Creating a world where people of all genders are respected and valued is the goal of Indigenous feminism. Working to decolonize our minds, bring back traditional Indigenous views of gender, and uphold tribal sovereignty are some of the ways we can all help build this reality.
Traditionally, most Native communities had gender roles; however, the contributions of all community members were considered valuable and important. Across Native communities, people tended to think of gender as being more expansive than just “male” and “female.” In fact, in many of our communities, it was widely accepted that there were three, four, or even more genders.
In agriculture-based Indigenous matriarchal communities, where knowledge and lineage was passed on through women, it was common for women to manage the farming of crops, while men gathered and hunted. It was also common for women to contribute toward important decisions that were made. Two Spirit individuals were respected for their gifts, and everyone had an important place in the circle.
With colonialism came the Western view of gender, which was much different. During the time of colonization, many Western societies viewed gender as a binary – “male” and “female.” They also viewed men as being the superior gender and men’s contributions as being more valuable to the family and society. From the Western perspective at the time, there was no room for more than two genders.
This way of thinking was not shared by Native communities. While there are some Native communities that have patriarchal traditions, where knowledge and lineage are passed through men, traditionally these communities recognized women and Two Spirit people as being important and valued.
After contact, in order to survive, some Native communities shifted their thinking and began to accept Western ideas about gender. This is reflected in the lateral violence we see today against our Two Spirit relatives, domestic violence we see against Native women, and other types of gender-based violence. These types of violence are not traditional. They are the result of colonialism.
According to Adrienne Keene, a well-respected Cherokee professor at Brown University and author of the Native Appropriations blog, Western feminism tends to focus on the idea that your identity as a woman should take priority over your other identities. Because of this, Western feminism tends to ignore how our culture impacts our lives. Indigenous feminism, on the other hand, acknowledges how our culture impacts our lives and our thinking.
Therefore, those who consider themselves Indigenous feminists commonly believe that we must decolonize our minds and work to change how we think about gender, going back to our original ways of thinking about our identities and our relationship to each other, Mother Earth, and our ancestors.
Colonialism has impacted all of us, but it is up to us to protect our tribal sovereignty so that we can continue to keep our traditions alive, including the protocols, treatment, and protection of our relatives and our communities. We have the ability to end gender-based violence against all people and change our ways of thinking and behaving so that we show support and love for each other in the ways our ancestors envisioned.
How do you decolonize your mind and be an Indigenous feminist?
Start by learning about your traditional views on gender by speaking with knowledge keepers in your community, and by checking out the All My Relations podcast, where Dr. Adrienne Keene and her friend and co-host Matika Wilbur, artist and founder of Project 562, discuss this topic in episode one. Also consider viewing these resources:
- The Indigenous Roots of Modern Feminism by Dina Gilio-Whitaker
- 15 Indigenous Feminists to Know
- Indigenous Feminism is Our Culture
- Coalition to Stop Violence Against Women – MMIWG2S
Originally from Oklahoma, Summer Lewis is a Muscogee and Seminole woman who works in Tribal public health. Summer is an MPH student at the University of California-Berkeley who will graduate in 2023. She enjoys baking, beading, and being outdoors.