White Feminism Needs Less Head, More Heart & Spirit

For those who don’t know me, I’m a Russian-Jew. What this means to me, among other things, is that I am afflicted with the over-intellectualizing gene. I think it’s because My People have such a long history of running from persecution and assimilating themselves into whatever current order of things was/is going on at the time to survive that they forgot/lost/mangled their tribal ways of living and being in Balance with earth, ourselves, and other beings.

The above reasons are why I privilege and prioritize traditional indigenous/tribal ways of being, and because a) they make the most sense to my heart; and b) I live on stolen Native land.  I am sick to death of (and pissed right off at) the mind-mining and spirit-eating that the predatory, dehumanizing colonist culture does to people, and for years I’ve been in the process of liberating myself from these shackles.  I’ve come to learn that over-intellectualizing is one colonist shackle that keeps our hearts closed and spirits shriveled.  Closed hearts and shriveled spirits are must-haves to maintain colonialism.

From the moment I discovered (white) feminism, radical or otherwise, I’ve never felt it to be very loving and almost completely devoid of Spirit/uality, most especially in online spaces. I find it a curious thing that despite the many political/philosophical similarities people have, which at first, instantly and excitedly connect us, feminist connections are often fickle and quickly implode, explode or die a painful death when differences of opinion surface.  I recall reading an article a while back written by a 50’s something year old white woman who worked hard for many years for and with a feminist community, and was crushed and suffered major depression when she was dropped like a hot potato by what she thought were her sisters, all because of a difference of opinion.

The closer to the heart the feminist (or plain ole human) connection, the more its rupture will hurt.  The mother/daughter (dis)connection between feminist icon Alice Walker and her daughter Rebecca is a good example of how “the personal is political” feminist mantra can fail, especially when the political becomes more important than, or disconnected from the personal (i.e. too much head/not enough heart).  Rebecca describes her experience in this article (which I recommend giving a full read, lots to learn):

I was raised to believe that women need men like a fish needs a bicycle. [..]It was drummed into me that being a mother, raising children and running a home were a form of slavery. Having a career, travelling the world and being independent were what really mattered according to her. [..]

While she [Alice] has taken care of daughters all over the world and is hugely revered for her public work and service, my childhood tells a very different story. I came very low down in her priorities – after work, political integrity, self-fulfilment, friendships, spiritual life, fame and travel.

As a child, I was terribly confused, because while I was being fed a strong feminist message, I actually yearned for a traditional mother. My father’s second wife, Judy, was a loving, maternal homemaker with five children she doted on.

A good mother is attentive, sets boundaries and makes the world safe for her child. But my mother did none of those things.

Feminism has much to answer for denigrating men and encouraging women to seek independence whatever the cost to their families.

I guess it’s not hard to feel like being a mom, raising kids and running a home is slavery when the work is unappreciated and undervalued.  All these jobs take much time, energy, resourcefulness and creativity that I don’t think you could put a value on, and if you could, most people couldn’t afford it.  I just wish that women who felt that motherhood and domesticity is a burden, didn’t have kids, because they’re not ready for the huge responsibility of motherhood, and their kids will suffer as a result. Sure motherhood and domestic work is unpaid, but in Indigenous, tribal cultures, the noose of money/economics/slavery just doesn’t exist.  You have your hunters and gatherers and you have your cookers and caregivers, and others. Everyone’s role is valued and respected and needed (including kids and elders) to make the community healthy and vibrant.  Back to Rebecca Walker, I wonder, if Alice had more actively engaged with and involved her in her feminist life, such as including her in conversations and activities with other feminists and their kids, if she would’ve felt so unattended to…

Although Alice Walker is Black and Rebecca is mixed race, I think it’s noteworthy that Alice embraced the white/colonist version of feminism while Rebecca took the more DEcolonist, tribal feminist path, exactly because she experienced, in the most profound of ways, the limitations, pitfalls and harm, of the former.

Radical Native rights activist John Trudell has called President Obama a house negro because his role in the white house and colonist culture is that of the house negro of past Black slavery days. Obama is by no means a DEcolonist and no different than any other colonist ruler other than skin color and maybe more eloquence, charm and good looks than his white male counterparts. Are Alice Walker (as per Rebecca’s experience of her) and other Black people who embrace white/colonist ideologies also house negroes? If not, why not? I don’t know what word would be applied to Jews or South Asians or other people across the world who do the same thing, but the idea is very much the same. Jews very much did and continue to do that (conform to & embrace colonist-slavery) — look at how many Jews are in the banking and legal and entertainment industries — there are grains of truth to some stereotypes. Jews have become master assimilators, therefore by colonist standards, we’ve “succeeded.” I think it’s a failure, but I also think people do what they gotta do to survive. But people and cultures are very different. Some people are so resistant to enslavement and oppression that they die resisting (like many Native people), while others physically die a little later because they assimilate, but at a great spiritual cost. Neither way is better than the other, it’s just two different ways people react to unbearable and intolerable circumstances.

There is a divide within Native communities between traditionalists (those advocating for and returning to their traditional, Indigenous ways) and assimilationists (those who adopt the euro-colonist ways and mantra that the ‘old ways’ are a thing of the past, time to get with the times, etc.). The same can be seen among Black and other “minority” communities, with far too many adopting the colonist way, thinking it’s the most civilized/successful/respectable. It’s hard NOT to walk the colonist road when your Indigenous roots were ripped from you, when the pro-colonist propaganda is non-stop and deafening and rammed into our heads from birth, and when we see and hear no other “alternatives”, and when said alternatives are devalued and disrespected and not supported in any meaningful way, and when people are persecuted and vilified FOR resisting colonist ways.

Despite all these barriers & difficulties though, there are many people who are or have protected and DEcolonized/revived their Indigenous Spirit and walk their traditional Indigenous path. These are my teachers and role models, many of whom I’ve written about in past blog posts, with many more to come and learn from (and I have got LOTS to yet learn, this I know).

