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Introduction to Indigenizing and Decolonizing Feminist Philosophy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 March 2020

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Copyright © by Hypatia, Inc. 2020

This special issue of Hypatia aims to cultivate and encourage theorizing about IndigenousFootnote 1 philosophies and decolonizing methodologies. Although feminist theorizing has explored the diverse legacies and experiences of marginalized voices, including Indigenous concerns, philosophy has failed to acknowledge and systematically examine its own role in perpetuating colonial oppression. This special issue aims to explore how Indigenous philosophy might transform feminist theorizing. For the purposes of this issue, the terms Indigenous, Native, or First Nations people refer to peoples who have developed and maintained cultural ties in a specific region prior to colonial contact. Hence, the issue frames Indigenous identities within the context of resisting colonial domination and advocating political stances of sovereignty and self-determination. Moreover, it is important to understand the intersections and distinctions between the terms Indigenizing and decolonizing. Though not all projects of decolonization may specifically address Indigenous issues, it is important to see how decolonizing methodologies play a role in advancing Indigenous projects and perhaps developing coalitions among multiple communities affected by colonialism.

A Hypatia issue dedicated to Indigenizing and decolonizing feminist philosophy is both unique and timely. It has been over sixteen years since Hypatia dedicated an issue to Indigenous feminism in Anne Waters's 2003 edited issue, Indigenous Women in the Americas. Indigenizing and decolonizing feminist philosophy is a timely issue as well, given the leadership roles of women in contemporary Indigenous activism, including resistances at Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota and Mauna Kea in Hawaiʻi. Moreover, in examining the intersections of Indigenizing and decolonizing frameworks, we aim to expand feminist theorizing on questions of sovereignty, allyship, dangers of cultural appropriation at university institutions, and activism.

Feminism, in general, has historically been a contested movement that has generated skepticism among Indigenous women, in which any potential alliance between Indigenous women and feminism as a liberating framework of analysis and activism is regarded with caution. Sandy Grande characterizes a “Whitestream” feminism that fails to recognize intersectionality and props up settler-colonial ideology within models of social justice (Grande Reference Grande2004). Theorists such as Lisa Hall, Joyce Green, and Kim Anderson have further articulated problems of white feminism that undermine efforts of solidarity between Indigenous women and feminism (Green Reference Green2007; Hall Reference Hall2009; Anderson Reference Anderson, Suzack, Hughndorf, Perreault and Barman2010), thereby inciting Indigenous resistance to feminist analyses, such as feminism's relationship with sovereignty, feminism's appeal to a universal category of women based on gender identity or shared oppression, and feminism's relationship to undermining traditional gender norms of Indigenous communities. Given this, many Indigenous scholars reject feminism as a platform for advancing Indigenous perspectives. Feminist philosophy is also more susceptible to these criticisms as the tradition of philosophy has historically emphasized a white, European, Western tradition. Feminist philosophy has followed suit in its inception as a subfield in philosophy in which dominant scholarship in feminist philosophy has been centered around a particular brand of white feminism, that is, feminist philosophical analysis written by and focused on white women's experiences. Moreover, philosophy, and by extension feminist philosophical analysis, has historically been deeply influenced rather unknowingly or knowingly by settler-colonial ideology. Both Margaret (a European descendant settler) and Celia (a Filipina American settler) recognize the limitations of our own efforts in editing this issue on “Indigenizing and Decolonizing Feminist Philosophy” as a potentially self-defeating task, as both co-editors are settlers in Indigenous lands in the US mainland and Hawaiʻi islands teaching at settler university institutions. The challenges of creating a space within feminist philosophy for Indigenous and decolonizing methodologies informs the trajectory of this special issue, keeping in view the “moves to innocence,” as Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang remind us of well-intentioned settlers seeking initiatives to diversify academia but rather naively perpetuating further instances of settler ideology (Tuck and Yang Reference Tuck and Wayne Yang2012). Moreover, we recognize that the majority of contributors to the special issue are settlers. This, of course, is unsettling for us as coeditors, and we recognize the limitation of this issue due to the minimal presence of Indigenous scholars represented within it. It should be noted that this collection should not be taken as the paradigmatic model of Indigenizing and decolonizing feminist philosophy. Furthermore, it should be noted that we still have a long way to go in making space for Indigenous feminism in feminist philosophy. However, we did find that the authors who have contributed to this special issue center Indigenous scholarship as their starting point in developing philosophical frameworks that address concerns within settler contexts. Though both the coeditors come to this special issue with a shared interest in moving feminist philosophy outside the hallowed halls of “whitestream” feminism, we recognize our own limitations and contradictions as settlers in relation to this project.

Key Critical Terms

Before we engage in the challenges and future possibilities in making a space for Indigenous feminist philosophical analysis, it is important to situate the project with some key terms: settler-colonial ideology, decolonization (methods/praxis), and Indigenous/Indigenizing. Some Indigenous scholars identify with the term Indigenous feminism and understand this term as working alongside the aims of feminism in general and examine feminism's role more specifically within the context of Indigenous women's experiences, which are defined by the specific ways in which patriarchy, capitalism, racism, and heteropatriarchy are defined by coloniality (Goeman and Denetdale Reference Goeman and Denetdale2009; Hall Reference Hall2009). Others, such as Maile Arvin, Eve Tuck, and Angie Morrill, suggest the term Native feminist analyses, which focuses on the theoretical frameworks that are deployed to further challenge colonial hierarchies, rather than Indigenous feminism, which tends to focus on an identity label (Arvin, Tuck, and Morrill Reference Arvin, Tuck and Morrill2013). In making a space for Indigenous feminism in feminist philosophy, it is important to keep both nuanced viewpoints as the backdrop to guiding the larger mission of feminism inspired by Barbara Smith's unvarnished statement: “Feminism is the political theory and practice that struggles to free all women. . . . Anything less than this freedom is not feminism, but merely female self-aggrandizement” (Smith Reference Smith1980, 48).

