Call for Change
- Patricia Monture-Angus (Author)
Thunder in My Soul: A Mohawk Woman Speaks. Fernwood (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Dee Horne
Many post-colonial theorists have challenged colonialism and racism while at the same time acknowledging that they hold privileged positions in the academy. Paradoxically, many continue to perpetuate the colonial discourse they seek to challenge by speaking for those who have been colonized instead of creating spaces and opportunities where colonized writers can speak for themselves. Thunder in My Soul creates a space where, as the subtitle states, A Mohawk Woman Speaks. Monture-Angus’ task has been an on-going process of negotiating the contradictions of different cultures. Positioning herself as a Mohawk, a woman, a mother, a lawyer and an academic, she contests the notion of a single, fixed identity and rejects simplistic binary categories. Further, she points to the
ways in which gender and race are inextricably intertwined. Although she is primarily writing "a prayer for my people and for all First Nations," she shares her experiences with all readers. Her book documents her own process of de-colonization, while also suggesting avenues for mainstream society to learn from diverse First Nations. In her challenge to the colonial and racist structures underlying Canada’s legal, judicial and educational institutions, Monture-Angus provides a compelling call for change.
In this collection of essays, many of which have been previously published in periodicals and anthologies, Monture-Angus rejects Canadian law as a viable mean of reform. While delineating some of the differences between settler and First Nations cultures, she repeatedly reminds readers that First Nations are not homogenous, but are diverse nations. She outlines how settler society emphasizes rights, individualism, equality (based on an underlying assumption of sameness), fragmentation and hierarchy. In contrast, she argues that First Nations validate responsibilities (both collective and individual), values of respect, caring, harmony and balance and a consensus decision-making process. In reviewing the legal and educational institutions in Canada, she critiques hierarchical structures and advocates a holistic approach, one that affirms mind, heart and spirit and validates traditional wisdom and experiential knowledge. Education is the means for change, but education must itself change so that it becomes "meaningful." It must be relevant and create spaces in which diverse cultures can respect each other’s differences and share their knowledge.
While the theme of the book encompasses issues of oppression and injustice against which Monture-Angus has struggled, the structure affirms the oral traditions that have informed her. There are four sections: "Four is an important number in the Indian world. There are four seasons and four directions. Four is the number that ends a cycle." The first section, "Flint Woman Speaks," is, like oral stories, cycli- cal. The four articles in "Flint Woman Speaks" illustrate, as Monture-Angus tells us, "a cycle [that] has now been com- pleted." In the first article, Ka-nin-geh-heh- gah-e-sa-nonh-yah-gah (which roughly translates in English as "the way Flint Women do things"), Monture-Angus relates several stories about her experiences of racism when she was a law student. In the second article, "Reflecting on Flint Woman," Monture-Angus writes from her position as a law professor who is "speaking back to my student reflecting on what I have learned." The third article, "Self-Portrait: Flint Woman," articulates her experiences as a Mohawk woman and relates her search for her identity and process of healing while the fourth article, "Flint Woman: Surviving the Contradictions in Academia," describes her study of law and her own process of de-colonization.
Whenever writers document their own process of negotiating contradictions, it is almost inevitable that their work will reflect, even contain, contradictions. To wit, Monture-Angus argues that First Nations are not homogenous, but then delineates First Nations values and beliefs. While she is aware of this contradiction, she invokes it as a form of strategic essentialism. She argues that although it is "presumptuous" to speak in terms of "we," she does so because "what must be built requires the collective vision and action of First Nations." Elsewhere, she contrasts the adversarial settler legal system to First Nations’ laws that are based on the "principles of relations and consensus." She challenges the idea that conflict is both natural and universal. She states that "Harmony is the center of our relations with the universe and all other beings"; however, she later remarks on the "tension and disagreement at the fundamental level of construction of legal relations." Earlier she cites Audre Lorde’s warning that "You cannot take apart the master’s house with the master’s tools." This position initially appears to be consistent with Monture-Angus’ rejection of Canadian law as a solution and her perception that it is rather a part of the problem. However, in her later chapters in which she discusses constitutional reforms and legal, judicial and educational institutions, she describes how First Nations have worked within these institutions. Further, she relates how she initially became a lawyer because she wanted to change the injustices from within, "change the experience of law school." At that time, she believed that change could "be accomplished by being on the inside of a powerful institution." That her writing contains these and other contradictions does not negate the validity or importance of her argument; instead, they are a testimony to the honesty of her voice and her willingness to share the ways in which her own thoughts on the subject have changed over time.
She invites readers to witness not only the contradictions that she has had to negotiate, but also the contradictions that each of us faces when we change our perceptions and thinking in the on-going process of learning. In choosing not to erase these contradictions but to voice them, Monture- Angus resists simplistic analysis based on binary oppositions and offers First Nations and non-Native readers one Mohawk woman’s experience of negotiating the contradictions. She sees learning as a process of exchange. Monture-Angus writes that "it is in the middle, the place between two cul- tures, where any bridges of understanding will be constructed"; however, she suggests that it is time that settlers listen to, and learn from, First Nations.
- Words from the People by Gundula Wilke
Books reviewed: Aboriginal Peoples of Canada. A Short Introduction. by Paul Robert Magocsi and O Brave New Words! Native American Loanwords in Current English by Charles L. Cutler
- Arctic and Human Remains by Renée Hulan
Books reviewed: Lobsticks and Stone Cairns: Human Landmarks in the Arctic by Richard C. Davis, A Long Way from Home: The Tuberculosis Epidemic among the Inuit by Pat Sandiford Grygier, and Confessions of an Igloo Dweller by James Houston
- Those Voices Speaking Now by Neil Querengesser
Books reviewed: Rudy Wiebe: Collected Stories, 1955-2010 by Rudy Wiebe
- Identity and Difference by Catherine Rainwater
Books reviewed: Women Reading, Women Writing: Self-Invention in Paula Gunn Allen, Gloria Anzaldúam and Audre Lorde by Ana Louise Keating and Critical Perspectives on Native American Fiction by Richard F. Fleck
- When She Has Crossed the Bar by Lindy Ledohowski
Books reviewed: May There Be No Sadness of Farewell by Agnes Grant
MLA: Horne, Dee. Call for Change. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 21 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #158 (Autumn 1998), New Directions. (pg. 162 - 163)
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