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Read this book.

No, really. Read this book.

Smith's book, Conquest, is a fabulously accessible, comprehensive without being unwieldy, volume about the treatment of Native American women by individuals and especially by the state. She covers a number of topics and combines disciplines without it having too stuff an academic feel. I enjoy this book as an academic, but you don't have to be one to read it. She does a great job, too, of highlighting a lot of points I hadn't considered.

Some examples:

  • The environment: Everyone knows that land and the environment are important to Native people, but Smith made a lot of points I hadn't considered. For example, the way Native spirituality works, it is entirely tied to the land. You can't just say "move to a different piece of ground and practice the same traditions." Once the sacred site is gone, that part of the faith is gone. She also cautions against the mainstream environmental organizations, which often ignore Native people's interest in their campaigns.

  • Religion: Smith makes a very powerful argument against the appropriation of Native religion by the New Age movement, as well as the teaching of Native religion in the classroom. She explains that the concept of tribe has a purpose: people are supposed to learn these religious traditions as members of the tribe, and learning takes work. Teaching religion in a classroom cheapens it. Appropriation is also, in its harshest conception, a form of genocide. When white people appropriate Native religion, they often treat it as a "lost" spirituality, ignoring the Native people who practice it. While government policies eradicate Native populations, non-Native people take over the culture and tradition as their own. Incidentally, see this post on privilege for similar ideas about study of other cultures/races/sexualities/etc.

  • Continuing conquest: I think a lot of white people, myself included, are ignorant as to the ongoing destruction of Native land and culture. The whole wiping out the Indians thing is seen as ancient history. In fact, policies continue to harm Native people and diminish the population to this day. Native women are sterilized, often without their consent. Rape of Native women is also an important part of our history that did not end in the 19th century, contributing to the spirit murder of a people. Environmentally, the government has done nuclear testing that severely curtails the ability of Native people living in the area to reproduce, as well as less drastic environmental harm including destruction of sacred sites and pollution of waterways.


The Feminist Fifty

May 2010


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