Settler colonialism has been aptly defined by Tuck and Yang as “settlers who come with the intention of making a new home on the land, a homemaking that insists on settler sovereignty over all things in their new domain” (Tuck and Yang Reference Tuck and Wayne Yang2012, 5). Arvin, Tuck, and Morrill—referencing Patrick Wolfe's definition of settler colonialism as a structure and not an event that happened in the past (Wolfe Reference Wolfe1999)—argue that “settler colonialism must be understood as a multi-fronted project of making the First Peoples of the place extinct; it is a relentless structure, not contained in a period of time” (Arvin, Tuck, and Morrill Reference Arvin, Tuck and Morrill2013, 13). Hall states that “colonialism takes place through gendered and sexualized forms that reconstitute both individual and communal indigenous identities in stigmatized and disempowering ways” (Hall Reference Hall2009, 15). Hence, settler colonialism intersects with patriarchy and leads to damaging consequences for Indigenous women. Feminist philosophy must take seriously how land and sovereignty play a role in how philosophical analyses might perpetuate systems of colonial domination. Ultimately, settler colonialism seeks to perpetuate a deep erasure, an eradication of Indigenous presence and its cultural claims to the land.

Decolonization is the remedy against the harms caused by settler ideology. Though some decolonizing methodologies may in fact treat decolonization as a metaphor, and thereby are not genuinely engaged in practices of decolonization, according to Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Eve Tuck, and K. Wayne Yang in their important anthology, Indigenous and Decolonizing Studies in Education: Mapping the Long View, “decolonization studies emphasize the ways that colonization and decolonization are time-specific and land-specific” (Smith, Tuck, and Yang Reference Smith, Tuck and Wayne Yang2019, xi). Moreover, “decolonizing studies at the border attend to how coloniality shapes and severs human and non-human relationships across land, nation-state, waters and time” (xii). This allows for comparative critical analysis between Indigenous studies and Chican@ studies, Black studies, Pacific Island studies, diasporic studies, and Muslim/Arab studies. Finally, “decolonizing studies, when most centered in Indigenous philosophy, push back against assumptions about the linearity of history and the future, against teleological narratives of human development, and argue for a rendering of time and place that exceeds coloniality and conquest” (xiii). Decolonizing methods and practices in feminist philosophy would necessarily involve ensuring that Indigenous culture and presence become prominent features of the feminist philosophical canon through active engagement and genuine inclusion of Indigenous perspectives that transform feminist philosophical theorizing. This would entail that a radical self-examination of unreflective settler-colonial bias, the hidden gendered and colonial logics, would be interrogated and transformed to a decolonized feminist philosophical analysis that aims to ensure that Indigenous communities flourish.

Finally, according to Smith, Tuck, and Yang, citing Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Native American studies is defined as “the study of Indigenous lives and issues by Indigenous peoples” (Smith, Tuck, and Yang Reference Styres, Smith, Tuck and Wayne Yang2019, xi). This entails that feminist philosophy ought to consider the philosophical insights generated by Native scholars about their cultural cosmologies and metaphysics, epistemologies and ethical frameworks. Rather than seeking sources from the traditional white, European canon as the starting point in thinking about decolonial possibilities and cultivating socially just futures, feminist philosophers ought to seek out sources of Indigenous scholars.Footnote 2 Moreover, this would also entail feminist philosophy becoming more curious about the land, ocean, and sky: the actual places of settlement that nonnative feminist philosophers are occupying. One method that Indigenous scholars have pointed to in their philosophical traditions is place-based frameworks. Vine Deloria, Jr. has defined Indigenous as “to become of place” and hence to Indigenize ethics or education would mean to center analysis of how place operates to relate us to the larger community of beings within nature. For example, Indigenous epistemologies are understood as ways of knowing that emerge from our relationships with the land, the ocean, and the sky, which in turn guide our ethical actions appropriately in the world. According to Deloria, Indigenous thought conceives of relationships as informed through a person-centered model of metaphysics, rather than the Western machine-model of metaphysics. Knowing nature as persons—as opposed to inanimate objects—orients our ethical and political relationships to the wider community of nature (Deloria Reference Deloria2001, 2). Manulani Meyer has further clarified Indigenous as “that which has endured/thrived” (Meyer Reference Meyer2016).Footnote 3 Hence, cultural continuity through a revitalization of Indigenous language, cultural expression, and epistemologies is essential to ensure that an Indigenous community's well-being continues to thrive. Adhering to values of reciprocity and interdependency rather than dualistic values that separate and alienate the knower from the world cultivates thriving relationships to the wider communities of nature. Knowledge-acquisition in this sense would mean to develop a cultural and environmental literacy of the land, ocean, and sky. Meyer refers to this indigenizing shift as “cultural empiricism” (Meyer Reference Meyer2003, 11), knowledge generated by our embodied senses mediated by indigenous cultural traditions and ways of knowing. Smith, Tuck, and Yang echo this sentiment and foreground their 2019 anthology with the wisdom: “Water is Life, Land is our first teacher.”

