Carol Williams, ed. Indigenous Women and Work: From Labor to Activism.
In this edited book, the chapters of stories of indigenous women's histories and narratives cross the borders representing Canada, the United States, New Zealand, Australia, and the western Pacific Islands. The timeframe in which the histories and narratives are told ranges from the 1830s to the late 1980s. The purpose of this book is to tell indigenous womens stories that incorporate the culture and represent the struggles and meaning that are associated with women's roles, which are often a labor of love and a form of activism for the survival of their communities. The colonial perspective of women within their historical interpretation is one in which indigenous women are subservient and a subgroup of the women, whose role was to be of service and often invisible from these histories. The authors of these chapters negate this connotation and tell the stories of indigenous women's roles within their families and communities and their contributions of work and labor. The cover of this book is a picture called The Beading Lesson by Piatote, representing the storytelling and unique role that indigenous women play in the exchange of knowledge, skills, and relationships across generations within the community.
Highlights of some of the chapters are provided, although all deserve a brief overview to engage the reader's interest. The first chapter, "Aboriginal Women and Work across the 49th Parallel," discusses aboriginal women's work and roles across the borders of the United States and Canada. This chapter explores the portrayed histories of aboriginal women within these two countries and how the stories diverge within these two countries. In boarding schools, women were trained for domestic jobs and men for agricultural jobs, not taking into consideration the cultural roles that best fit within their own communities. There is a shared narrative of indigenous women in Canada, who were often forced to move off the reserve to find work. They often became "invisible laboring bodies" in the colonial context of capitalism. In the United States, the role of women was much the same, and often aboriginal women had important roles of aiding in policy development and working behind the scenes of the Red Power movement in organizing efforts and taking care of their communities.
The author of chapter 2, "Making a Living: Anishinaabe Women in Michigan's Changing Economy," talks about the impact that contact and federal policy has had on the evolution of labor within indigenous and tribal populations in Michigan, including an evolution of the roles of Anishinaabe women and men from roles of hunting and gathering to agriculture and lumbering and from cooking, cleaning, and gathering fruit. Education also played a role in this transformation, in which men were taught to do agriculture and women to do domestic duties. When fur trading was a prominent economic activity in Michigan, Anishinaabe women married some of the traders and became an important part of the connection between their husband and the tribal community. Recently, with the encouragement of federal policy, funding, and exercising of sovereignty within the tribal communities, tribal members have returned to their rural tribal communities to work for tribal programs and enterprises.
Chapter 3, "Procuring Passage: Southern Australian Aboriginal Women and the Early Maritime Industry of Sealing," talks about the history of Aboriginal women since contact with the British after they came upon the sealing grounds of southeastern Australia. It was when this happened that the colonists grew to learn the important role that Tasmanian Aboriginal women had in capturing the seals at the sealing grounds. It was then that they formed relationships with these women and intermarrying began. The survival of the economy within this region relied on the Aboriginal women. Throughout this chapter, stories of some of the known and unknown Aboriginal women and their role in history were told. It was through this resiliency that the Tasmanian Aboriginal language and communities have survived in Australia.
The author of chapter 5, "From 'Superabundance to Dependency: Women Agriculturalists and the Negotiation of Colonialism and Capitalism for Reservation-Era Lummi," discusses the evolving roles of women and agriculture during the time of contact and potato farming. The historical agricultural foods of the Lummi include varieties of roots, cama, and berries, which women would be in charge of gathering. Potatoes became a part of the agricultural life in the 1820s, and initially the planting and farming of them had been the role of Lummi women. Over time, as the Western roles of men and women influenced the Lummi community, potato farming became a part of the male role. Documentation has shown the important role Lummi women had in taking care of their homes as well as their family gardens and farms. This chapter describes the narratives of how Western society influenced the roles that women traditionally had in the Lummi community, but it also tells the untold story of the important role that Lummi women had in resourcefully taking care of their own family and other families with their harvests.
Overall, Indigenous Women and Work: From Labor to Activism provides stories untold in histories represented in the textbooks used in the United States, Canada, and Australia. The stories of the indigenous peoples of these countries often leave out the important roles that women from these communities have held historically and their evolving role. Many of the Indigenous women in these communities have had a role in preserving their cultures, languages, and continued existence in forms of activism and community building. This book could capture the attention of a diverse readership, ranging from undergraduate students in areas from Native/indigenous, women, and gender studies to sociology and economics. As well, it could serve as a resource for faculty, researchers, and graduate students entrenched in work around indigenous communities, women, and gender studies.
Robin Minthorn, University of New Mexico
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|Publication:||The American Indian Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2014|
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