Indigenous Feminism Does Not Discriminate

Adopted September 6, 2019

Introduction/Executive Summary

Skirts not required, but always admired <3

The term “Indigenous feminism” originated in demands from Indigenous women, femmes, and LGBTQ2+ relatives to address the disproportionate violence they face because of colonization. Indigenous feminists have long argued that the murder and disavowal of Indigenous women and LGTBQ2+ folks has facilitated the theft of land and, ultimately, the subjugation of our nations. Colonialism systematically targets women, femmes, and two-spirit relatives because of their high status within the matrilineal and matrilocal leadership structures that form the foundation of customary Indigenous legal and political authority. Indigenous feminists have long sought an end to this violence and advocated for decolonization and liberation.

Despite this, Indigenous feminism is often dismissed by Native people across the board as a “white” thing, a form of politics that has nothing to do with Indigenous traditions or Indigenous people. Nowhere do these naysayers acknowledge the fierce and beautiful Indigenous women, femmes, and LGBTQ2+ relatives who have claimed feminism for their own purposes to condemn colonialism, hold our nations (and men) accountable for abuse and violence, and transform material conditions for our beloved land, water, and human relatives. Nor do they acknowledge Indigenous feminism’s long tradition of condemning white feminists for collusion with the colonial project. 

Native naysayers of Indigenous feminism often claim that Native people who call themselves feminists are “apples;” lost, disempowered, assimilated “city” Indians who would rather use a white construct than reinforce “traditional” notions of gender and sexuality. These naysayers are wrong. The Red Nation proudly embraces Indigenous feminism as one of the guiding political frameworks for our revolutionary work. We are honored to join the long traditions of empowered, bad ass, sharp, critical, fierce Indigenous feminist warriors who have been holding it down for our nations for generations. Without Indigenous feminists paving the way, we would not be here. This is the tradition we belong to.

On Kinship and Tradition

Indigenous feminists are some of the only relatives brave enough to critique the ways that “tradition” is wielded as a disciplinary tool to uphold heteropatriarchy in Indigenous practices of sovereignty and nationalism; practices that perpetuate our subjugation rather than free us from the clutches of colonialism. When used within political, academic, and activist frameworks, tradition does not function as a pure expression of philosophy or ceremony. It serves an agenda that cannot be removed from relations of power conditioned by colonial violence and heteropatriarchy. As Indigenous feminist Jennifer Nez Denetdale has pointed out, prevalent forms of Navajo nationalism, for example, have used “tradition” to exclude Navajo LGBTQ2+ citizens from basic civil rights and to prevent Navajo women from holding leadership positions and running for elected office. Whether or not you agree with these positions, it cannot be denied that “tradition” is used within our formal channels of government to deny women, femmes, and LGBTQ2+ relatives basic dignity & equality as relatives. 

When did heterosexuality, male domination, and colonialism become “tradition”? When did dignity and equality become a threat to Indigenous people?

There is not a single form of Indigenous feminism that has ever sought to undo our beautiful and life-affirming philosophies of kinship and caretaking as Indigenous peoples–our actual traditions. To the contrary, Indigenous feminists seek to create a future for all our relations that reflects the radical equality we all—LGTBQ2+, women, land, water, mountains, men, and otherwise—hold within the complex practices of kinship and mutual responsibility that structure our ways of life. In order to protect these ways of life, Indigenous feminists remind us that we must outsmart colonial knowledge. 

The Red Nation is committed to the liberation of Native people from capitalism and colonialism, and we do this by centering Native political agendas and struggles through direct action, advocacy, mobilization, and education. To achieve liberation it is imperative that we transform our way of relating to our human and non-human relatives. Settler colonialism, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism corrupt Indigenous values of kinship by promoting romanticized ideals of individualism, hierarchical social systems, and conditional acceptance. Liberation for all will not be achieved in isolation, but it will be achieved by meeting marginalized/colonized communities wherever they may be. This includes bordertowns/urban settlements, institutional spaces, and off-reservation spaces; spaced deemed “assimilated”. Liberation for all means breaking the chains which bind our own communities in cycles of seemingly perpetual violence, including violence that is justified because it is done in the name of “tradition”. This includes culture shaming and silencing those deemed unworthy to speak out against injustices within their community like youth and unsheltered folks. This includes excluding women and two-spirit relatives from their rightful positions of leadership in our nations and communities. The Red Nation will not turn away anyone committed to liberation and relationality, regardless of their social position or personal relationship with “tradition.”

What we outline above is “toxic traditionalism.” Toxic traditionalism describes how tradition is distorted and weaponized by Indigenous people to engage in lateral violence against other Indigenous people. Weaponization of tradition is when tradition is perverted. Instead of enacting tradition by embracing our relatives, we discriminate against and shame relatives for not conforming to “authentic” versions of identity and behavior that have, in fact, been made up by white anthropologists. The goal of toxic traditionalism is to silence any opinions, identities, or views that are contradictory to these ethnographic categories.

Individuals in positions of power–in particular, cis-hetero men and older generations–abuse certain aspects of traditional and sacred knowledge by keeping it to themselves and shaming those who don’t or haven’t had access to the same. Tradition is alive, it doesn’t stop growing, it will never be static. Toxic traditionalism, on the other hand, isn’t alive; we are socialized to reproduce dead representations of what counts as an “authentic Indian” in our treatment of our own relatives. It has become so normal to engage in toxic traditionalism that we no longer recognize it as a deliberate colonial tactic used to obstruct our genuine practices of kinship and prevent us from having a future, which requires traditions to be dynamic, alive, and expansive. In the end, we facilitate our own submission to colonialism and, ultimately, our own erasure.