To Indigenize and Decolonize Feminist Philosophy

Why Indigenize and decolonize feminist philosophy? Who is making the call to Indigenize and decolonize feminist philosophy? Will this call fall on the deaf ears of a feminist philosophical community comprised mostly of scholars writing about and centering settler experiences? It is important to keep in mind Tuck and Yang's concerns that if we are to take seriously the call to Indigenize and decolonize feminist philosophy, then challenging settler ideology and making space for Indigenous futures where Indigenous lives will not be rendered invisible ought to be at the center of our commitment within feminist philosophy (Tuck and Yang Reference Tuck and Wayne Yang2012). Some of the challenges of Indigenizing and decolonizing feminist philosophy involve the concern that there might not be enough interest in feminist philosophy to take up this project. It is too specialized and nuanced and there might not be enough feminist philosophical scholars to appropriately and adequately take up this call to action. This challenge is concerning for Indigenous scholarship, which again is relegated to the periphery in feminist philosophy. Subjects that are more “universal” in experience might be able to capture a wide range of interlocutors, and these types of topics tend to be more popular in conceiving feminist philosophical scholarship.

This brings up the second challenge of Indigenizing and decolonizing feminist philosophy: who is making the call to Indigenize and decolonize feminist philosophy? If feminist philosophy has not made a hospitable place for Indigenous feminist scholars (not to mention women of color), then who is the effort to Indigenize and decolonize feminist philosophy appealing to? Given the paucity of Indigenous feminist philosophical scholarship represented in conferences and journals, who is this call actually serving? Going beyond a quantitative framework, both Margaret and Celia believe that numbers should not determine the direction of feminist philosophy. Moreover, underrepresented topics ought to inspire feminist philosophers to consider unexamined dogmatic assumptions within their own analysis. On the one hand, to Indigenize and decolonize genuinely might frighten or alarm settler feminist philosophers, as it would mean giving up settler privilege of land, property, and intellectual presence in creating liberatory strategies toward social justice. It wouldn't mean just to include Indigenous perspectives, but also to give up power and control of feminist philosophical theorizing and adopt and welcome alternative methods of analysis. On the other hand, given the interdisciplinary nature of Indigenous scholarship, the call might perhaps solicit nonphilosophers to situate their work within the frameworks of feminist philosophy. This might mean that feminist philosophy ought to be open to other methods of knowing through ceremony, dance, harvesting herbs for medicine, building a sustainable community garden, building voyaging canoes, swimming, surfing, sailing and fishing in the ocean, and more specifically transforming accepted practices in academia by decentering the need to invite yet another white feminist philosopher as a keynote speaker to a conference in order to legitimate and give credibility to the need for Indigenizing and decolonizing feminist philosophy.

More specifically, Indigenous and decolonizing philosophical analysis is essential to move feminist philosophy out of a space of self-aggrandizement. Mishuana Goeman and Jennifer Denetdale argue that though there are strains of feminist analysis that assume racial hierarchies and settler privilege that work against the capacities of Indigenous communities to thrive, Native feminist analysis is crucial and useful to the project of decolonizing Native people (Goeman and Denetdale Reference Goeman and Denetdale2009). Following these Indigenous feminist scholars, feminist philosophy must also “make space for indigenous feminism” as Joyce Green aptly identifies (Green Reference Green2007), which will mean that theories of decolonization or Indigenizing projects must contribute to Indigenous communities’ ability to thrive. Lacking this commitment amounts to a failure to achieve genuine social justice in feminist philosophy. As Goeman and Denetdale, and Hall, argue, there is no monolithic definition of what feminism is (Goeman and Denetdale Reference Goeman and Denetdale2009; Hall Reference Hall2009); Indigenous perspectives are able to inform and determine the meaning of feminism within Indigenous communities. Moreover, academic research, including feminist philosophy, can be transformed in genuinely linking theory and praxis through careful readings and actual engagement with Indigenous research methodologies.

Article Summaries

This special issue of Hypatia aims to transform and decolonize feminist philosophy by creating a space dedicated to Indigenous knowledges and perspectives. Creating this space involves a more inclusive notion of feminist philosophical analysis not bound by disciplinary structures of argumentation, but open to creative genres such as poetry, literature, film, dance, and textiles. We have organized the articles into four thematic sections: Decolonizing University Institutions; Indigenous Ways of Knowing; Ambiguities and Incommensurability; and Undermining Settler Futures, Making Space for Indigenous Futures. We conclude with three Musings, each of which provides an important perspective on Indigenizing and decolonizing feminist philosophy.

The two articles in the first section trace the history and logic of colonialism in the academy and in knowledge-production. Showing that university institutions remain rooted in colonial logic, the authors of these articles contribute to decolonizing the structures of knowledge and the university by offering alternative structures and methodologies rooted in relationality. In “Uprooting Narratives: Legacies of Colonialism in the Neoliberal University,” Melanie Bowman and María Rebolleda-Gómez (Reference Bowman and Rebolleda-Gómez2020) present a twofold argument about colonialism in universities. First, they argue that knowledge itself is shaped by colonialist values, specifically alienation, improvement, and capitalism. Second, they argue that colonialist values circumscribe diversity efforts rendering them “essentializing, tokenizing, and superficial” (pg 19). Using the example of wild-rice research and the conflict between the Anishinaabe community and the University of Minnesota, Bowman and Rebolleda-Gomez (Reference Bowman and Rebolleda-Gómez2020) trace the way that wild rice has been commodified through research that defines it in terms of its biological identity. Abstracting wild rice from its relational context, they argue, alienates it from its context and contributes to its commodification. They demonstrate that colonialist values permeate the wild-rice research program from its initial move of separating it from the Anishinaabe community and their traditional ways of harvesting and understanding wild rice in its local ecological context, to the outcome of the research program, which perpetuates values of productivity, capitalism, and colonial agricultural expansion.