Rebecca Walker desperately yearned for the love, safety, stability and richness that comes with healthy mothering, family & community, or the TRIBE as per Indigenous ways (which again, we all come from), and this is where white/colonist feminist has it wrong, where it advocates for things away from this idea, like voting rights and workforce (slavery) equality, which are colonist culture ideals.  These things are going further away from natural, Indigenous life.  When we don’t live Indigenously, everything goes wrong, including psychologically and socially (looking at our cyber relations is a great snapshot showing how fucked our relations with eachother have become).  As the late Paula Gunn Allen explains:

Tribal societies [were/are] based on a belief in the central importance of female energies, autonomy of individuals, cooperation, human dignity, human freedom, and egalitarian distribution of status, goods, and services. Respect for others, reverence for life, and as a by-product, pacifism as a way of life; importance of kinship ties in the customary ordering social interaction; a sense of the sacredness and mystery of existence; balance and harmony in relationships both sacred and secular were all features of life among the tribal confederacies and nations. And, in those that lived by the largest number of these principles, gynarchy was the norm rather than the exception. Those systems are as yet unmatched in any contemporary industrial, agrarian, or postindustrial society on earth.

The American idea that the best and the brightest should willingly reject and repudiate their origins leads to an allied idea—that history, like everything in the past, is of little value and should be forgotten as quickly as possible. This all too often causes us to reinvent the wheel continually. We find ourselves discovering our collective pasts over and over, having to retake ground already covered by women in the preceding decades and centuries. The Native American view, which highly values maintenance of traditional customs, values, and perspectives, might result in slower societal change and in quite a bit less social upheaval, but it has the advantage of providing a solid sense of identity and lowered levels of psychological and interpersonal conflict.

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**UPDATE** (Oct.7):  I’ve just been informed by a DEcolonist Indigenous activist and actual Native person (and not the 1/64th kind) that this excerpt by Paula Gunn Allen’s is a poor grasp of Indigenous cosmology and sounds more like words from an academic filtered through a euro-colonist lens rather than an Indigenous person/lens.  I am glad to know this — I’ll keep the excerpt up for now because I think the points are valid and important, but I will add a different and more DEcolonist/Indigenous excerpt that suits the themes Paula addresses, at a later date.]

Now I’m not saying all white/colonist feminism sucks (there are some really awesome women and theories and hard work of blood, sweat and tears shed by many feminist activists of yesterday and today) — what I’m saying is that this brand of feminism, whatever ‘wave’ it’s in, has some serious limitations, past and present.  For the most part, feminism IS a white woman’s movement (I would say mainstream feminism except that radical feminism isn’t mainstream and it seems to be made up of mostly white women).  It is in the Red Roots (i.e. Indigenous sources) that solutions are found, because that’s where they’ve always been.  Sorting out authentic Indigenous voices and knowledge from fake, wannabe and other mis-informed people and places, is part of the process.  As hard as I’ve been working to DEcolonize my mind, heart and Spirit for years now, I would say I’ve barely grazed the surface of truly understanding Indigenous knowledge and ways, but I do feel a slow, deep shift in my thinking and Being happening over the years, which tells me I’m on the right track.  Moving from a colonist understanding of things to an Indigenous understanding is a radical paradigm shift, it cannot and will not happen overnight or over one year or five. It is a lifelong process, a slow process, and I think above and beneath and throughout it all, a Spiritual experience of Awakening & (re)Connection to Life, preserving, protecting and nurturing it  Our life depends on it.

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Decolonizing Sex & Gender: The Pronoun Issue

I came across this post on a facebook group:

The post rubbed me the wrong way in tone and content, so I left this comment:

If we spoke the language of the people whose land we are now colonizing, there is a high probability that we would be speaking a language that does not use male or female pronouns (since there are currently hundreds of different Indigenous languages in North America, many of which do not use male/female pronouns).

Point being it wasn’t and isn’t cool of colonists to force Native people to speak English and it’s not cool to make demands of, or police people’s language, period.  It’s also not cool (and impossible) to control how others perceive and experience us — if I experience someone’s energy as feminine or masculine or both, nothing someone says or does will change this.  I can and do use people’s preferred pronouns to be nice (and for safety reasons – I get it), so I guess if authenticity isn’t a priority in all of this, then it’s all good?  The colonist culture has a real problem with respecting boundaries.

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On the trans* topic in general, from a DEcolonist and Indigenous perspective, it’s really simple:  Nature is to be respected.  Who are we to say Nature’s oddities are mistakes?  When things get unbalanced (which the colonist culture so “successfully” creates over and over), lots of mistakes happen, destruction & suffering abound.  Nature when left alone is perfectly imperfect.  When we take the time to observe Nature, we can plainly see sex and gender expressed and enacted in infinitely diverse ways, and following no rules.  Humans are part of Nature and as similar and different as all animals.  The colonist culture works tirelessly to disconnect itself from Nature in all sorts of ways, creating infinite problems and a collective state of dysphoria.  Creating and building upon complicated ivory tower theories (circles and circles of nothingness)  is part of the colonist process.  The more we DEcolonize and the closer we get back to Nature, the simpler and healthier ALL life will be.  As Native rights activist Klee Benally says, Respect Existence or Expect Resistance.

I would also like to share this very thoughtful article about gender abolition and the following excerpts which I particularly appreciated:

…applying our own concepts of gender and sexuality constructed within white [or any other] supremacist cultures to people outside of our epistemological framework is redefining them on our own terms for our own benefit.

…how can we expect people for whom their gender interacts so closely with their race, their religion, their cultural background, to divorce or even to recognise the bits and pieces of gender that are independent of their culture to destroy?  Or, if gender is an epistemology, is race and other intersectional factors part and parcel of gender in such a way that one cannot simply abolish it alone?  And if we attempt to do that, it leads to the next big problem I have: that the abolition of gender may be, especially stemming from a white feminist bases, a colonising force.

