In fulfilling their traditional roles as leaders in their communities, American Indian women are often at the core of American Indian resistance and struggles for liberation. Native women have a long history of assuming leadership positions within their particular tribes. Their struggles share many of the characteristics of women's struggles associated with feminism in the larger society, yet many Native American women explicitly reject the label of feminism. This paper explores the reasons some Native women do embrace feminism and why others do not. Through an analysis of literature, cross-cultural research, and in-depth narrative interviews, I examined feminism and its compatibility with Native American female resistance. My framework is critical, it takes into account the historical oppression of Native peoples, as well as relative exclusion of Native women in the existing feminist research. What became apparent upon interviewing Native women activists for this paper was the long history of leadership by women within Native American tribes. What is
very apparent from both the existing literature by Native American women and
conducted with Native American women is that, despite their more central position in their societies, traditional Native women interviewed tend not to view themselves as
feminist. An important theme running through the interviews and apparent from the literature reviewed was despite the fact that Native women in general do not have equality of opportunity within larger American society in terms of economic resources, employment, education, health care, etc. (see Churchill, 1993 and Stiffarm and Lane, 1992), and in many cases are solely responsible for the survival of their families (see Jaimes and Halsey, 1992 and La Duke, 1993), Native women do not view their struggles for more power within their communities and larger society as being incompatible with the primacy of home and family.
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