They argue that in addition to knowledge being shaped by colonialist values, these values shape the production of knowers as well. When alienation, productivity, and colonialism are the primary values guiding research, researchers/knowers are separated from what they are studying; this alienation, along with the values of individualism and productivity, remove knowers and knowledge from their context, including the power structures and relations of colonialism. Abstracting knowers from their contexts, and separating knowers from what they are studying, results in a type of individualism that separates diversity from its social and political context and thus obscures the relations of power that structure the university and its projects. Not recognizing these power relations does a disservice to Indigenous people as they are simply inserted into a dominant framework that recognizes neither multiple ways of knowing, nor the colonial power structures that shape both knowledge and knowers. Thus, decolonizing methods are necessary to undermine the hegemonic structures of colonialism in the university. But decolonizing knowledge is not sufficient. Within the university, fundamental changes to the structures of the institution must be advocated for, and outside the university, decolonization must include activism around restoring sovereignty to Native peoples and advocating for land restoration.

Exploring the ways that white settler subjectivity is constructed as nonrelational through denying our vulnerability and accepting paradigms of the gift as an exchange, in the second article in this section Laurie Gagnon-Bouchard and Camille Ranger (Reference Ranger and Gagnon-Bouchard2020) draw upon Sami scholar Rauna Kuokkanen's reinterpretation of the gift as relational. Beginning with an example of the failure of epistemic dialogue in knowledge-construction, the authors seek to provide an account under which epistemic dialogue could flourish. Presented as a failure of epistemic dialogue, Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) emerged from the ostensible inclusion of Indigenous peoples in the construction of knowledge. However, the inclusion of TEK failed to fully include Indigenous perspectives because it did not embrace a relational ontology. As the authors note, the logic of mastery, as articulated by ecofeminists Val Plumwood and Juliette Singh, precludes real epistemic dialogue based as it is on dualisms and domination. In this case the separation of nature from culture furthers colonial goals, and knowledge is used in the service of dominating nature. Moreover, the logic of mastery associates some groups of people with nature, for example, women and Indigenous peoples, and this contributes to their subordination. In order to overcome the logic of mastery, the authors draw upon Kuokkanen's notion of the gift. In contrast to the classic idea of the gift as exchange, Kuokkanen develops a notion of the gift as relational; rethinking the gift as relational reflects an acknowledgment of the relational, interdependent nature of the world and the importance of relations of reciprocity and responsibility rather than exchange. If these features were appropriately valued in academia, it would be a more hospitable place for Indigenous people. Acknowledging our vulnerability and adopting this new model of the gift as relational could serve to transform universities and academic institutions.

The next two articles, by Rebekah Sinclair (2019) and Susana Matallana-Peláez (Reference Matallana-Peláez2020), focus on Indigenous Ways of Knowing. Sinclair showcases how Indigenous logic differs from settler binary logic, and Matallana-Peláez provides rich examples of Indigenous logic as embodied in Indigenous philosophies and manifested in the community through spirals that represent the continuum of life. Like Bowman and Rebolleda-Gomez (Reference Bowman and Rebolleda-Gómez2020), Sinclair questions the scientific concept of biological identity and individualism, revealing that the scientific concept of the individual cannot be clearly defined within binary logic. She contrasts classical (binary) logic with Indigenous (paraconsistent) logic; the former is based on accepting the principle of noncontradiction whereas the later allows for true contradictions. Moreover, whereas classical logic claims to be neutral with regard to the world, it actually has particular ontological commitments that limit its ability to accurately reflect real states in the world. Sinclair offers several examples in support of paraconsistent logic. Paraconsistent logics are found in Indigenous creation stories, as well as in ways of knowing and understanding the world as two things at once. As Sinclair states: “these contradictions are not fictional, but represent ontological facts about the nature of bodies and relationships, the way power and violence work, and the kinship among humans, land, and nonhuman lives that two-valued systems simply cannot name” (pg 66).

The limitations of classical logic are further revealed when applied to the issue of biological individuality. Sinclair points out the contradictions in three of the criteria for individuality. If one uses spatial boundaries where the parts of a thing are attached to one another and to nothing else, fungus and aspen groves count as individuals. Using genotype as the criterion for individuals does not solve the problem either, as clones share the same genotype, and Portuguese man o’ wars are made up of genetically distinct parts but are attached to a single digestive tract. Finally, the scientific criteria for biological individuality cannot be understood in terms of immune-self-definition as this fails to account for an individual's resistance to cancer or autoimmune diseases. The failure of classical logic to capture the complex realities of the world indicates the limitations of binary logic with its assumptions of noncontradiction, duality, and individualism. Indigenous logic, by contrast, is better able to capture the complexity of the world, in part because the underlying ontology of Indigenous logic is relational, fluid, and pluralist. Sinclair concludes that Indigenous logic not only represents the world better, but can play a political and ethical role in decolonizing as Indigenous logic supports and validates truth claims made by Indigenous peoples about land restoration, ecological harms, treaty rights, and violence against women.

Resistance to colonization takes many forms; Indigenous knowledges can serve as the grounding for political resistance. In Colombia, the Indigenous Nasa communities of Corinto launched a project to Liberate Mother Earth (LME). The LME movement sought to de-barbwire (desalambrar) Mother Earth thus reclaiming land from the barbed-wire enclosures of private property. This process of de-barbwiring, Susana Matallana-Peláez argues, is also a philosophical standpoint rejecting the Eurocentric divide between culture and nature. Matallana-Peláez embraces the rejection of this division in favor of an idea of “continuum”: the Nasa people recognize that heart and land are one and the same. She notes that in relational ontologies there is consubstantiality and commensurability between humans and nature. Using examples from the Nasayuwe language as well as from Nasa textiles and dance, she shows the continuity between humans and the natural world. This continuity is evidenced by images of botanical drawings that incorporate human elements and textiles that incorporate spirals. The spiral has long been associated with continuous growth, expansion, and nonlinear development; it occurs naturally in shells, snails, and even the shape of galaxies. The spiral appears in a variety of textile designs of the Nasa, especially the sash or chumbe. Spirals represent ontological continuity, and the idea that all life has a common origin and kinship connection.

