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Violence against Indigenous Women, by Allison Hargreaves.

July 9, 2017

Violence against Indigenous WomenViolence against Indigenous Women, by Allison Hargreaves.  Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University, 2017.  Indigenous Studies Series.  FORTHCOMING.

3 stars

An account which focuses on the present-day Indigenous and non-Indigenous responses to the numerous missing and murdered Canadian First Nation women which links these tragedies to colonial racism and sexism.

Allison Hargreaves is on the faculty of the University of British Columbia where she teaches Indigenous literature.  I could not find whether or not she herself is Indigenous. She is one of a group of Canadian scholars interested in the ways in which Indigenous people share a world view that differ dramatically and in positive ways with the culture of settler societies that colonized them.  Surprisingly for an American like myself, such scholars receive funding and resources from the Canadian government. I applaud their effort and am interested in their findings, but I find this book and others like it overly heavy and abstract—which seems to me to detract from the content of the studies.

Hargreaves starts from the idea that colonialism introduced degrading attitudes and activities that encouraged the debasement of Indigenous women.  Despite decades of trying to change that pattern, these colonial attitudes remain and still need to be addressed.  But while the government is willing to act to stop the violence against women, it and the research it conducts often repeat the problem by failing to adapt its methodology to the Indigenous worldview.  Hargreaves goes on to dissect recent government sponsored programs as well as films and literature, analyzing them for the ways in which they support or reject fundamental Indigenous values.

My response to this book and others which take similar approaches is mixed and troubling.  My sympathy is fundamentally with the Indigenous people, especially the Indigenous women.  I see the ways settler colonization upset their lives, but I am not willing to assume that it was only villain.  I agree with the Indigenous values being expressed here more than those of my own settler-initiated society.  But I don’t like the implication in this book that the way forward is revenge by the Indigenous women.  Beside, the technical, elitist language leaves me cold and annoyed.  I don’t feel I gain anything from reading it.  For met he best parts of the book were the descriptions of books and films by Indigenous women.

In recent years I have deliberately chosen to read a number of books by Indigenous women from various parts of the globe.  From them I have taken in a valuable critique of Euro-American values and institutions.  Even more important, I feel I have been exposed to a set of values different but perhaps more sustainable than those which dominate my society.  I am grateful for their insights.  I find literature and storytelling, rather than theory, more useful in understanding my society’s past and present.  The book that has moved me furthest on this journey is Celica’s Song, by Lee Marcel, a book than immersed me in Canadian Indigenous culture.

Are there books or articles out there that discuss Indigenous culture and values without this horrid theoretical approach?  I would welcome some recommendations.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2017 6:08 pm

    I hear you! Of course there is a need for scholars to publish their research, but if they want to reach a wider public they need to write in a more accessible way.
    I think I would also be troubled by any theory which represented revenge as a solution to problems…

    • July 11, 2017 2:08 pm

      Yes. I wish I knew if she is Indigenous. But that is not the major problem here.

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