The writing of Indigenous women, non-binary, and two-spirit folks as resistance and resilience

News Unsettled Opinions
News Unsettled Native Students Union column
Graphic provided by the Native Students Union.

Throughout the history of Turtle Island, Indigenous nations have been forced into conforming to European standards around sex and gender. Colonialists have imposed many systems and standards onto Indigenous nations, but perhaps the system with the highest impact has been the patriarchy. 

This forced conforming was done from the time Indigenous children were very young, with the establishment and forced attendance of residential schools in Canada. In the U.S. this was done in large part by ‘field matrons’ that were hired under the Bureau of Indian Affairs. A big outcome of this history has been the long silencing of Indigenous women, non-binary and two-spirit folks. This, however, has been changing. Modern Indigenous writing has highlighted the continued resilience of Indigenous women, non-binary and two-spirit people.

In residential schools, students suffered constant abuse, were forced to speak English, and were taught that men and women had radically different roles in society based on European norms. For Indigenous girls, this meant being primarily taught skills that aligned with European standards of domestic labour. 

In the U.S., under the employ of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, field matrons took on the job of assimilating Indigenous women and girls specifically to European ideas of domesticity and gender roles. This went from the late nineteenth to mid twentieth-century, and the main focal point of this effort was Great Plains communities, though there were still field matrons elsewhere. The field matrons’ jobs were based heavily on the Christian religion and European ideals.  They sought to devalue the voices of Indigenous women, and make them part of the colonial project, as has happened with a great majority of Indigneous men. 

Although these efforts were continued for a long time, and they have had a profound impact on Indigenous women, non-binary, two-spirit folks and communities, they were in vain. 

Indigenous women, non-binary, and two-spirit folks across Turtle Island have utilized English writing and oral traditions to challenge patriarchy, appropriating their own stories of resistance and survival to speak out against colonial structures which have sought to silence them. Indigenous women’s writing is an act of agency that allows for Indigenous peoples to reclaim their histories and culture, presenting images of themselves that are authentic. 

According to (source), the act of writing for Indigenous women, non-binary and two-spirit folks “is claiming voice and taking power” back against structures that have repeatedly tried to erase their existence or feticize them to diminish their authority. Indigenous based writing is a way to tell stories that destabilize hegemonic constructions, allowing Indigenous peoples to showcase their own understandings of history. 

Literary works of and by Indigenous women contest settler assumptions and imposed notions of patriarchy. Through their writing Indigenous women, non-binary, and two-spirit folks challenge the oppressive realities of settler-colonial states, while simultaneously reasserting their sovereignty and presence. 

By accounting their own lived experiences Indigenous women, non-binary, and two-spirit folks emphasize the stories that are important to them, disputing settler constructions of their identities that have been informed by dominant patriarchal and colonial structures.