Decolonizing Gender and Sexuality: Reading for Indigenous Liberation

By Spice, Anne | Women's Studies Quarterly, Fall/Winter 2017 | Go to article overview

Decolonizing Gender and Sexuality: Reading for Indigenous Liberation


Spice, Anne, Women's Studies Quarterly


Joanne Barker's, ed., Critically Sovereign: Indigenous Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson's As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017

R. Aída Hernández Castillo's Multiple InJustices: Indigenous Women, Law, and Political Struggle in Latin America, Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2016

As the North American academy scrambles to address emerging political horrors and movements for justice, a new salvo of Indigenous studies scholars reclaim space for the deep praxis of decolonization. These works demonstrate the crucial position of gender and sexuality in settler colonialism and decolonization movements, inspiring new lines of organizing and scholarship. I read these three books as I moved through spaces of Indigenous land reoccupation and defense in what is, for now, called British Columbia. I read at a pipeline resistance camp on Wet'suwet'en territory, at a logging blockade on Haida Gwaii, and in a traditional pithouse on Lil'wat land. My reading was interspersed with conversations with Indigenous warriors and land defenders about sovereignty, raising children, building networks of support, cultural teachings, responsibility, toxic masculinity, homophobia and transphobia, feminism, decolonizing strategies, survival skills, incarceration, living on the streets, domestic violence, addiction, gender roles, white supremacy, intimacy and sex, medicine and ceremony, and enacting Indigenous law and protocols. These conversations informed my reading and seemed wholly appropriate given the way these books move between activist work, academic research, and Indigenous community relations.

Each book centers Indigenous feminism, gender, and sexuality, and taken together they map an important shiftin studies of Indigenous law, land-based struggle, and sovereignty. Each resists the separation of gender and sexuality into identity categories outside the political struggles for Indigenous survival. If, as the authors argue, the imposition of heteropatriarchy and the ubiquity of gender-based violence were and are central technologies of colonial governance and Indigenous pacification, then movements for justice, radical resistance, and Indigenous resurgence must center the decolonization of gender and sexuality. In so doing, we might develop strategies for resisting neoliberal logics of inclusion and the normalization of white possession. We might resist the oppression and marginalization of Indigenous women, queer, and two-spirit people. We might challenge the political and industrial regimes that produce gender-based violence and threaten the reproduction of our Indigenous nations. Reading the three books together provides a rich and nuanced picture of how Indigenous gender and sexuality maps onto relational fields from grassroots land occupation to the local tribal council to settler state governance to international human rights courts.

Critically Sovereign: Indigenous Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, edited by Joanne Barker (Lenape, Delaware Tribe of Indians) is an interdisciplinary collection. The book features essays that focus on the political stakes of gender and sexuality in contemporary Indigenous life. From an array of Indigenous nations and embedded contexts, the collection centers on "the polity of the Indigenous-the unique governance, territory, and culture of Indigenous peoples in unique and related systems of (non)human relationships and responsibilities to one another" (2017, 7). As Barker points out in the introduction, the liberal work of the settler state has been to police Indigenous peoples into normative gender and sex roles as a technology of governance that aims to replace Indigenous polities with obedient citizens. The studies in this volume challenge the disarticulation of gender and sexuality from studies of race and ethnicity or law and politics. …

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