Friday, September 14, 2018

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Leatherdale

Just as they did with Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices, Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale have once again created an anthology of Native American voices from Canada and the United States. This time, however, it is devoted to the voices of indigenous women only. For Charleyboy, this work is "a love letter to all young indigenous women trying to find their way, but also to help dispel those stereotypes so we can collectively move forward to a brighter future for all."

#NotYourPrincess is divided into four sections, all of which contain a collection of  poems, prose, art, and photographs by women and teens detailing some of the issues that have impacted their past, present and future as Native women.

In the first section, "The Ties That Bind," is about the ties to the past, recognizing a heritage and identity marred by the trauma and humiliations of the residence schools where Native children were taught to feel shame about who they are, and forced to assimilate to white society, or the shame felt at having everything taken by the government and wearing blankets in an attempt to protect themselves and to hide their shame. But, as Lianne Charlie (Tagé Cho Hudän) shows in her picture montage, #LittleSalmonWoman, Native women are their past but they are their present, too and it's in the present that things can change, accented by the last two entries of this section, In Her Words by Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe/Ojibwe) and Jen VanStrander  (Western Band of Cherokee).

The next section, "It Could Have Been Me," looks at the way victimization of indigenous women has always been perpetuated on Native women and those who now refuse to accept being victims and fight back. Even as young Native women are disappearing, are hurt and abused, actress Imalyn Cardinal (Cree/Dene) states flatly "I Don't Want to Be Afraid." And in "The Things We Taught Our Daughters," Helen Knott (DaneZaa/Cree) tackles domestic and sexual abuse and the way keeping silent was taught from generation to generation, and that now, it is time to speak up, to not accept this kind of treatment. As if in answer to Knott's is a poem by Patty Stonefish (Lakota) called "It Could Have Been Me" that ends with the word "I will not believe I am weak-/ I know I am indomitable./ I have the privilege of another day." I think this poem really shows the strength and the determination of young Native women refusing to be the victim anymore.

The third section, "I Am Not Your Princess," considers cultural appropriation in We Are Not a Costume by Jessica Deer (Mohawk) and the kind of erasure that happens when an indigenous person doesn't fit peoples preconceived ideas of what a Native person should look like, as in A Conversation with a Massage Therapist by Francine Cunningham (Cree/Métis), or the refusal to be stereotyped in Stereotype This by Melanie Fey (Diné), and What's There to Take Back? by Tiffany Midge (Hunkpapa Lakota) in response to a call for submissions about recreating Tiger Lily into "a real image of Indigenous womanhood."

Section four, "Pathfinders," looks at Native women who are forging a different, more positive present and future for themselves and their children. In the poem When I Have a Daughter, Ntawnis Piapot (Piapoy Cree Nation), tells her future daughter "Don't wait. Don't whine. Don't pine./  Go for it. Work for it. Earn it" even if it means being shunned and ostracized, have the courage to stand up and fight for justice. Which is exactly what 13-year-old Annalee Rain Yellowhammer (Hunkapapa, Standing Rock Sioux) did when she signed on to try and stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. In Defender of Mother Earth, this young activist writes "We demand 'rezpect' for out water, our land, and our voices. This is followed by photographs of successful Native athletes in Living Their Dreams. There are other successful women contributing to this section, but they point out that being a pathfinder isn't without obstacles and difficulties that must be overcome simply because they are Indigenous women. But these women have forge a path that celebrates their identity as strong, independent Native women following their dreams, leading the way for future generations.

#NotYourPrincess is not necessarily an easy book to read, but certainly one that should be read by Native and non-Native people, male and female. Native girls and women reading it will find a celebration of the multiple identities of their womanhood, of "taking control of how they and their traditions are seen" and of shattering stereotypes. It is impossible not to be affected by these contributions of different women, but it is also not an easy book to review. There is so much in the short one and two page offerings of women expressing themselves so freely, that just talking about it doesn't do justice to what is contained between the covers. My advice: Read #NotYourPrincess

Pair this with Dreaming in Indian for a more well-rounded though far from complete look at what it means to be Native in today's world.

This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

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