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Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide
By Andrea Smith
Duke University PressCopyright © 2005 Andrea Smith
All rights reserved.
Sexual Violence as a Tool of Genocide
[Rape] is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.
Rape as "nothing more or less" than a tool of patriarchal control undergirds the philosophy of the white-dominated women's antiviolence movement. This philosophy has been critiqued by many women of color, including critical race theorist Kimberle Crenshaw, for its lack of attention to racism and other forms of oppression. Crenshaw analyzes how male-dominated conceptions of race and white-dominated conceptions of gender stand in the way of a clear understanding of violence against women of color. It is inadequate, she argues, to investigate the oppression of women of color by examining race and gender oppressions separately and then putting the two analyses together, because the overlap between racism and sexism transforms the dynamics. Instead, Crenshaw advocates replacing the "additive" approach with an "intersectional" approach.
The problem is not simply that both discourses fail women of color by not acknowledging the 'additional' issue of race or of patriarchy but, rather, that the discourses are often inadequate even to the discrete tasks of articulating the full dimensions of racism and sexism.
Despite her intersectional approach, Crenshaw falls short of describing how a politics of intersectionality might fundamentally shift how we analyze sexual/domestic violence. If sexual violence is not simply a tool of patriarchy but also a tool of colonialism and racism, then entire communities of color are the victims of sexual violence. As Neferti Tadiar argues, colonial relationships are themselves gendered and sexualized.
The economies and political relations of nations are libidinally configured, that is, they are grasped and effected in terms of sexuality. This global and regional fantasy is not, however, only metaphorical, but real insofar as it grasps a system of political and economic practices already at work among these nations.
Within this context, according to Tadiar, "the question to be asked ... is, Who is getting off on this? Who is getting screwed and by whom?" Thus, while both Native men and women have been subjected to a reign of sexualized terror, sexual violence does not affect Indian men and women in the same way. When a Native woman suffers abuse, this abuse is an attack on her identity as a woman and an attack on her identity as Native. The issues of colonial, race, and gender oppression cannot be separated. This fact explains why in my experience as a rape crisis counselor, every Native survivor I ever counseled said to me at one point, "I wish I was no longer Indian." As I will discuss in this chapter, women of color do not just face quantitatively more issues when they suffer violence (e.g., less media attention, language barriers, lack of support in the judicial system) but their experience is qualitatively different from that of white women.
Ann Stoler's analysis of racism sheds light on this relationship between sexual violence and colonialism. She argues that racism, far from being a reaction to crisis in which racial others are scapegoated for social ills, is a permanent part of the social fabric. "Racism is not an effect but a tactic in the internal fission of society into binary opposition, a means of creating 'biologized' internal enemies, against whom society must defend itself." She notes that in the modern state, it is the constant purification and elimination of racialized enemies within the state that ensures the growth of the national body. "Racism does not merely arise in moments of crisis, in sporadic cleansings. It is internal to the biopolitical state, woven into the web of the social body, threaded through its fabric."
Similarly, Kate Shanley notes that Native peoples are a permanent "present absence" in the U.S. colonial imagination, an "absence" that reinforces at every turn the conviction that Native peoples are indeed vanishing and that the conquest of Native lands is justified. Ella Shohat and Robert Stam describe this absence as,
an ambivalently repressive mechanism [which] dispels the anxiety in the face of the Indian, whose very presence is a reminder of the initially precarious grounding of the American nation-state itself ... In a temporal paradox, living Indians were induced to 'play dead,' as it were, in order to perform a narrative of manifest destiny in which their role, ultimately, was to disappear.
This "absence" is effected through the metaphorical transformation of Native bodies into a pollution of which the colonial body must constantly purify itself. For instance, as white Californians described them in the 1860s, Native people were "the dirtiest lot of human beings on earth." They wear "filthy rags, with their persons unwashed, hair uncombed and swarming with vermin." The following 1885 Procter & Gamble ad for Ivory Soap also illustrates this equation between Indian bodies and dirt.
We were once factious, fierce and wild,
In peaceful arts unreconciled
Our blankets smeared with grease and stains
From buffalo meat and settlers' veins.
Through summer's dust and heat content
From moon to moon unwashed we went,
But IVORY SOAP came like a ray
Of light across our darkened way
And now we're civil, kind and good
And keep the laws as people should,
We wear our linen, lawn and lace
As well as folks with paler face
And now I take, where'er we go
This cake of IVORY SOAP to show
What civilized my squaw and me
And made us clean and fair to see.