The problem with abolishing gender is not only do we [the self-appointed All-Knowers who carry the burden of educating the supposed ignorants] have to define it, apply our definition towards other cultures, demand they remove gender from their own race, cultural, spiritual or whatever background, but also assume that the abolition of the concept of gender will result in equality or a lack of discrimination.  In doing so, from a white perspective, we effectively create a colonising project wherein we’re intervening in their own identities, behaviours, and practices in an attempt to make their lives better.

/ End of post for now.  I may add to it later, or not.  The trans* issue is quite a cluster fuck within and outside of feminism, and the only way to clearly, coherently and compassionately address AND understand AND make peace within and outside of it, is from DEcolonist, Indigenous perspectives, which is where my interest and energy most gravitates towards — about sex, gender, and pretty much everything else Life-related, since the colonist culture has gone and fucked up so much of Being Human and Life in general.  Liberation = DEcolonization + (Re)Connection with our Indigenous roots — entailing more work and harder work for those of us more colonized and displaced from our tribal roots, but exists within us, on a spiritual and genetic level that colonist science cannot begin to understand or explain.

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Remembering Russell Means: A Huge Matriarchy Supporter, Brave Warrior, Talented Artist, and Awesome Teacher & Embodier of Decolonization

“Until you know a woman, you’ll never know Life.”

Russell Means was a brilliant, brave, funny, powerful, and sometimes controversial figure of the American Indian community and their fight against colonization’s genocide and slavery.  He was controversial because he, like any of us, was human and made mistakes and learned many big and small lessons throughout his life.  This post focuses on the GOOD, valuable teachings from Russell that we are lucky to have access to, such as this video where he discusses women and matriarchy.  I love this convo for its truthful power and the “DUH!” humor he throws in from time to time:

Women who call themselves feminists and who dismiss, distort, or otherwise disrespect Indigenous cultures, including disrespecting Native men, have a lot to learn and unlearn.  Extra ignorant is when they do their disrespecting while living on stolen Native land.  If these women are feminists, they subscribe to a kind of feminism I want no part of.  These types of colonized female mentalities are extremely out of balance and some are the mental/emotional/spiritual equivalent of violent serial killing and raping men.  They need to sit down and do some learning about Indigenous worldviews.  What they forget/deny/just  don’t know is that 1) gynarchies (female governance) were the norm among many tribal cultures long before feminism was a thing (more on this here); and 2) we can be extremely violent with our words without ever raising a hand or even our voice, and some women, including “feminists” are experts at this.  BUT enough about the sickness and nastiness of colonized women (which many of us non-Indigenous women sadly have varying degrees of, due to the cultures and families we were raised in, and which is our personal responsibility to undo), back to the late and great Russell!

Some Russell Means philosophy:

The Universe which controls all life, has a female and male balance that is prevalent throughout our Sacred Grandmother, the Earth.

This balance has to be acknowledged and become the determining factor in all of one’s decisions, be they spiritual, social, healthful, educational or economical.

Once the balance has become an integral part of one’s life, all planning, research, direct action and follow-up becomes a matter of course. The goals that were targeted become a reality on a consistent basis. Good things happen to good People; remember time is on your side.

Russell Means did many important and amazing political, educational, creative and fun things throughout his 74 years of life.  He was a fierce, lifelong activist and warrior by virtue of who he was.  He was also a member of the American Indian Movement in its early years, including surviving the second “modern day” US-led war against Native people at Wounded Knee, South Dakota in 1973 (though the war has been raging on Turtle Island/the Americas since 1492).  Russell also appeared in in several big films and TV shows and made some great music.

Russell also founded the brilliant T.R.E.A.T.Y. Total Immersion School system on Turtle Island as an “alternative” to the mind-mining, spirit-eating “education” provided inflicted on us and many Native people by colonists in the dominant colonist culture.  Boi do I wish I went to this school as a kid, and who knows, maybe one day as an adult I’ll go and learn all the important stuff these kids are learning.  A good way to understand Decolonizing the colonist patriarchal education system and learn meaningful, valuable things is to hear Russell explain it:

There’s so much more to learn from this great man, this post is just a snippet.  I think it’s fitting to end this written blog post with Russell’s philosophy about the written word, taken from a speech he made in 1980 that is said to be his most famous one, it’s called For America to Live, Europe Must Die! (I look forward to reading the whole thing here, in the Speeches section) as it is pretty lengthy and wholly awesome and eye/mind/heart and spirit-opening & growing stuff):

The only possible opening for a statement of this kind is that I detest writing.  The process itself epitomizes the European concept of “legitimate” thinking; what is written has an importance that is denied the spoken.  My culture, the Lakota culture, has an oral tradition, so I ordinarily reject writing. It is one of the white world’s ways of destroying the cultures of non-European peoples, the imposing of an abstraction over the spoken relationship of a people.

[I]t seems that the only way to communicate with the white world is through the dead, dry leaves of a book. I don’t really care whether my words reach whites or not. They have already demonstrated through their history that they cannot hear, cannot see; they can only read (of course, there are exceptions, but the exceptions only prove the rule).

For all those written-word worshipers out there, remember this Russell truth-bullet when it comes to academic “experts” regarding anything to do with Indigenous people or their cultures:

“A master’s degree in “Indian Studies” or in “education” or in anything else cannot make a person into a human being or provide knowledge into traditional ways. It can only make you into a mental European, an outsider.”

Thank you Russell Means for all you did for your People, and the rest of us occupying your People’s land, who have so much to learn from you and our own Indigenous roots that were colonized out of us for so long.  Your legacy and teachings will live forever and may they be shared, learned and used widely to help create a good, healthy and balanced world for All.

