Indigenous Feminism isn’t really something you necessarily “subscribe” to, or something which you label yourself with, at least in my case. For me, Indigenous Feminism was something that I grew into, and I continue to flourish in it. It is particularly important that I am learning about myself while simultaneously contributing to the ever-expanding sphere of Indigenous Feminism’s debates, actions/advocacy, and intellectual output. Before I reached this stage where I was ready to participate in the movement and offer myself a chance to contribute and grow within it, I had to undergo a series of personal and political transformations to reach a place where my contributions would be worthwhile and my growth notable. This series of posts is about that journey.

Even though I’ve always existed as a Native person, and as a girl/woman, that was not enough to make me an Indigenous Feminist. Both “Indigenous” and “Feminist”, for me, are personal and political identities that I intentionally adopted, and I consider both to have strong elements of responsibility for me to uphold. Indigenous Feminism by contrast, is a movement, more than a personal identity, which  I use to both help me navigate what being Indigenous and a Feminist mean for me personally, and how I can identify, understand, and dismantle the forces of patriarchy, colonialism, and other oppressions.

I didn’t always recognize this though. Before Indigenous Feminism, I had a sense that the there was something deeply wrong about the way things were, but I lacked the vocabulary to articulate  how it could be changed. From a very young age, I was described as having an “overdeveloped sense of justice”, and possessing “very strong opinions” (both taken from Elementary school reports). It wasn’t until I got to university that I would be able to take these opinions and this sense of justice, and refine them into tools which I could use to bring about change I wanted to see. When I first arrived in University, my major was Japanese/Asian Studies. I had initially hoped to study the Japanese Anarcha-Feminist group known as the “Bluestockings” (Seito), who had their own literary magazine filled with feminist, erotic, sensual poetry, and were frequent targets of government censorship. I thought that poetry and other artistic outputs were a powerful, incredible tool with which to challenge dominant power, and their story fascinated and inspired me to no end. For a while, I even wanted to get the title image from Yosano Akiko’s incredible collection of poems, “Midaregami” (Tangled Hair) as my first tattoo.

My passion for the Bluestockings never wavered, but I found something else which piqued my interest. It took me down an academic rabbit hole upon discovering it, from which I’ll probably never fully emerge. One of my professors, in my first year, gave me a book on Japanese “minority groups”, which included a chapter on the Ainu people of Northern Japan/Hokkaido (the land known to them as Ainu Mohir) My life was radically changed by reading about Ainu history and struggles towards self-determination and sovereignty. I wrote numerous papers on the Ainu, read every book I could get my hands on about their history, and dreamed of travelling to Japan so that I could learn more from the Ainu first-hand. I wanted to shout their story from the rooftops and declare my eternal solidarity to their struggle.

While discussions about an Indigenous struggle for self-determination taking place far across the sea dominated my academic life, in the realm of the personal, my life and outlook was changing as well. University, when properly applied to a young mind, does a lot to make you radically change the way you see things. It can make you either become very, very good at articulating and defending your beliefs, or have you question the foundations of your beliefs and have you entirely overhaul them. Mostly a combination of the two. I began to recognize the very obvious parallels between the way the Ainu were treated in Japan and the treatment Native peoples in North America received. Attempts at assimilation, suppression of language and culture, loss of pre-contact livelihood and traditions… I could go on and on. You could practically tell the tales of both in a single story if you used vague enough language.

But I resisted the urge to interrogate that further at first, because I was frightened, and slightly embarrassed.

I’ll explain a little bit more about where that discomfort and reluctance came from in Part II of this series.