In the colonial imagination, Native bodies are also immanently polluted with sexual sin. Theorists Albert Cave, Robert Warrior, H. C. Porter, and others have demonstrated that Christian colonizers often likened Native peoples to the biblical Canaanites, both worthy of mass destruction. What makes Canaanites supposedly worthy of destruction in the biblical narrative and Indian peoples supposedly worthy of destruction in the eyes of their colonizers is that they both personify sexual sin. In the Bible, Canaanites commit acts of sexual perversion in Sodom (Gen. 19:1–29), are the descendants of the unsavory relations between Lot and his daughters (Gen. 19:30–38), are the descendants of the sexually perverse Ham (Gen. 9:22–27), and prostitute themselves in service of their gods (Gen. 28:21–22, Deut. 28:18, 1 Kings 14:24, 2 Kings 23:7, Hosea 4:13, Amos 2:7).
Similarly, Native peoples, in the eyes of the colonizers, are marked by their sexual perversity. Alexander Whitaker, a minister in Virginia, wrote in 1613: "They live naked in bodie, as if their shame of their sinne deserved no covering: Their names are as naked as their bodie: They esteem it a virtue to lie, deceive and steale as their master the divell teacheth them." Furthermore, according to Bernardino de Minaya, a Dominican cleric, "Their marriages are not a sacrament but a sacrilege. They are idolatrous, libidinous, and commit sodomy. Their chief desire is to eat, drink, worship heathen idols, and commit bestial obscenities."
Because Indian bodies are "dirty," they are considered sexually violable and "rapable," and the rape of bodies that are considered inherently impure or dirty simply does not count. For instance, prostitutes are almost never believed when they say they have been raped because the dominant society considers the bodies of sex workers undeserving of integrity and violable at all times. Similarly, the history of mutilation of Indian bodies, both living and dead, makes it clear that Indian people are not entitled to bodily integrity.
I saw the body of White Antelope with the privates cut off, and I heard a soldier say he was going to make a tobacco-pouch out of them.
At night Dr. Rufus Choate [and] Lieutenant Wentz C. Miller ... went up the ravine, decapitated the dead Qua-ha-das, and placing the heads in some gunny sacks, brought them back to be boiled out for future scientific knowledge.
Each of the braves was shot down and scalped by the wild volunteers, who out with their knives and cutting two parallel gashes down their backs, would strip the skin from the quivering flesh to make razor straps of.
Dr. Tuner, of Lexington, Iowa, visited this solitary grave [of Black Hawk] and robbed it of its tenant ... and sent the body to Alton, Ill., where the skeleton was wired together. [It was later returned] but here it remained but a short time ere vandal hands again carried it away and placed it in the Burlington, Iowa Geographical and Historical Society, where it was consumed by fire in 1855.
One more dexterous than the rest, proceeded to flay the chief's [Tecumseh's] body; then, cutting the skin in narrow strips ... at once, a supply of razor-straps for the more "ferocious" of his brethren.
Andrew Jackson ... supervised the mutilation of 800 or so Creek Indian corpses — the bodies of men, women and children that he and his men massacred — cutting off their noses to count and preserve a record of the dead, slicing long strips of flesh from their bodies to tan and turn into bridle reins.
A few nights after this, some soldiers dug Mangus' body out again and took his head and boiled it during the night, and prepared the skull to send to the museum in New York.
In 1990, Illinois governor Jim Thompson echoed these sentiments when he refused to close down an open Indian burial mound in the town of Dixon. The State of Illinois had built a museum around this mound to publicly display Indian remains. Thompson argued that he was as much Indian as current Indians, and consequently, he had as much right as they to determine the fate of Indian remains. The remains were "his." The Chicago press similarly attempted to challenge the identity of Indian people protesting his decision by asserting that they were either only "part" Indian, or merely claiming to be Indian. In effect, the Illinois state government conveyed the message to Indians that being on constant display for white consumers, in life and in death, is acceptable. Furthermore, Indian identity itself is under the control of the colonizer, and subject to challenge or eradication at any time.
In 1992, Ontario finance minister Jim Flaherty argued that the Canadian government could boost health-care funding for "real people in real towns" by cutting the bureaucracy that serves only Native peoples. The extent to which Native peoples are not seen as "real" people in the larger colonial discourse indicates the success of sexual violence, among other racist and colonialist forces, in destroying the perceived humanity of Native peoples. As Aime Cesaire puts it, colonization = thingification. As Stoler explains this process of racialized colonization:
The more "degenerates" and "abnormals" [in this case Native peoples] are eliminated, the lives of those who speak will be stronger, more vigorous, and improved. The enemies are not political adversaries, but those identified as external and internal threats to the population. Racism is the condition that makes it acceptable to put [certain people] to death in a society of normalization.
The project of colonial sexual violence establishes the ideology that Native bodies are inherently violable — and by extension, that Native lands are also inherently violable.
As a consequence of this colonization and abuse of their bodies, Indian people learn to internalize self-hatred, because body image is integrally related to self-esteem. When one's body is not respected, one begins to hate oneself. Anne, a Native boarding school student, reflects on this process:
You better not touch yourself ... If I looked at somebody ... lust, sex, and I got scared of those sexual feelings. And I did not know how to handle them ... What really confused me was if intercourse was sin, why are people born? ... It took me a really long time to get over the fact that ... I've sinned: I had a child.