Spirals, and the continuity of life they represent, appear in ritual dance as well. Matallana-Peláez describes the snail dance done at the annual festival celebrating Mother Earth. Participants in the snail dance form a spiral line, and continue the spiral movement by dancing around one another in turn. The pervasiveness of the spiral in ritual dance, textiles, language, and botanical representations of the natural world all serve to underscore the Nasa philosophy that life is a continuum that cannot be divided up into parts. This philosophy of continuity and wholeness undergirds the movement to liberate Mother Earth by removing the barbed wire that artificially and arbitrarily separates the land into units. Connections between the movement to liberate the earth and to resist other forms of domination such as patriarchy follow from the rejection of dualism and domination in favor of holism and relationality. The Nasa movement to liberate Mother Earth is a decolonization project based upon their Indigenous philosophy; embracing this philosophy has wide-reaching implications for undermining the gender binary and contributing to women's liberation.

Questions of voice, silence, motherhood, and mentoring are central to feminist thinking about the ways we engage in the world in our interpersonal relationships. The next two essays engage with issue of incommensurability between the views and experiences of settlers and Indigenous peoples and between white women and women of color dwelling in the ambiguity of unresolved colonial violence. This incommensurability arises because of the difference in social locations in relation to decolonizing and Indigenizing projects. In her article, Shelley Park (Reference Park2020) explores the intergenerational and interracial relationships of mothering through analyzing Australian artist Tracy Moffat's film, Night Cries. Expanding on the ways that colonial violence shapes interpersonal relationships, Park also looks at mentoring relationships in academia between older white feminists and younger feminists of color. In Night Cries, an Aboriginal woman takes care of her dying, white, adoptive mother. Scenes from the film depict the ambiguity of a relationship enabled by a history of racism and colonialism, which removed Aboriginal children from their homes and stripped them of their culture. Park explores the complexities of colonial power relationships in the private space of the home as exemplified in the care work performed by the daughter; complicated by a colonial history that is still implicated in their present-day relationship, the Aboriginal daughter is by turns resentful and genuinely caring while engaging in the domestic labor of feeding, bathing, and carrying her mother to the outhouse. Moffat's Night Cries portrays the ways that colonial violence infiltrates the domestic sphere and carries into present interpersonal relationships.

Colonial violence may be unwittingly reenacted in the arena of mentoring, too. When senior, white, feminist colleagues in philosophy mentor junior colleagues of color they may be participating in the process of assimilation as they share strategies for success in what is currently a white-dominated discipline. Noting the toll that academia has taken on many feminists of color, Park warns that senior white feminists need to interrogate diversity projects; if they recruit women of color without changing the racist and colonialist structures of the university, diversity projects may be harmful to those they are seeking to support. Instead, white, senior colleagues can participate in undermining the structures of racism, sexism, and colonialism that make the university an inhospitable place for all but white men. Left unexamined, intergenerational and interracial practices of mothering and mentoring may replicate the colonial violence rather than create supportive relationships of care. Park offers several suggestions for avoiding this appropriation by colonialism, including interrupting business as usual, improvising, and experimenting.

Just as colonialism recuperates and appropriates well-intentioned practices of mothering and mentoring, it also sets the conditions for what can be heard and understood. Introducing the concept of coloniality of silence, Martina Ferrari (Reference Ferrari2019) points out the ways that silence is rendered flat and unintelligible by a colonial framework of meaning. Voice has been privileged in feminist discourse, and the recent #MeToo movement amplifies this demand to speak up and speak out. Ferrari explores the meaning of silence in the face of sexual assault for Ernesto Martinez, a gay, Latinx man. For Martinez, silence constituted a form of resistance, a way of being that did not engage in violence. In the face of demands to speak up, silence is viewed as passivity or even complicity. Yet that reading misses the complexity and nuance of the ways that silence may function for the oppressed. The imperative to speak up imposes a normative framework where voice is valorized and silence is dismissed or misread. The demand to speak in a way that one can be understood in the dominant colonial framework mirrors the way that colonialism operates in imposing language on the colonized. Invoking Spivak's “Can the subaltern speak?” Ferrari points out the paradox of demanding the subaltern to speak. On the one hand, if the subaltern speaks in her native language, her speech lacks uptake by the colonizers. On the other hand, if the subaltern speaks in the language of the colonizer, she has sacrificed her culture and language. Thus, the coloniality of language and speech inhibits communication between the colonized and the colonizers because the colonized remain unintelligible to the colonized unless she speaks to them in their language, in which case she capitulates to the dominant framework, losing her own framework of sense and meaning. Through this imposition of the dominant language, coloniality erases the communicative and knowledge-validation practices of the colonized. Moreover, this epistemic move has ontological consequences, as it renders invisible not only the knowledge of the colonized, but the colonized themselves through a process of dehumanization. Ferrari draws on Ophelia Schutte's work to think through possibilities and limitations of cross-cultural communication. Schutte's view that there is a lack of complete translatability leaves open the possibility of communication without the demand for transparency; likewise, allowing for incommensurability between systems of meaning leaves room for deep silence, which is inherent to the process of meaning itself.

