The Full Circle
- Gail Guthrie Valaskakis (Editor), Madeleine Dion Stout (Editor), and Eric Guimond (Editor)
Restoring the Balance: First Nations Women, Community, and Culture. University of Manitoba Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Madelaine Jacobs
By merging indigenous principles of communication with constructive academic norms, Restoring the Balance: First Nations Women, Community, and Culture transcends its inert print to serve as an active space of knowledge sharing and cultural continuity. Editors Madeleine Dion Stout and Eric Guimond dedicate Restoring the Balance as a posthumous continuation of the reconciliatory work of fellow editor, Gail Guthrie Valaskakis. The true resilience of First Nations women is made manifest when the authors use frank analysis of sensitive realities to orient the present and realize positive futures.
The diversity of First Nations within territories now claimed by Canada contributes to the authors' distinct perspectives as they focus on women's contributions to community development despite the social, spatial, and legal controls of colonialism. As accomplished women who have overcome discrimination to embark on reforms, the contributors are eminently qualified to write essays within the themes of historic trauma, intellectual and social movement, health and healing, and arts, culture and language.
Undeterred by complexity, a unity of purpose guides Restoring the Balance. Cynthia C. Wesley-Esquimaux establishes clear principles that flow throughout the volume in "Trauma to Resilience: Notes on Decolonization." Wesley-Esquimaux articulates a major premise of historic trauma: as colonial efforts excised Aboriginal women from central roles, communities were divided, destabilized, and became more violent. Colonialism has on-going repercussions for First Nations people for whom the "loss of their cultural identity was not an abrupt event, but continued in one form or another through centuries of pain and suffering, and so they were never able to reach a full stage of recovery." Women now orienting to balanced First Nations ways of life improve the well-being of the entire community.
Using carefully contextualized statistical measures to meet the standard set by Wesley-Esquimaux, Cleo Big Eagle and Eric Guimond demonstrate the vital role that First Nations women play in sustaining burgeoning Aboriginal-identifying populations in "Contributions That Count: First Nations Women and Demography." Yvonne Boyer's "First Nations Women's Contributions to Culture and Community through Canadian Law" speaks about the important ways that First Nations women are changing the legislation that negatively defined and criminalized them. "Leading by Action: Female Chiefs and the Political Landscape" is Kim Anderson's tribute to impressive female leaders. Jo-ann Archibald's "Creating an Indigenous Intellectual Movement at Canadian Universities: The Stories of Five First Nations Female Academics" honours the educational attainment of women in a field that was once antithetical to recognized status under the Indian Act. Emma LaRocque's "Reflections on Cultural Continuity through Aboriginal Women's Writings" situates the literary work of First Nations women. The incredible "Sisters in Spirit" campaign against the violence reflected in high numbers of missing and murdered Aboriginal women is at the centre of Anita Olsen Harper's chapter. The authors identify the "everyday" racism in Canada against all Aboriginal people as the crux of the challenge. Marlene Brant Castellano's "Heart of the Nations: Women's Contribution to Community Healing" calls for traditional values to be translated into actual opportunities for Aboriginal women to engage in public discourse. "A Relational Approach to Cultural Competence" is Gaye Hanson's practical evaluation of the best way to promote cultural competence. Hanson recognizes that classroom teaching does not result in true cultural competence. Nevertheless, a formal pedagogical setting can provide a preparatory background for life experiences that integrate cultural competence into individual lives. Viviane Gray "A Culture of Art: Profiles of Contemporary First Nations Women Artists" is a thought-provoking examination of women as First Nations art and artists. Sherry Farrell Racette offers a nuanced response to historical theft and museum representation in "Looking for Stories and Unbroken Threads: Museum Artifacts as Women's History and Cultural Legacy." Completing Restoring the Balance with "The Role of First Nations Women in Language Continuity and Transition," Mary Jane Norris links the circumstances of Aboriginal women to the critical cultural transmission of language.
The chapters of Restoring the Balance are rich and well-written enough to stand on their own as compelling educational tools on their respective topics. Taken together, the constituent parts of Restoring the Balance comprise stimulating sustenance with a specific analytical mandate that opens up possibilities rather than shutting wider relationships out. While maintaining a strong rationale for celebrating the particular roles and meanings associated with women, masculine gender roles are respectfully treated as essential to community balance. In this way, Restoring the Balance defeats what Wesley-Esquimaux discerns as colonialism's major restriction on the physical and metaphorical social movement of Aboriginal persons. Through their example, the contributing authors of Restoring the Balance demonstrate that intellectual freedom can be judiciously employed to produce valuable work that is simultaneously academic and activist.
- Foundational Images by Madelaine Jacobs
Books reviewed: The Red Man's on the Warpath: The Image of the "Indian" and the Second World War by R. Scott Sheffield
- First Contact by Sophie McCall
Books reviewed: Myth and Memory: Stories of Indigenous-European Contact by John Sutton Lutz
- The Vanished Beothuk by Jennifer S. H. Brown
Books reviewed: A History and Ethnography of the Beothuk by Ingeborg Marshall
- The Soul of the World by Catherine Rainwater
Books reviewed: Earth's Mind: Essays in Native Literature by Roger Dunsmore and Reinventing the Enemy's Language: Contemporary Native Women's Writings of North America by Gloria Bird and Joy Harjo
- Knowing Qu'Appelle by Marilyn Iwama
Books reviewed: Qu'Appelle: Tales of Two Valleys by Trevor Herriot, Dan Ring, and Robert Stacey and Rediscovering the Great Plains: Journey by Dog, Canoe, and Horse by Norman Henderson
MLA: Jacobs, Madelaine. The Full Circle. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #205 (Summer 2010), Queerly Canadian. (pg. 190 - 192)
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