Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Volume 28, Number 1, Winter 2008, pp. 80-81.
This collection of articles published since the early 1990s makes a welcome contribution to the range of texts available for both Native Studies and Women's Studies courses at the upper and graduate leveL In an excellent short introductory essay, Mary-Ellen KeIrn and Lorna Townsend provide a useful historiographic context for the collection and explain their desire to bring Aboriginal women "out of the shadows" by choosing essays that reflect contemporary scholarship and illustrate the diversity of Aboriginal women's histories. They take contributor Jean Barman at her word in turning the past on its head and making Aboriginal women rather than men the focus of study, probing lived experience and moving beyond the universalizing and homogenizing tendencies that characterized an earlier generation of scholarship.
Fourteen essays by some of the leading scholars in the field critically situate Aboriginal women in the fur trade, in Christian missions, in the economy, and in the law, demonstrating as well the use of alternative sources such as oral histories, stories, and visual images, and drawing on recent work on the gendered nature of colonialism. Several of these articles are familiar, having already been anthologized, but this is not necessarily a shortcoming since they gain new significance in the company of other work in the field. Where earlier studies may have looked for universal truths, the more recent scholarship exemplified by this collection has grappled with complexity and variation. Several authors stress the need to acknowledge individuality and change over time in combination with other factors such as location, age, status, and local conditions.
As the editors admit, the selection is regionally imbalanced, with British Columbia and the Great Plains receiving the lion's share of attention; and some attempt is made to cross national boundaries. On the other hand, articles by Jo-Anne Fiske and Joan Sangster give an overview of the role of the Canadian state and the law in the lives of Aboriginal women, pointing out how both have sexualized and subordinated them, though neither succeeded in preventing them from speaking out against their oppression and retaining considerable influence and power. Emma Larocque underscores a point fundamental to all the contributions: that "while all Natives experience racism, Native women suffer from sexism as well."