By Destiny Morris (Nuu-Chah-Nulth, Gitxsan, and Irish)
In the spring of 2019, I went to a conference in Hong Kong where a Kurdish feminist said, “Fighting for female revolution should be the forefront fight and socialist revolution should be secondary.” Her reason was that, in Kurdistan, female oppression predates capitalism.
As a Nuu-Chah-Nulth and Gitxsan Indigenous women, I did not relate to this. In my nations, patriarchy arrived through colonial occupation. Before the arrival of European colonizers, my nations were not patriarchal. So for us, patriarchy is not the original enemy: colonialism is.
In many Indigenous nations, women hold a powerful and spiritual space. This is because of our ability to create life. Because she is able to create life, a woman’s body is a literal channel from the spiritual world. This is not a fixed biological sex role; the role of biological reproduction is a symbolic role that all Indigenous women, two-spirit, and gender diverse people can hold, that safeguards and protects the nation. This is also why a grandmother and a grandchild’s connection is really powerful. The grandmother is going towards the spirit world and the child is just coming from it. When grandmother and grandchild are together, this connection is crucial. Grandmother teaches all her wisdom and teachings to the grandchild.
This is why feminist revolution is not my forefront fight. We Nuu-Chah-Nulth and Gitxsan women are valued; we just have to get settler colonialism out of the way.
Since time immemorial, Indigenous people have been on Turtle Island. Before colonization, Indigenous women held significant space in my nations. Growing up in a country that has tried to kill these important aspects of our livelihood, as it has tried to kill us, we can lose sight of our Indigenous feminism.
Currently, mothers still look after the family; they keep us together and lift us up. Familial connections keep our teachings, history, and our identity alive. This is an honourable act. Part of being an Indigenous parent means more than just sheltering the young, it means having a home. Homes are built by mothers. They are sanctuaries where a child can be nurtured and protected from danger. When I say danger I mean the violence to our physical body, the threats of child apprehension, exploitation, and murder.
Attacks on Indigenous lives are very heartbreaking and infuriating. These attacks greatly impact the emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing of an Indigenous person. Our survival is reliant on Indigenous mothers, homes, and each other.
The early years of an Indigenous person’s life are a reflection of our familial ability to resist colonial systems of power that are trying to fragment and destroy us. Indigenous families have to fight to keep ourselves together and protected from settler colonial powers of child apprehension, jails and institutions. We need to be together.
This stage of anti-colonial development is crucial to Indigenous children. Indigeneity is an identity. For children to stay with their mothers is vastly important. Indigenous mothers not only understand what Indigenous children experience on a day to day basis, they also have better tools to use while raising the child. Our grandmothers also carry out this labour for our grandchildren.
Our mothers help us heal from the effects of growing up in a racist society. Healing from racism is a form of decolonization. Experiences of racism and exclusion often start young. Without being nurtured, this can result in depression and self hate. If this continues without attention then colonialism can get more and more internalized.
Colonization forced Christianity and the nuclear settler family form onto the Indigenous population. This introduced new forms of patriarchal, homophobic, and gendered violence, which can be reproduced generationally and through lateral violence. Interrupting the kinship that has been practiced since time immemorial is a form of trying to assimilate us. In order to heal from these racist attacks, we need to reconnect with each other as kin.
Our scientific social statistics prove the negative effects of colonial racism. The internalization of colonial racism makes the Indigenous population have a severely high suicide rate. Mothers bringing young Indigenous children into a space of healing can counteract the racist danger to Indigenous youths’ self-recognition. It can change what road we take. This healing does not have an end. It is being carried through from the past into future generations.
A patriarchal structure is a completely different way of living. It is built to support and raise the wage earner (the man of the house) who is valued and praised for providing the income. He holds power over his wife and children. The wife is expected to support the husband in every way possible. Forms of support are cooking meals, doing chores, and appealing to his wants for sex and children. This labour is also to be unrecognized and unpaid. In this structure it is her primary purpose to support the man of the house. These are the requirements to live in this structure, where he is valued and praised and her labour goes unrecognized, unpaid, and undermined. This is not a structure I ever want to be a part of.
Feminism and sovereignty
Indigeneity comes with complex and deadly experiences. Our experiences as Indigenous people are not crystal clear to a settler. Wherever we go, the threats of racism reflect in rape, violence, or murder. Indigenous gender power is Indigenous feminism because women’s power is already there in many nations; it has to be nurtured along with our whole national sovereignty. Indigenous gender power is decolonial because it is national, familial, collective, and it anticipates and prepares for generations to come. Indigenous gender power means that we will not be exterminated; we will survive and we will thrive.
My experiences and identity as an Indigenous person are the reasons I fight for my cousins, my aunts, my nieces and nephews, and my mother. This is why I am also fighting for future generations. Not just for my child or my cousins’ children, but for my great grandchildren, great great grandchildren, and my great great great grandchildren.
As a collective, we are facing a different historical situation than my Kurdish feminist friend whose history of oppression predates imperialism and colonialism. We fight for the land that is connected to our bodies. We fight to stay together within our nations and communities or in the city. Healing ourselves as a collective from our past, to the present and the future, is for our own emotional, spiritual, and mental wellbeing in our national selves, which include the land, our ancestors, and our future generations. Our Indigenous feminism is Indigenous sovereignty.