- Kim Anderson (Author)
Strong Women Stories: Native Vision and Community Survival. Sumach Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Jo-Anne Episkenew
For better or for worse, the Indigenous people of this country continue to function as a sign that signifies a limited vision of our identities and our choices, limitations that the settler culture projects upon us. Eduardo and Bonnie Duran argue in Native American Postcolonial Psychology that, for Indigenous men, identity options are often restricted to that of the medicine man or drunk, while the options for Indigenous women, as Janice Acoose contends in her Iskwewak—kah ki yaw ni wahkomakanak, are “Indian princess or squaw drudge.” Duran and Duran point out that, as a result, “Indian” has become an “overdetermined and overloaded sign [which] was and is always more and less than real tribal people could ever hope or dread to be.”
It follows that Indigenous people have become synecdoches for the settler population. Thus, individual Indigenous people too often find ourselves asked to represent the whole—not only the whole of a specific nation but all the Indigenous nations in the country. What Indigenous person cannot tell a story of a time when she or he was asked, “What do Native/Aboriginal/First Nations/Métis [pick one] people think about [ issue]?” At the very least, this is annoying. At worst, it places individual Indigenous people under colossal pressure. The consequences of bearing the burden of the “overloaded and overdetermined” sign “Indian” are devastating in their effects on the health of the Indigenous population and our communities.
Strong Women Stories: Native Vision and Community Survival is a collection of narratives that subvert the notion of Indigenous people as synecdoche. Editors Kim Anderson and Bonita Lawrence acknowledge the many differences of the Indigenous population but argue that the one factor that unites the anthology is the same one that unites Indigenous people. They write that “our experiences represent different sides of the same coin. One way or another, the stories are about the fallout of colonization and the challenge to rebuild” (12). Although Anderson and Lawrence have compiled stories that draw upon commonalities in the Indigenous experience, the stories they select do not essentialize Indigenous people. Rather, the narratives in Strong Women Stories are healing stories in that they acknowledge the wounds that colonization has inflicted upon us while celebrating our resilience as Indigenous people. Although the collection speaks for the whole of the Indigenous population, it does so on its own terms.
Strong Women Stories contains essays by 16 Indigenous people from across the country. As its title suggests, the focus of the anthology is on women and their stories. Thus, 15 of the contributors Indigenous women who are academics, artists, community leaders, and executives. Their accomplishments provide proof that they have earned the right to be identified as “strong women.” Anderson and Lawrence divide the anthology into three thematic sections—Coming Home, Asking Questions, and Rebuilding Our Communities—and the narratives contained in each section address the issue of the survival of Indigenous communities. The narratives that comprise the first section describe the experiences of Indigenous women who, having been displaced from their communities, either reconnect with their communities or build new ones. The narratives in the second section examine “the central question of What happens when we come home and we don’t like what we find?” The contributors examine Indigenous communities critically, unafraid to articulate the hard questions regarding the challenges that our communities face. In the third section, the narratives describe a multiplicity of attempts by Indigenous people and organizations to rebuild and transform our communities, drawing “on tremendous vision to bring about the kind of communities we do want.” The anthology ends with the contribution of its lone male contributor, who discusses gender equity in an Indigenous context from a young man’s perspective.
The collection is democratic. The editors allow the voices of the contributors to speak for themselves. Rather than interpreting and controlling, their introduction merely sets the stage. And, as contributors themselves, the editors’ voices are merely two among a group of equals.
Strong Women Stories is an important resource for those teaching Indigenous literatures. Often, the study of Indigenous literatures is divorced from the living communities that have given birth to those literatures. This approach gives rise to misinterpretations that could be problematic not only in a scholarly sense but also in a societal one. In the past, the absence of Indigenous voices in scholarly discussions about Indigenous people and issues has caused misunderstandings between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, which have, in turn, given rise to a multitude of problems, especially given the power of the scholarly voice in society. Misinterpretations that misrepresent a living community, especially ones that have been so maltreated as Indigenous communities, beget even more harmful results. Strong Women Stories provides the voices that will give scholarship about Indigenous literatures some much-needed context. I highly recommend this book.
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MLA: Episkenew, Jo-Anne. Subverting Synecdoche. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 6 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #188 (Spring 2006). (pg. 171 - 173)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.