In this revolutionary text, prominent Native American studies scholar and activist Andrea Smith reveals the connections between different forms of violence--perpetrated by the state and by society at large--and documents their impact on Native women. Beginning with the impact of the abuses inflicted on Native American children at state-sanctioned boarding schools from the 1880s to the 1980s, Smith adroitly expands our conception of violence to include the widespread appropriation of Indian cultural practices by whites and other non-Natives; environmental racism; and population control. Smith deftly connects these and other examples of historical and contemporary colonialism to the high rates of violence against Native American women--the most likely to suffer from poverty-related illness and to survive rape and partner abuse. Smith also outlines radical and innovative strategies for eliminating gendered violence.
First of all, I'm just desperately grateful to Smith for her language -- words, ideas, connections, concepts, frameworks. To be able to say why new-age religious appropriative crap is so harmful, or to put into words what feels so desperately cure-nearly-as-bad-as-the-ill about the domestic violence shelter model, or her neat expression of my frustration with the professionalization of everything I feel grassroots passion about... There is such exhilaration in finally having conceptual language for these things.
Plus the clear-voicedness that Smith puts into this book! I sometimes feel so frickin' immersed in the mainstream POV about the genocide of American Indians (Very Long Time Ago and Pretty Much Inevitable and anyway Everyone Meant Well And Did Their Very Best), that it's always such a relief to see someone writing about it without all the stupid minimizing lies.
(And would I be too much of an academic geek to be thrilled that there are copious endnotes? Every couple sentences, another superscript? Because I am full of joy about that. This book is a reference, an ongoing tool against the skeptics, not "merely" a set of thrilling conceptual frameworks.)
The penultimate chapter, "Anticolonial Responses to Gender Violence," is absolutely essential reading for everyone in the women's anti-violence movement (and is likely pretty darn useful in the anti-prison movement, and other anti-violence movements -- I only called out women's anti-violence by name because that's where my activist roots are, and thus I can see how neatly this chapter deals with the broken places). Smith meticulously documents the failures of both mainstream and alternative anti-violence models, and instead of viewing those failures as those unfortunate edge cases that you'll always have, she moves them to the center of her analysis: if your anti-violence model doesn't work for women of color, for poor women, for LGBTQI women, for disabled women, for mothers of disabled children, for undocumented immigrants, she asserts, then your model breaks in important -- not marginal! -- ways. Additionally, models that work well for the women who Smith centralizes, tend to simply work well. That is, even women who can afford to walk away from their communities benefit from not having to. It's a sweet bit of work, that chapter. Seriously, go read it. Even if you don't want to deal with the itemization of ongoing genocide in the earlier chapters -- and I can see why you might not want to -- do read chapter 7.
She admits that many proposals for dealing with offenders in the community are hampered by the fact that many in the community don’t see sexual violence as a big problem, and I was left uncertain what concrete steps she wanted to see, but that’s a standard problem with a big critique and the connections she makes are important ones. Reproductive “choice,” for example, looks very different if you’re from a group historically at risk of forced sterilization, losing your children to the state, and tremendous material difficulty if you do have children. Reproductive justice is a very different thing than choice, and she argues that Indian women should make strategic alliances on both sides of the abortion/contraception debate, and also demand to get something out of those alliances rather than accepting that their interests are somehow subsumed in those of the larger (white) group.