The last four essays address the responsibilities of settlers to recognize the ongoing and material harms of colonialism to Indigenous peoples and to mitigate those harms through political action in solidarity with Indigenous communities by undermining settler futurities to make space for Indigenous futurities. Examining the role of apology, shame, testimony in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and activism around the water protectors at Standing Rock, the articles in this section call for political action, including repatriation of land, repoliticizing the concept of genocide, and working in allyship to secure a more just future for Indigenous peoples. Elizabeth Paquette (Reference Paquette2020) calls for repoliticizing the meaning of genocide, rights, and actions, which she sees as essential for the process of reconciliation. She argues that the concept of cultural genocide as currently employed by the Canadian government separates cultural genocide from physical genocide, and by doing so, may trivialize cultural genocide. Moreover, the ongoing effects from actions the Canadian government considers cultural genocide, such the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families to attend residential school, also resulted in physical genocide because of the mistreatment of Indigenous children in the residential schools. Paquette notes that as many as 50% of children in residential schools died from malnutrition, starvation, diseases, and the generally poor conditions in the residential schools. Lest one think that the effects of colonization are in the past, Paquette provides statistics about its disproportionate and ongoing effects on Indigenous peoples, including greater suicide rates, homicide rates, numbers of Indigenous children in foster care, and numbers of women and children trafficked for prostitution. All of this points to the fact that colonization is not a thing of the past, but continues to have real effects on Indigenous people. Given this, apologies from the Canadian government are not enough to ameliorate the harms perpetrated by colonialism; action must be taken to address the ongoing injustices to Indigenous communities. Simply apologizing evokes a “settler move to innocence” wherein settlers believe that recognizing and apologizing for harms to Indigenous people exonerates them of guilt and responsibility. Similarly, having a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to hear testimonies is not far-reaching enough without structural changes to address the injustices.

Recognizing that cultural genocide cannot be separated from physical genocide is one step in repoliticizing it. Next, Paquette elucidates the ways that culture is rendered nonpolitical even in political theories, such as liberal multiculturalism, that aim to embrace and include culture. She demonstrates how Charles Taylor's well-known theory of liberal multiculturalism fails to politicize culture because it is always subordinate to, and contained by, the political. Drawing on Stephanie Lumsden's expansive account of reproductive justice, which includes “sexual self-determination, parental rights, cultural integrity, and an intimate relationship with the land, [all of which] is essential to [Indigenous] sovereignty” (pg 155) and culture, Paquette shows that connection to the land, environment, and reproduction repoliticizes culture and offers a promising route for Indigenous futurity.

Issues of reconciliation and recognition return in Sarah Kizuk's article (Reference Kizuk2020). Kizuk examines the limitations of settler shame, claiming that shame cannot do the work of reconciliation. She draws on the work of Sarah Ahmed and Glen Coulthard to demonstrate that a politics of recognition falls short of the type of reparative justice necessary to right the wrongs of colonialism. To move toward a decolonized justice, settlers must go beyond feeling shame and recognizing the harms colonialism has wrought; they should engage in material actions, such as the repatriation of the land to Indigenous peoples. Janice Keil in Ontario, Canada has begun the process of repatriating her land to the Alderville First Nation. Although Keil says she was motivated by shame, Kizuk distinguishes this shame that spurs material action from settler shame that is self-referential and deployed to make settlers feel good about themselves. Keil's willingness to repatriate her land disrupts settler futurity, which continues the erasure and displacement of Indigenous peoples, and instead opens up possibilities for Indigenous futurity. The transfer of land is being done without government mediation, but directly between Keil and tribal leaders, thus disrupting mainstream notions of political sovereignty. Practical actions such as this foster solidarity and contribute to a process of decolonization that will help make Indigenous futurity possible.

Possibilities for allyship between settlers and Indigenous peoples are further explored in Andrea Sullivan-Clarke's article (Reference Sullivan-Clarke2019), where she looks at the activism around stopping the pipeline through Sioux territory (#NODAPL). Sullivan-Clarke distinguishes being an ally from being an active bystander—active bystanders speak up to keep situations from escalating. The concept of allyship has been criticized by Rachel McKinnon, who claims that “ally” has been taken up as an identity and that this identity can then be used to undermine members of oppressed groups’ claims to epistemic authority, resulting in epistemic injustice. Sullivan-Clarke believes that the concept of active bystander does not go far enough because it does not make epistemic demands on an individual to know about an oppressed group's culture, history, or experience. Moreover, she notes that often allies are also members of an oppressed group. She argues for a decolonized notion of ally.

Using examples of the support of Veteran's Stand for Standing Rock (VSSR) and Black Lives Matter (BLM) for the water protectors at Standing Rock, Sullivan-Clarke makes a case for reclaiming a decolonized notion of allyship along with the concept of active bystander, as both are necessary to fully capture the actions of solidarity and support shown by VSSR and BLM for the water protectors. A decolonized notion of allyship would require that allies attend to the experiences, culture, and needs of Indigenous people; this requires an epistemic commitment on the part of the ally to learn about the people, the land, and the issue. Allies with a real commitment to active support and openness to learning can undermine settler futurity and help to create the conditions for Indigenous futurity.

The Musings in this issue are invited essays from one of the keynote speakers, and two of the invited panelists at the FEAST 2017 conference whose theme was “Decolonizing and Indigenizing Feminist Philosophy.” In the first person, these essays draw upon the life experience and knowledge of their authors; they bring in personal narratives, poetry, and literature to paint a fuller picture of their engagement as Indigenous women and women of color as they negotiate what it means to be a feminist or to engage in feminist philosophy.

Kim Anderson's essay traces her trajectory from her time as a young mother and beginning scholar to the present, in which she identifies as a “middle-aged Indigenous ‘academic auntie’” (pg 204). Anderson (Cree-Metís) is a pioneer in Indigenous feminist studies, and she recounts some of the factors that made Indigenous women reluctant to take up the banner of feminism: “a presumed focus on equality that implies sameness with men; the perception that feminism excludes men from our overall struggles as peoples; the view that feminism is about rights vs. responsibilities with an emphasis on individual autonomy; and the feeling that it represents an attack on ‘traditional’ responsibilities, including mothering” (pg 205). Reflecting back on her journey as a mother, an Indigenous woman, and a scholar, Anderson sees these as interwoven. Turning to elders/aunties for parenting advice and pursuing research on child welfare led her to explore the topic of Indigenous female empowerment. These interconnections weave their way through Anderson's essay as she reflects on the meaning of “women” and “home.”

