the subjects of repressive laws and legislation in which we have no voice. This occurs on an individual level, but equally, and more significantly on a societal level. It is also critical to point out at this time, that most matrilineal societies, societies in which governance and decision making are largely controlled by women, have been obliterated from the face of the Earth by colonialism, and subsequently industrialism. The only matrilineal societies which exist in the world today are those of Indigenous nations. We are the remaining matrilineal societies, yet we also face obliteration. — Winona LaDuke, environmental and political activist

Colonialism, a powerful force, continues to affect Indigenous females in countless ways. Women faced the intruders who invaded their lands and watched the devastation of their ways of life. Their populations decreased from smallpox, measles, whooping cough, alcoholism, and numerous other diseases, in addition to warfare and fertility decline. Their lifeways eroded; bison and fur-bearing mammals were over-hunted almost to extinction, and many tribes were removed from their traditional lands and forced to migrate. Tribes were not allowed to perform religious dances. All Natives became dependent upon material items from the Old World, and although metal implements and firearms made their lives easier in some ways, Natives had to compete with other Natives in order to keep in good stead with the Euro-American suppliers of those items. Indigenous women suffered sexual violence and abuse at the hands of Euro- Americans, and those men created stereotypes and false images of Natives for their own gain. Although today most diseases are under control and health care is available, many Native women face poverty, racism, cultural confusion, and psychological problems, often as a result of being of mixed heritage.

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