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Puttin Up My Titties 4 Bridget Everett: A Thrilling, Hilarious & Raunchy Force of Fresh Female Power

I never really had weird body issues — I probably should, but I don’t; you know, I’m the big girl.  I had to figure something out, so I sort of kept screaming until someone heard me.  Not to be corny, but music and singing is the way I communicate.  It’s given me a better understanding of myself. [..] I just go on stage and become this terrifying, fucking amped-up party girl with the voice of an angel.

“My mom always made me feel like I was beautiful because of what I looked like, not in spite of what I looked like”

With an album titled Pound It and songs called Titties, Fuck Shit Up and What I Gotta Do To Get That Dick in My Mouth?, what’s not to love about Bridget Everett?!

I just recently discovered this wicked awesome and outrageous singer-performance artist after watching her perform her song What I Gotta Do on the season finale of the Inside Amy Schumer show (a separate post to come about the brillz & hilarious Amy).

Bridget’s brand of feminism is one of my favorite – the creative, fun and sexy kind.  Who was it that said they had to dance at their revolution, or something like that?  Well Mz Bridget puts a whole new spin on that idea. There isn’t just dancing at her revolution, there’s super talented singing, swearing, nudity, motor boating, and the spraying of faux cum all over the place, which really, is the ultimate resolution in sex & gender equality, aint it?  That is, for everything to be good and right, loving and respectful and balanced between the sexes so we can get back to being the free, wild animals we are, having a mutually consensual orgasmic time doing whatever and whomever we want, The End?  And of course gleefully not doing anyone if we don’t want to either, for a shout-out to the asexuals, non-sexuals, celibates, and other such folk out there.   Well, that’s two of many, many Good Life versions of my idea of a post-colonial, back-to-tribal-living world.  But back to Bridget!   The quotes* & clips speak for themselves – her words and work inspire my feminism and overall lifeforce in some exciting ways, and hopefully they will yours too.

I hope that sometime, if somebody sees me onstage, stripping down to almost nothing, they will see that it’s just a body and hopefully that can give somebody some comfort somewhere. [..] I think the human body is really cool and there is something pretty spectacular about everybody.

Seeing a plus sized woman in a see-through, barely there outfit singing about how you should love whatever kind of titties you may have is, well, kind of my thing. [..] it’s been really cool being around a group of people that embraced the weirdo in me, and the sex maniac, and the crazy thing, and go with it.

I think some people are freaked out by me throwing my body around on stage but I’m like, literally, it’s just tits. And you grew up sucking on one to get what you need and now you’re getting them in a different way.

On feminism, Bridget says:

I’ve always identified as a feminist. But there was a time when I was finding my voice as a performer, where I wasn’t sure if what I was (and still am) doing could be considered feminist. My “character” on stage (which is really just the super hero version of myself) is totally wild, often naked and frequently inappropriate. Then I realized that I was being true to myself, free of fear and totally 100% in charge of my body, and that, to me, is part of what being a feminist is all about.

About her creative process and rising success, Bridget explains:

[A]t the end of the day, I’m surrounded by a wildly funny and creative group of friends.  We all just do weird shit that makes each other laugh.  And they don’t judge me for what I do or say.  It’s really freed me up and unleashed the beast.  In fact, my friend, Adam, inspired me to write my own songs.  I’ll say something kind of fucked up and he says, ‘Sounds like a hit.’  And I literally take whatever it is that made him or whatever other friend laugh and write about it.

In the end, I want people to leave the shows feeling like they just went to a great party and when someone asks them why, they can’t really explain it.  They just know they have to be at the next one.

Next time I’m in New York, I will most definitely be checking out this rockstar of a woman.  Thank you Bridget for so boldly, unapologetically and self-lovingly being YOU, you’re a fun and inspiring space-taker-upper and I’m thrilled that you’re sharing your wild self with us!

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* All quotes (and descriptors of Bridget used in the montage I made) are from articles and interviews found here, here, here, here and here.  Hope you enjoy her as much as I do, may she inspire the WildWoman to blossom and shine within us all and take up and OWN our space strong n’ proud!

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Remembering Maya Angelou who Taught Me the Life-Taking and Life-Giving Power of Words

I caught an Oprah’s Master Class episode the other night which featured a conversation with Maya Angelou, may she have died without suffering and may she live on in peace and love in some other dimension.  She described how at age 6 or 7, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend and didn’t tell anyone except for her brother or cousin of similar age. He then told an adult, and shortly after that, the man who raped Maya was put in jail and was either beaten to death or killed himself. Right after that, Maya went mute, because in her 6 or 7 year old logic, she came to understand that her words can kill people because she said out loud the name of her rapist, and the chain of events that followed ultimately resulted in his death.

Kids can teach us so much when we take the time and Respect to understand them.

Maya’s mother didn’t know what to do with her newly mute daughter, so she eventually sent her away to live with her grandmother, which Maya said was the best thing that could’ve happened to her. With some support from her grandma and a family friend, she began to read and write. And eventually she began to speak again. During the years of being mute, Maya discovered the world of the written word and clearly became a master of it.

Watching Maya speak, it struck me how much innocence she had and though she was in her 80’s, I could also see the little girl in her. I think it’s such a beautiful thing to keep that part of us alive. It can never die anyway, we can just get really good at building walls and fences to protect it after its been hurt one too many times. It doesn’t take much to break an innocent heart, for it is so fragile (but at the same time, I am daily astounded at how equally resilient the human spirit is). The colonist patriarchal culture isn’t exactly brimming over with respect, gentleness and compassion FOR our inner children to be out. Even so, I think we let ourselves down when we don’t honor our inner, innocent child and her/his needs, wants and dreams.

Words are so very powerful. They can deliver pain and suffering and deflate the lifeforce out of people, and they can also deliver love and gentleness and build UP the lifeforce.