What kind of traditions do Indigenous feminist support? Tradition refers to our long traditions of resistance to settler colonialism and every other “ism” that threatens our life, land, and ways of being. Tradition refers to our commitment to encourage and support all our relations to liberate themselves from colonial structures, including toxic traditionalism.

Indigenous kinship encompasses this dual definition of tradition. When we speak of kinship, we do not speak of the ethnographic kind fabricated by anthropologists, but, rather, the elaborate and expansive systems of Indigenous kinship that form the basis of our very identity as Indignenous peoples. These kinship systems entail relations of caretaking, interdependency, and reciprocity. Kinship, for us, means that we accept all relatives for who they are and where they are. Our philosophy of kinship is inherently expansive because it is based on the simple assumption that we are at our strongest as Indigenous peoples when we are making new relatives and caretaking the relatives we already have. This is our responsibility as good relatives and revolutionaries.

A key example of this practice was the #nobanonstolenland intervention that TRN made during the January 2017 airport protests following President Trump’s “Muslim Ban.” On January 27th of that year, Trump signed an executive order halting all refugee admissions and temporarily barring people from seven Muslim-majority countries. This quickly became known as the “Muslim Ban.” The point of #nobanonstolenland was to extend an act of radical solidarity premised on practices of making kin—of making relatives and claiming relatives—that lie at the heart of Indigenous definitions of nationhood, citizenship, and belonging. #nobanonstolenland was meant to encourage people to imagine collective forms of belonging and accountability that do not reproduce racist and exclusionary ideas about citizenship and nationalism like those that give shape to US settler nationalism. Rather, #nobanonstolenland emphasizes an expansive and inclusive form of belonging where Muslims, refugees, and others are embraced as relatives, welcomed in our homelands, and treated with hospitality and respect. The only criteria for belonging within this framework is to practice values of kinship like responsibility, reciprocity, compassion, and harmony. It is, after all, Indigenous nations that have rightful customary authority in these lands to determine who does and does not count as a relative, not the United States.

While we build on definitions and practices of expansive relationality that originate in traditions of Indigenous liberation, we also practice kinship according to the radical inclusivity and ethics of caretaking that define queer feminism. Dakota feminist Kim TallBear advocates for a queer Indigenous feminism that asks us to engage in relationships of caretaking and defense of relatives without reducing the notion of caretaking to a gendered form of biological reproduction that requires our relatives to perform the expectations of “traditional” Indigenous womanhood. Not all caretakers are mothers, and not all womxn want to or can give birth. Does this make them less valuable or deserving of compassion as our relatives? We say no.

We do not need to biologically reproduce Indigenous revolutionaries in order to build the movement. We simply need to maintain a commitment to making new relatives and expanding the movement by inviting new kin into our federations of liberation. This is an important aspect of Indigenous feminism to consider in our politics because, as TallBear points out, gender essentialist versions of caretaking reproduce the heteronormativity at the heart of capitalist social relations. Expanding the movement for liberation requires distinctions between biological and social reproduction in how we define and practice kinship.  In other words, although practices of caretaking and radical inclusivity are pillars of a queer feminist ethics of expansive relationality, it is important not to reinforce the gender and sexual normativities that animate capitalist social relations in our approaches to reproducing new revolutionaries by way of making kin.

Centering cis-hetero women in our conceptions of Indigenous feminism limits the protections and practices of our politics to the needs of “women” at the exclusion of those who may identify along a fluid spectrum of gender and sexual orientation. For example, limiting the traditional practice of caretaking to questions of motherhood and birth excludes our trans women (and transmen) relatives (or anyone else, for that matter) who caretake within our families. Traditionally, caretaking was, and still is, the responsibility of multiple family members within our larger networks of kin. Caretaking also need not be limited to children. We caretake our elders. We caretake our partners. We caretake the seeds we plant in our gardens. We caretake the land. We caretake our animal relatives. We caretake each other. We caretake our sacred sites. Queer Indigenous feminism asks us to expand our ideas about what counts as caretaking, and who is a caretaker. It doesn’t matter what your gender is, whether you’re wearing a skirt, have long hair or short hair, or speak your language fluently. What matters is how you act. Are you a good relative? That’s the only question that queer Indigenous feminists ask of ourselves and our comrades. 

Clause on Cis-Hetero Men

TRN is a queer- and femme-led organization. We recognize that women, femmes, and LGBTQ2+ relatives have been marginalized and silenced by their own communities and by colonial heteropatriarchy. Because our membership and leadership is majority femme and queer, we are obligated to address the disproportionate violence that femme and queer folks face because of colonial heteropatriarchy. We do so in part by addressing those who commit the majority of this violence: cis-hetero men, including Native men. This does not mean that TRN is hostile to or excludes cis-hetero men. We understand that colonialism and capitalist are to blame for this violence, and these structures must be dismantled. However, given the reality of heteropatriarchy on the ground, we have no choice but to develop mechanisms for preventing and reducing as much harm as possible in the course of our revolutionary struggle. We thus adhere to the following three principles. 

  1. TRN shall not and will not cater to the needs of cis-hetero men.
  2. Our spaces shall be all-inclusive but not at the expense of our femme, non-binary, and queer relatives.
  3. Any issues that may arise with a cis-hetero male TRN member shall be handled by other cis-hetero male TRN members and not at the expense of femme and queer labor.
  4. TRN reserves the right to bar participation–or cease collaboration–with cis-hetero men in the movement who have a reputation for predatory or creepy behavior, even if we learn of that behavior after a collaboration starts.

Declaration

The Red Nation proudly declares itself a queer Indigenous feminist organization.We embrace all our relations. We defend and elevate the voices of women, femmes, and LGBTQ2+ within all ranks of our organization and all facets of our work. We take our place in the long tradition of Indigenous feminist struggles for liberation. Long live Indigenous feminism!