Honoring Paula Gunn Allen & the Red Roots of White Feminism

Feminist Rag Award NEW_Paula Gunn Allen

“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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2 thoughts on “Honoring Paula Gunn Allen & the Red Roots of White Feminism

  1. […] 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, […]

  2. […] all kinds of things go wrong, including psychological and sociological harm, as the late Paula Gunn Allen so well […]

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