Before my sister was born when I was 8, I was a sad and lonely kid living in a home of darkness. I only knew it was dark because the one friend I had, when I would go to her house, felt so light. Maya said:

You must be careful about the words you use, or the words you allow to be used in your house. Someday we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. I think they get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, and your upholstery and your clothes, and finally, into you.

When I think of my childhood home, the words that seeped into our walls, furniture, clothing, and ourselves were words attached to un-loving values.  Harsh, cold, dark values, such as judgment, comparison, expectations, male supremacy, hierarchical thinking, and general ignorance (the adults not knowing how to do much more than provide us with our basic needs, not knowing how to communicate, resolve conflict, and generally raise us girls to be our full and true shining selves).

Words have values attached to them, and values are what shape, make (or destroy) Life. This is why I am so drawn to indigenous worldviews and values, because they are so radically different from colonist ones, and make such a difference to the human heart and spirit. In this post I illustrated just how different indigenous cultural values are from colonist ones, and it is an hourly, daily and lifelong process for me to decolonize and undo the colonized values I was born and indoctrinated into, and replace them with more healthy, loving ones.  Personal Responsibility is a real and important and powerful thing, we all have it, and as hard as it may sometimes be, it’s our duty, as human beings, to take responsibility for ourselves, our lives, and all the things we DO have power in.

I’ve been the kind of person who thinks out loud, which sometimes has me meandering and finding the long, windy way to Truth.  I know and so appreciate people who are precise with their words, who think a lot before speaking, and speak and write with clarity and coherence.  This is something I would like to do more of, and Maya inspires and reminds me of just how important and impactful our words are.

So in closing, I leave you and me with these insightful words from Maya Angelou:

Try to live your life in a way that you will not regret years of useless virtue and inertia and timidity. Take up the battle. Take it up. It’s yours. This is your life. This is your world. You make your own choices. You can decide life isn’t worth living. That would be the worst thing you could do. How do you know? So fall. Try it. See. So pick it up. Pick up the battle and make it a better world. Just where you are. Yes. And it can be better and it must be better, but it is up to us.

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Decolonizing the Appropriation of the 2-Spirit Identity, ***As Explained by a 2-Spirit***

Two-Spirited Women of Today: Shea Sandy (left), an Anishinaabe Indigenous/Aboriginal rights activist, poet/ singer/song writer/multi-instrumentalist, and L.Frank, (right), a Tongva-Acjachemen artist, writer, tribal scholar, cartoonist, and indigenous language activist

Female-bodied two-spirited women of today: Shea Sandy (left), an Anishinaabe DEcolonizing, Indigenous rights activist, poet/ singer/song writer/multi-instrumentalist, and L.Frank, (right), a Tongva-Acjachemen artist, writer, tribal scholar, cartoonist, and indigenous language activist

“Homophobia and gender hysteria is a european value that found its way into some Indigenous cultures only after initial european invasion and during it.” — Shea Sandy

SO MUCH has been and continues to be said and fiercely debated about sex and gender and transgenderism/transsexuality, especially within feminism, with radical feminists being the most critical and rejecting of trans* identities.  The debates are fierce & deafening.  I want to strictly stick to a decolonist approach to the issue here.  This means trying to think and imagine really hard, what life WAS, IS (in some places), and CAN be like if we lived as indigenously and respectfully with the earth and eachother as possible, and as far away from a colonized mind, heart and spirit as we can (we all come from tribal roots before the process of domestication and so-called “civilization” began).  Decolonization is very hard for those of us born into the colonist culture; it is a lifelong process that requires us to un-mine the mining done to our minds and spirits by the predatory colonist culture and undoing the values & behaviors the colonist culture rewards, encourages, and holds so dear, while replacing them with healthier ways of being.

A blogger over at ‘culturallyboundgender‘ (“CBG”) attempted to tackle the gender issue as it relates to trans* identities by writing this article analyzing the Indigenous (American Indian) “two spirit” identity and how it is wrongly being appropriated (meaning to take on or do without consent) by non-Native trans* people.  Unfortunately she missed the mark and mis-informed on some important things, and the best person to explain how and why is an actual 2-spirited Indigenous voice.

So below is a response to CBG’s article that comes from Shea Sandy, written months ago.   Shea is an Indigenous two-spirited woman and long time Native rights activist and member of the American Indian Movement.  The reason I have to make this a separate article is because CBG never published Shea’s response in her blog’s comments section, so I am posting it here because it is important and because traditional (decolonized/non-assimilated) Native voices are the ultimate authorities and experts on all matters to do with Indigenous cultureDUH!  And naturally, Indigenous two-spirits are the ultimate authorities on two-spiritedness, since it is an indigenous identity.  Here Shea speaks for herself and her 2-spirit identity (not for all two-spirits of the world, since Native voices are as diverse as the many Nations they come from.  So below is Shea’s response to CBG’s article:

Interesting article.  I definitely feel as an Indigenous american (Anishinaabekwe) that the Indigenous “Two Spirit” concept by whatever name a particular Tribal Nation calls it – is part of that particular Indigenous Nation’s culture and is not to be appropriated by colonist or non-Indigenous people.

I do not think that all of your information is %100 correct nor that you made the clear distinction between traditional pre-colonization Indigenous cultures and the later post-colonization Indigenous cultures that have been ravaged by genocidal colonists and their push to assimilate to white culture or die.  Homophobia for example is something you would pretty much only experience among post colonization non-traditional Indigenous cultures.  In other words homophobia and gender hysteria is a european value that found its way into some Indigenous cultures only after initial european invasion and during it – obviously we still suffer colonization.

So you may have found an example of an Iroquois person acting very non-traditionally post-colonization, they are well known for this.  This does not mean it’s a pure Traditional Iroquois pre-colonization value, but more an assimilated european value that evolved post colonization.