Currently in a department of home economics, Anderson traces the history of home and mothering through its colonial past to an Indigenous future. She notes that the home was an important site of colonial power as maternal feminists and social reformers were dispatched as missionaries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to bring white, Christian values to Indigenous communities. Oblivious of what Indigenous communities could teach them about women's power as it was exercised in matrilineal societies, or the importance of community as manifested in extended kinship structures and shared housing, middle-class white women imposed the dominant values of heteropatriarchal family norms on Indigenous households. Racist standards of mothering and childrearing were entangled with eugenics projects that justified the removal of Indigenous children from their homes, and the sterilization of Indigenous women. Circling back to her own story, Anderson points out that individual and institutional histories are messy and complex; telling the stories is an important part of the work to move forward.

Anderson's current position involves Indigenizing the department of home economics. She reflects on what that means for her as an academic auntie: teaching and mentoring the younger generations, caring for the well-being of the community, leadership and community-organizing, and creating safe space, among other things. For Anderson, leadership and community-organizing has included artivist projects such as making a human medicine wheel with colleagues to raise awareness about the missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, and performance art in resistance to celebrations of Canada's sesquicentennial. Indigenizing the department will involve reforming the curriculum to include both the history of colonialist projects, and Indigenous knowledges and practices that resist colonialism. Her office is a safe space where students from various departments come to drink tea and relate stories of experiencing racism or heterosexism on campus. Seeking to expand this safe space and to make room for Indigenous ceremonies, rituals, and gardens, Anderson is spearheading a project to build a “Grannie's cabin” in a wooded area of campus. Near the cabin there will be a garden that will provide Indigenous students with food to take home. As part of this initiative, Indigenous elders will tell stories and provide teachings linking Indigenous knowledge to the issue of working toward Indigenous food security. Anderson redefines home and women's place in it as participating in activism and engaged care for the well-being of the Indigenous community and its members.

The grandmothers situate Lorraine Mayer's reflection on her identity and her relation to feminist philosophy (Reference Mayer2020). Beginning with the stories of her French grandmother and her Cree grandmother, Mayer bemoans the patriarchal history that obscures her grandmothers’ names, but not her grandfathers’, attributing this erasure to the male-dominated system of colonialism. This erasure of her Cree grandmother's name and history from genealogical documents led Mayer to explore feminism in spite of her skepticism about feminism as an Indigenous woman. In 2015 she attended the “Hypatia and the Status of Women” conference, finding it inhospitable. She did not feel welcome and was appalled at the lack of knowledge and concern of the conference audience to what was happening to Indigenous Canadian women.

She relates that even though this foray into feminist philosophy was disappointing, while there she also met some wonderful women philosophers who invited her to attend the Feminist Ethics and Social Theory conference in 2015 where she chaired a session on Indigenous philosophy. However, she wondered about her limited role as chair, rather than presenter because as the only Indigenous scholar on the panel she had much to contribute to the discussion. Discussions at that conference brought up issues of the marginalization of women of color, the continuing domination of white-stream feminism, and the recalcitrance and whiteness of philosophy as a discipline. Given these experiences, Mayer was reluctant to attend future feminist conferences. In spite of this she accepted an invitation to organize a panel for FEAST 2017, whose theme was Decolonizing and Indigenizing Feminist Philosophy. Mayer invited her students to be on her panel so that they could share their experiences with the cultures and languages of their Indigenous communities. The three students came from different communities, Beverly from the Opaskywiak, Glen from the Anishinaabe, and Grace from Brochet. The panel focused on teaching Indigenous philosophy and was structured as a talking circle with everyone introducing themselves and identifying the communities they were from; the session began with a prayer. Each student told her or his story while other conference participants listened and learned. Because of their deep, firsthand knowledge of their languages, cultures, and communities, the students were able to offer rich insight into Indigenous philosophy and ways of life. As Mayer recounts: “They spoke from the heart, not the head. They spoke of community and living philosophy. They were able to explain the lack of gendered terminology in our languages. They were able to articulate an egalitarian world and the value of childbirth. They were able to bestow a native philosophy upon us that only speakers can know” (pg 218). Mayer reports that she was pleasantly surprised by the acceptance and openness at this conference, and looks forward to more spaces such as this where she can share Indigenous philosophy and her stories.

In her essay, Yomaira Figueroa (Reference Figueroa2020) lays out the contours of Afro-Latina decolonial feminist thought. As part of an invited panel on Decolonizing Feminism, Figueroa intended to discuss the “overlapping arcs of decolonial feminisms,” but the devastation of Puerto Rico caused by Hurricanes Irma and María prompted a reflection closer to home. Figueroa employs the concept of destierro to explore the complex relations among different and sometimes overlapping groups of indigenous, Latinx, and Caribbean peoples. Destierro is usually translated into English as “exile,” but its meaning is actually closer to the word “banishment” with connotations of being unwillingly, forcibly uprooted from the earth and land. Figueroa sees destierro as “a vector of dispossession constitutive of colonial modernity” (pg 223). It can provide a way to think through various forms and movements of resistance based on experiences, histories, and ties to the land.

Resisting banishment by reclaiming land, and also lived experiences, including cultural and literary productions, can highlight the ways that land, home, and body are intimately connected. Colonizing thought, methodologies, and practices deny the relational understandings underlying Indigenous philosophy. Moreover, this relational understanding, Figueroa points out, is necessary to work in coalition with other oppressed groups. “Relationality is a methodology of complex coalition-building, of learning one another's histories, and of understanding why difference can fragment communities in search of liberation” (pg 223). Because destierro tears people away from their land, land-based practices, and epistemologies, collective resistance to it offers a promising strategy for decolonizing practices and reclaiming land, as well as revaluing land-based practices and knowledges; this revaluing may contribute to Indigenous futures in which land is repatriated, and Indigenous knowledges, languages, cultures, and practices thrive.

