Books by the bed:
Spirit and Reason, Vine Deloria, Jr.
Untie the Strong Woman, Clarissa PInkola Estes
Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man, Michael Taussig
White Tiger, A Adiga
Wisdom Sits in Places, Keith Basso
Native Science, Greg Cajete
The Spirit of NAtive America, Anna Lee Walters
The Essential Rumi
Saturday, February 9, 2013
Strategic Indigeneity and the Possibility of a Global Indigenous Women's Movement
In nation-states where public mandate, official decree, and/or cultural hegemony have established majority biological groups and cultures as sanctioned heir to legal authority, or where repressive regimes threaten to crush ethnic minorities perceived threatening to national agendas, claiming indigeneity on the international level may be the only possibility for ensuring continuity of a people or generating governmental recognition of their right to do so.  Despite its treatment as a "fixed entity" in legal codes, culture is not a static entity. Efforts to pin cultural groups to a particular notion of kinship, biology, or traditional practice will inevitably fail since a culture in flux cannot forever demonstrate 'authenticity' or loyalty to a particular cultural complex which might represent a transitional moment. 
Like culture, languages too are shifting, historically contingent, and cannot be conceptualized or accurately represented on a one-one correspondence with either ethnic groups or geographical locales.  Nevertheless, indigenous activists and nationalist ideologues alike have called up language as the definitive cultural practice which separates neighboring ethnic groups or materially similar cultures from one another. Despite linguistic anthropologists' most ardent assertions that one-one correspondences are historically unsupportable, that the majority of ethnic groups historically (and contemporarily) were multilingual, contemporary debates rely on the myth of a one-language-one-culture-one-ethnicity model. But for peoples claiming indigeneity, there is political utility in the project of claiming such an essence. Although progress has been slow, the international movement for recognition of indigenous peoples' rights and the increasing commitment to cultural survival has enabled many small-scale societies and indigenous communities to contest their government's forced assimilation initiatives.
Along with social scientists in general, anthropologists have been criticized as among the worst offenders in labeling indigenous revitalization and resistance movements as "strategic essentialism."  While the concept of "strategic indigeneity" represents exciting new possibilities for epistemology and social science theory, the potential resonances for native communities can be devastating.  When used as a theoretical concept, "strategic indigeneity" is employed to index the constructed nature of revitalized cultural practices and native spirituality as "reinvented traditions"—as new kinds of syncretic practices, blending traditional lifeways with contemporary spiritual needs.  As theoretical expressions, terms such as "strategic indigeneity" and "reinvented traditions" are analytical constructs designed to highlight the creativity and innovation of indigenous peoples in struggling to retain a sense of cultural identity despite historical pressure to assimilate, and in the face of tremendous discrimination against indigenous populations, both de jure and de facto. Although scholars often have little control over research results once they are disseminated, they are obligated to their host communities to ensure that research findings and theoretical production do not endanger the vulnerable populations who have generously hosted them in the first place. Most importantly, scholars should be wary that their analyses of indigenous communities can have more impact on government at all levels, and on policy-making in general, than materials or analyses produced locally by community members or by indigenous peoples themselves. 
Andrea Smith employs an innovative, liberatory methodology to explore indigenous women's theory and interpretations of feminism and its possibilities as a movement among native women in the US (including Hawai'ians and Pacific Islanders). She criticizes the reifying, essentializing tendency of non-native women's analysis of native women's concerns, and proposes her intervention as a counter-ethnography of native women's activist theorizing and activism.  According to Smith, one of the most debilitating aspects of the available material on native women's discussions of feminism is its limited and homogenizing representation of native women's views as solitary and unified. Few serious treatments of native women's discussions of feminism have been published, and these tend to lump native women as either "assimilationist" and therefore concerned with civil rights questions, or as radical native sovereigntist and therefore concerned primarily with decolonization and sovereignty projects, rather than the vast and uncharted continuum in between where most native women's perspectives fall. Jaimes' article represents an important intervention into a debate where few native women had the access or resources to publish their arguments, but Smith cautions that Jaimes represents only one view.  Unfortunately the perspectives available to non-native women who have not spent significant time in native communities are few: concerns tend to be articulated very differently according to the audience, and thus each organization will propose a very different platform for action depending upon the context.