Same goes for another example:  of Apache people supposedly not having multiple gender roles.  In fact as far as I can tell this idea goes back to the words of ONE single Apache person that was well into the colonization era and quite assimilated into colonist culture, this person did not have the right to speak for all Apache Nations or people.  Several Apache Nations are well documented as having and respecting “two-spirit” people.  In fact Geronimo who was Chiricahua aka Bedonkohe had a “two-spirit” person among his wives.  This was not unheard of among certain warrior societies and sleeping with a “two-spirit” before an important event was/is common Traditionally speaking.  Not solely because the person was/is “Two-Spirit” but because that person is a powerful spiritual leader/spiritual medicine person which is a path many “2 Spirits” follow/ed.  Of course not all “2 Spirits” are Spiritual healers and not all Spiritual Healers are “”2 Spirit”.

It is extremely important while looking at all of this you must constantly remind yourself, if it is true, that you are not Indigenous American and you are trying to understand something COMPLETELY foreign to you, more so than you ever realized probably, and you are seeing this world through the lens/view/eye of a Non-Indigenous Person… most likely as a white colonist, living on Indigenous home land, continuing the colonization.

You must work hard to learn About Indigenous people only From Indigenous people, they can speak for themselves and do not need white people to write or speak for them, and while doing so you must constantly challenge and remind yourself to try your absolute very best to see Indigenous world views and ways of being through Indigenous eyes, NOT through the old safe and comfortable euro/colonist lens that would see a group of indigenous women making clothes, gathering plants, cooking and caring for young children and see a group of their men coming back from a 4 day hunt, singing, telling stories and laughing with each other and jump to the conclusion that the women are oppressed, men have all the fun and that it’s a patriarchal society just like back in dear old europe (we don’t even really have -archies).

It’s far too easy to jump to assumptions based on what you are familiar with, so really challenge yourselves here to see it as best as you can from an Indigenous perspective.

To the one who wants to know why it’s wrong to appropriate Native/Indigenous Culture: We Indigenous american People have endured over 500 years of a full on Genocidal Invasion by white people, an ongoing Holocaust that some scientists say have killed well over 100 MILLION indigenous people so far, we’ve been forced by these people to assimilate or die, they’ve killed most of us with disease but the rest through barbaric violence and Cultural genocide – the only way we know how to/want to live made illegal with the threat of death as punishment.

They’ve stolen our babies and put them into far away boarding schools, cut their hair, gave them names from the white christian bible, filled their throats with watery soap if they spoke the only language they knew, THEIR OWN Indigenous Language, killing their mother tongue, killing family ties.  Whipping them bloody. Humiliating them.  Molesting them. Leaving the survivors with wounds so deep, they could only stand to live by numbing the pain with something…anything.  And the ones that didn’t survive….nothing.  Mass burials that are never spoken of and were done in the most disrespectful ways imaginable.

The colonists won’t let us be, they dig up our sacred sites and graves, murder and rape our women and children and much more….. We are not like magical unicorns from the PAST, or some western movie about how things WERE. No, we are here NOW. There ARE survivors and you don’t need to talk about us in past tense form %100 of the time, it is disrespectful and we are watching….reading. We live in PRISON CAMPS but you like to call them reservations/reserves, like we have a nice night planned out that involves a healthy meal in a place that respects us. When really the most we can usually hope for is a block of half rotten government cheese and a home that WON’T fall in on us tonight or send us outside to sleep in harsh elements so we can escape the smell of the toxic mold. The destruction of the disease of colonization goes on and on and on, too much to document it all here.

Everywhere we look in our homeland there is colonization smothering out the Indigenous.

…….and then you want to know why you shouldn’t take just a little more from us???

To those that wish to appropriate Indigenous culture by claiming to be “Two Spirited”: Lots of animals are homosexual or “gender variant” or inter-sexed. You’re not really all that special in that department, why take from our culture yet again to deal with something that is your own problem?

If you think certain ways of ours make sense then take a note.  Figure out what is wrong so that you can figure out what is right.  Then name yourselves and claim it and own it and honor it and we will too.

I just want to address one (of many) colonist-mentality excerpts from culturallyboundgender’s article:

[A]lmost always, when you see gender roles, even if there are more than two, you can bet money that it’s just a matter of reclassifying people who don’t fit into a culture’s otherwise rigidly defined sex roles.

Not every culture in the world is hellbent on “classifying” things, i.e. dividing and labeling (and ‘conquering’) every aspect of life quite like the control-freak, OCD-ridden colonist culture.  Nor does every culture on earth, past or present, have “rigidity” when dealing with whatever.  Right off the bat, “classification” and “rigidity” are very colonist culture-specific.  We are ALL centric to whatever culture we grew up in, which is not a bad thing!  But to try and analyze other cultures and think we can do so with any sort of objectivity or deep clarity and understanding is just impossible.  Doesn’t matter how many PhD’s someone has in Aboriginal Studies or African studies or whatever, if we are not an intricate part of whatever culture we “study”, or if we are not a genetic member of said culture, then chances are, we know very little about it, and any analysis we do will undoubtedly be inaccurate because of the mindset used to think about it.  Culture is a profound thing, an important and critical part of human life, and it shapes us.  The key is not in dismissing or minimizing the impact or importance culture plays in human life, but to recognize and then replace the unhealthy aspects of a culture with healthy ones.  You cannot have life without culture.  All living beings have culture.  And cultures are so radically diverse.  Indigenous cultures, though vastly diverse, seem to have the common element of respecting and preserving all aspects of Life, while colonist/”civilized” cultures have the common element of disrespecting and destroying all aspects of Life.

