Tag Archives: red roots of white feminism

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, called For America to Live, Europe Must Die! (the entire revolutionary speech is here) 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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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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