Conclusion: Imagining Indigenous and Decolonizing Futurities within Feminist Philosophy

This special issue is about a future for feminist philosophy, imagining our discipline in ways that make space for Indigenous feminism. Smith, Tuck, and Yang define their work in Indigenous and Decolonizing Education as one relating to a futurity, “a word that imbibes the future with what we are doing now to bring about different futures” (Smith, Tuck, and Yang Reference Styres, Smith, Tuck and Wayne Yang2019, 23). Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua echoes this insight and characterizes futurities as “ways that groups imagine and produce knowledge of the future” (Goodyear-Kaʻōpua 2019, 86). However, through settler-colonial bias, Indigenous futures have been undermined. Hall argues that Indigenous scholarship is easily erased or brought within problematic terms such as API (Asian Pacific Islander), which renders Pacific Islanders absent as a distinct people (Hall Reference Hall2009, 23). Moreover, settler-colonial metaphysical determinism uncritically argues that Indigenous peoples, such as Native Hawaiʻians, would have eventually been colonized, and if the US hadn't done so, some other superpower would have. In this sense, it seems that Indigenous futures are intentionally suppressed by a settler logic of imperial occupation.

In contrast, Goodyear-Kaʻōpua suggests that Indigenous futurities “tend away from controlling and possessive modes of knowing. Instead, they frequently include ways of relating that involve putting our bodies in motion in various kinds of non-human rhythms that engage multiple senses” (Goodyear-Kaʻōpua Reference Smith, Tuck and Wayne Yang2019, 87). This would involve developing a literacy of the land and/or ocean. Opposed to an understanding of land based on a Western proprietary model that emphasizes ownership through capitalistic values, Hawaiʻian Indigenous scholars have been theorizing that the task of sovereignty is to establish better relationships with the land, ocean, and sky through embodied practice with nature. Various Indigenous scholars have discussed the development of land literacy (Goodyear-Kaʻōpua 2013; Styres Reference Styres, Smith, Tuck and Wayne Yang2019) as a decolonial and Indigenous approach to sovereignty. J. Kehaulani Kauanui points us toward a distinctly Native Hawaiʻian decolonial “erotic autonomy” that engages the embodied dimensions of sexuality and land. This offers a decolonial expression of sovereignty that goes beyond a proprietary relationship to the land but nonetheless aims to ensure that Indigenous presence and cultural and sexual expressions are able to thrive within occupied lands (Kauanui 2018, 192). Karin Ingersoll's work in developing a seascape epistemology articulates an oceanic literacy that views knowledge as arising from embodied activities with the ocean. What follows from these encounters with the ocean generates an ethics and a politics that resists settler configurations defining ocean as mere property or as a resource to consume, and ensures that Indigenous presence endures and thrives (Ingersoll Reference Ingersoll2016, 95). Following land and oceanic literacies, Indigenous and decolonizing futurities for feminist philosophy need to be mindful of the highly situated and contextual project that cultivating Indigenous futurities might look like in a settler-dominant terrain within feminist philosophy. Incommensurability based on the divergent commitments of Indigenous and feminist scholars should be a starting point in repositioning one's stance in relation to the legacies of settler colonialism in feminist philosophy. It will require situating feminist philosophical analysis anchored within the visions and values of Indigenous communities, which have been hidden behind settler ideological frameworks and deterministic imperial visions. The articles in this special issue offer brief vignettes that introduce new ideological frameworks, imagine new directions, and navigate toward better and more vibrant Indigenous futurities within feminist philosophy, while acknowledging the limits of our own settler-colonial biases.

Celia T. Bardwell-Jones is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. She is currently the chair of the Gender and Women's Studies Program. Her research interests include topics on feminism and pragmatism, transnational identities, ethics, race, immigration, and Indigenous epistemologies, with an emphasis in the geographies of the Pacific. She teaches courses that incorporate an interdisciplinary and a social-ethics approach to metaphysics, epistemology, and the philosophy of nature. She is the co-editor, along with Maurice Hamington, of the anthology Contemporary Feminist Pragmatism (Routledge, 2012). Her publications have appeared in The Pluralist, The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, and numerous anthologies on subject matters of identity and decolonial methodologies. (

Margaret A. McLaren teaches philosophy, and in the sexuality, women's, and gender studies program at Rollins College where she holds the George D. and Harriet W. Cornell Chair of Philosophy. Her most recent book, Women's Activism, Feminism, and Social Justice (Oxford University Press, 2019) develops a social-justice model for transnational feminism emerging out of women's grassroots activism in India. She is also the author of Feminism, Foucault, and Embodied Subjectivity (SUNY Press, 2002), and the editor of Decolonizing Feminism: Transnational Feminism and Globalization (Rowman and Littlefield International, 2017). Her articles on women and human rights, feminism, cooperatives and economic empowerment, and Foucault have appeared in several journals, including Hypatia, Social Theory and Practice, Journal of Developing Societies, Forum on Public Policy, and Philosophy Today, as well as in a number of book anthologies. (


1. We capitalize “Indigenous” to follow the NAJA (Native American Journalists Association), which distinguishes Indigenous referring to people from reference to indigenous plants, species, animals, and so on.

2. Tuck and Yang Reference Tuck and Wayne Yang2012 point out many sources of Indigenous research that should be on the reading lists of feminist philosophers.

3. Manulani Meyer also presented a version of the concept of “Indigenous” understood as “to thrive” during a panel presentation on “Sustainability, Resistance and Education” at the Pacific Association of Continental Thought held at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo in September 2016.


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