Next time you listen to and believe non-Indigenous people claiming to be scholarly experts of American Indian culture, it is very important to remember that no matter how many pieces of framed paper hang on people’s wall or how many letters come after their name:

“A master’s degree in ‘Indian Studies’ or in ‘education’ or in anything else cannot make a person into a human being or provide knowledge into traditional ways. It can only make you into a mental European, an outsider.”  (Russell Means)

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Chief Tuira Kayapo: A Bold Matriarchal Warrior Who Refuses Colonist Fuckery into Her World

“You have no right to destroy our river. The mothers of the Xingu will not allow it.”

For those times I feel hopelessly overwhelmed and eaten alive by the predatory colonist culture, it is awesome matriarchal warrior women like Indigenous Brazilian Chief Tuira Kayapo of the Xingu River Basin who breathe life back into my wilting Spirit.

Some pictures are worth a thousand words, like the ones below.  One is Chief Kayapo using her machete to smack upside the head a bunch of colonist assholes who are trying to rape her land and genocide her culture for the usual reasons – profit and what they think is power – as the white male supremacist colonist culture has done and continues to do to all indigenous cultures across the globe, yours and mine included before our ancestors began the so-called “civilization” process forced upon them.  The other is her scolding two colonist men for the same reasons — the colonists’ expressions are priceless — it’s like they know damn well what they’re doing is wrong but they just can’t get over their inflated, sexist egoes to show this woman and her culture some respect and leave them the fuck alone to live as they want and choose.

In 1989 the Xingu River in Brazil was greedily eyed by soul-less colonists to make dams out of for profit. The indigenous outcry resulted in the plan dying out, but 20 years later, in 2008, the colonists once again were pushing the dam-building project.   As explained in this article:

When the [colonist] speech was finished, a group of indigenous women and warriors rushed the stage, brandishing machetes and war clubs. The apologist for genocide was shoved to the ground and poked with a machete , cutting his arm. He was pulled away by conference organizers and taken to a hospital. [The Woman who cut Rezende's arm was Tuira Kayapo -- the same woman who slapped an Electrobras official with her machete at the 1989 gathering.]

Women (and men) are in such desperate need of mentors and heroes like Chief Kayapo to look to and see what it looks like to be a good, brave and free person. There are no manuals or Idiots’ Guides to such things; it takes much inner reflection and life experience and following our hearts and having respectable people around us in order to create/grow into a healthy identity.

I am grateful that women like Chief Kayapo come to our attention and I wonder how many more such formidable women are out there that never see the media spotlight. I know there are many, and my search for them continues. If I identify as a feminist, its due to women like this who embody the ideas of matriarchal heart, spirit and power, making me proud to be female and excited to continue honing my own warrior traits.

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Decolonization 101

Straight from “the horse’s mouth”, i.e. a decolonizing Native American activist named Shea Sandy:

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In my experience the Indigenous voice is usually struggling to be heard. Struggling to be heard among the din and noise of the ever-crowding colonists who scream out their theories turned gossip and gossip turned theories as if they are fact and “truth”, pointing to the colonist composed books, media and scientific data as proof of their “truth”.  All the while never once during their studying, deep thinking, data collection and empirical evidence-making do they consider that it all comes from colonist minds filtered through a colonists lens and back into colonist minds. Which would be fine if all they talked about were the ways of being a european colonist but it is not fine at all when it comes to other things.

When it comes to Indigenous americans we are nearly wiped out by genocidal colonization and the blank spaces are then filled in by the same colonists who never think to ask an “Indian”. They never (very rarely) think to ask the very people they are talking about. We are still here. But we don’t have newspapers, encyclopedias, n=1 studies or empirical evidence to “support” our “claims”. The brilliant speakers and writers we do have are not taken seriously and rarely if ever referred to…. except by our own.
If someone wanted to know all about YOU, would you not want them to ask YOU instead of the people that tried to annihilate you?

I think it’s a good idea for everyone to really listen to the [traditional] Indigenous Voices whose homeland you are standing on, perhaps you will catch a glimpse of the Indigenous american lens/world view.

Indeed we are all suffering from the current state of things, brought to us by colonization and industrialization. Let us all pray and take action in our own ways so that the suffering stops and the balance of good life returns.

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Honoring Paula Gunn Allen & the Red Roots of White Feminism

“Without the power of woman the people will not live, but with it, they will endure and prosper.”

One major shortcoming of white feminism is that it talks a lot about what is wrong with our world, but gives not much in the form of solutions or examples of how to live well.  The most popular solutions to fix the fuckery of the patriarchal colonist culture that I’ve heard from white feminists is to castrate or abort boy children, and/or eliminate all males.  Neither of these solutions are realistic or humane.  I’ve noticed that the most sensical and humane solutions come from Indigenous hearts and minds like Paula Allen Gunn, who gives us much to think about.  A sample of her views:

Tribal societies [were/are] based on a belief in the central importance of female energies, autonomy of individuals, cooperation, human dignity, human freedom, and egalitarian distribution of status, goods, and services. Respect for others, reverence for life, and as a by-product, pacifism as a way of life; importance of kinship ties in the customary ordering social interaction; a sense of the sacredness and mystery of existence; balance and harmony in relationships both sacred and secular were all features of life among the tribal confederacies and nations. And, in those that lived by the largest number of these principles, gynarchy was the norm rather than the exception. Those systems are as yet unmatched in any contemporary industrial, agrarian, or postindustrial society on earth.

“Feminists too often believe that no one has ever experienced the kind of society that empowered women and made that empowerment the basis of its rules of civilization. The price the feminist community must pay because it is not aware of the recent presence of gynarchical societies on this continent is unnecessary confusion, division, and much lost time.”

America does not seem to remember that it derived its wealth, its values, its food, much of its medicine, and a large part of its “dream” from Native America. It is ignorant of the genesis of its culture in this Native American land, and that ignorance helps to perpetuate the long-standing European and Middle Eastern monotheistic, hierarchical, patriarchal cultures’ oppression of women, gays, and lesbians, people of color, working class, unemployed people, and the elderly.

The American idea that the best and the brightest should willingly reject and repudiate their origins leads to an allied idea—that history, like everything in the past, is of little value and should be forgotten as quickly as possible. This all too often causes us to reinvent the wheel continually. We find ourselves discovering our collective pasts over and over, having to retake ground already covered by women in the preceding decades and centuries. The Native American view, which highly values maintenance of traditional customs, values, and perspectives, might result in slower societal change and in quite a bit less social upheaval, but it has the advantage of providing a solid sense of identity and lowered levels of psychological and interpersonal conflict.

If American society judiciously modeled the traditions of the various Native Nations, the place of women in society would become central, the distribution of goods and power would be egalitarian, the elderly would be respected, honored, and protected as a primary social and cultural resource, the ideals of physical beauty would be considerably enlarged (to include “fat)” strong-featured women, gray-haired, and wrinkled individuals, and others who in contemporary American culture are viewed as “ugly”). Additionally, the destruction of the biota, the life sphere, and the natural resources of the planet would be curtailed, and the spiritual nature of human and nonhuman life would become a primary organizing principle of human society. And if the traditional tribal systems that are emulated included pacifist ones, war would cease to be a major method of human problem solving.  (Source)

The part about  how “civilized/modern” (colonist) culture constantly reinvents the wheel cannot be over stated.  I would much rather have centuries upon centuries of meaningful knowledge and customs passed down to me and live a tradition-oriented, slower-paced life than be faced with the current cultural amnesia I and so many of us have.  There is so much ignorance and confusion that erupted for those of us who’ve severed our umbilical cord to earth and her beings, as Andrea Carmen from the Yaqui nation put it (source):

I think of [feminism] as a white woman’s movement. This was certainly the case when I first became familiar with the term and the “ism” white women identified with. Those of us who were Native American and Chicano women at UCSC felt isolated by that philosophy which seemed to be something that pit male against female, with the primary oppressor being the man. We came to realize that maybe for white women it was the white male that was the oppressor in their culture — but for us as Indigenous peoples it was the entire colonizer and colonizing society, and the male-female subdivision was not a predominant focus.

Our men have been affected by colonization – we aren’t saying we don’t see the violence against women committed by men, or rape, or domestic violence.  However, we see that in a bigger context – we don’t see “men” to be the single primary enemy. [..]  [T]he reason that European men could do this [genocidal brutalities/colonization] to our people is because they had already cut the umbilical cord in their homeland.

I don’t think we need to reject feminism though — I think we need to redefine it, find common points and common ground and involve Indigenous peoples and other communities of colour.  As long as there is mutual respect and all of our cultural and historic realities are brought into the mix, we can create cross-cultural human movements.” (source)

My own Russian Jewish roots were severed when we migrated from Russia to Israel then to Canada and as we took on the euro-western way of life.  Of course, the current Russian way of life is not appealing to me as it is not a tribal/indigenous way of living.  I don’t know how the hell I will (re)learn/(re)connect with my indigenous Siberian roots, but since many indigenous cultures share much in common as far as living WITH earth and its beings, I will continue looking to DEcolonized voices and cultures to (re)learn a good way of life.  I have much work to do.

I look forward to checking out more of Paula Gun Allen’s views and am most grateful for the critical information she has left for us.  I am also grateful for the reminder of the red roots of white feminism, something so often ignored in feminist conversations and actions.  Without respecting and incorporating *traditional* indigenous views into its ideology and action plans, feminism is vastly incomplete.  Whether we are red, white, black or yellow (or a mix), we all come from tribal roots.  Instead of stealing (and usually bastardizing) North American indigenous cultures, those of us who are non-Native have to (re)connect with our own tribal herstories and histories if we want to live a life of freedom, health, happiness and balanced harmony.  For those of us living on stolen Native land occupied by colonist ways of life, we must reject this way and incorporate tribal ways as directed and governed by traditional indigenous people of that land, especially given that non-Natives are uninvited guests/occupiers.  Isn’t this the only fair and logical solution?

“There needs to be struggle in order to lay out a path to co-exis-tence, and that the process of being uncomfortable is essential for non-Indigenous peoples to move from being enemy, to adversary, to ally”. (Mohawk scholar Taiaiake Alfred)

“Western notions of polite discourse are not the norm for all of us, and just because we’ve got some new and hot language like “intersectionality” to use in our talk, it doesn’t necessarily make things change in our walk (i.e., actually being anti-racist.” (Jessica Yee)

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Update: Political Prisoner Lynne Stewart Free on Compassionate Release — Time to Release Leonard Peltier!

On December 31st, political prisoner and radical human rights lawyer Lynne Stewart was released after being imprisoned for 4 years.  She can now spend what’s left of her life free and surrounded by loved ones.

This feels like a good beginning to a new year.  There is so much justice that needs to happen in our world.

Time to Free Leonard Peltier!

I am hoping with all my heart and guts that American Indian activist & political prisoner Leonard Peltier will also be released very soon.  He has been wrongfully locked up and mercilessly tortured by the colonists in charge for the last 37+ years — my entire life, and then some.  He is also ill (has been for a long time);  we don’t know how long he has left on earth.

Compassionate release is the least that can be given to Leonard and the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas whose oppression and continued genocide he was resisting and what got him imprisoned to begin with.  The FBI has stated that Leonard will never leave prison alive, but Leonard and his supporters refuse to accept this fate. As one petitioner stated, As long as Leonard Peltier remains incarcerated, each second that passes results in a new crime committed against Leonard and Native Peoples.

Please sign & share widely this petition to free Leonard.

Here’s hoping 2014 will bring more good things in the name of liberation.  Releasing Leonard Peltier would not right the many horrific wrongs that the US government has inflicted on him in the last four decades, but it sure would be a solid step in the right direction.

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