As her words indicate, when the bodies of Indian people are designated as inherently sinful and dirty, it becomes a sin just to be Indian. Native peoples internalize the genocidal project through self-destruction. As a rape crisis counselor, it was not a surprise to me that Indians who have survived sexual abuse would often say that they no longer wish to be Indian. Native peoples' individual experiences of sexual violation echo 500 years of sexual colonization in which Native peoples' bodies have been deemed inherently impure. The Menominee poet Chrystos writes in such a voice in her poem "Old Indian Granny."
You told me about all the Indian women you counsel
who say they don't want to be Indian anymore
because a white man or an Indian one raped them
or killed their brother
or somebody tried to run them over in the street
or insulted them or all of it
our daily bread of hate
Sometimes I don't want to be an Indian either
but I've never said so out loud before ...
Far more than being hungry
having no place to live or dance
no decent job no home to offer a Granny
It's knowing with each invisible breath
that if you don't make something pretty
they can hang on their walls or wear around their necks
you might as well be dead.
Mending the Sacred Hoop Technical Assistance Project in Duluth, Minnesota, reports that a primary barrier antiviolence advocates face in addressing violence in Indian country is that community members will argue that sexual violence is "traditional." This phenomenon indicates the extent to which our communities have internalized self-hatred. Frantz Fanon argues, "In the colonial context, as we have already pointed out, the natives fight among themselves. They tend to use each other as a screen, and each hides from his neighbor the national enemy." Then, as Michael Taussig notes, Native peoples are portrayed by the dominant culture as inherently violent, self-destructive, and dysfunctional. For example, townsperson Mike Whelan made the following statement at a 1990 zoning hearing, calling for the denial of a permit for an Indian battered women's shelter in Lake Andes, South Dakota.
Indian Culture as I view it, is presently so mongrelized as to be a mix of dependency on the Federal Government and a primitive society wholly on the outside of the mainstream of western civilization and thought. The Native American Culture as we know it now, not as it formerly existed, is a culture of hopelessness, godlessness, of joblessness, and lawlessness ... Alcoholism, social disease, child abuse, and poverty are the hallmarks of this so called culture that you seek to promote, and I would suggest to you that the brave men of the ghost dance would hang their heads in shame at what you now pass off as that culture.... I think that the Indian way of life as you call it, to me means cigarette burns in arms of children, double checking the locks on my cars, keeping a loaded shotgun by my door, and car bodies and beer cans on the front lawn.... This is not a matter of race, it is a matter of keeping our community and neighborhood away from that evil that you and your ideas promote.
Similarly, in a recent case among the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, a judge ruled that a 50-year-old Aboriginal man's rape of a 15-year-old girl was not a serious crime, but an example of traditional culture. He ruled that the girl "knew what was expected of her" and "didn't need protection" when raped by a man who had been previously convicted of murdering his former wife. An "expert" anthropologist in the case testified that the rape was "traditional" and "morally correct." According to Judy Atkinson, an Aboriginal professor, survivors have reported numerous incidents of law enforcement officials dismissing reports of violence because they consider such violence to be "cultural behavior." "We are living in a war zone in Aboriginal communities," states Atkinson. "Different behaviors come out of that," she says. "Yet the courts of law validate that behavior."
Taussig comments on the irony of this logic: "Men are conquered not by invasion, but by themselves. It is a strange sentiment, is it not, when faced with so much brutal evidence of invasion." But as Fanon notes, this destructive behavior is not "the consequence of the organization of his nervous system or of characterial originality, but the direct product of the colonial system."
Tadiar's description of colonial relationships as an enactment of the "prevailing mode of heterosexual relations" is useful because it underscores the extent to which U.S. colonizers view the subjugation of women of the Native nations as critical to the success of the economic, cultural, and political colonization. Stoler notes that the imperial discourses on sexuality "cast white women as the bearers of more racist imperial order." By extension, Native women are bearers of a counter-imperial order and pose a supreme threat to the dominant culture. Symbolic and literal control over their bodies is important in the war against Native people, as these testimonies illustrate:
When I was in the boat I captured a beautiful Carib woman.... I conceived desire to take pleasure.... I took a rope and thrashed her well, for which she raised such unheard screams that you would not have believed your ears. Finally we came to an agreement in such a manner that I can tell you that she seemed to have been brought up in a school of harlots.
Excerpted from Conquest by Andrea Smith. Copyright © 2005 Andrea Smith. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of ContentsAcknowledgments xi
Foreword / Winona LaDuke ix
1. Sexual Violence as a Tool of Genocide 7
2. Boarding School Abuses and the Case for Reparations 35
3. Rape of the Land 55
4. "Better Dead than Pregnant": The Colonization of Native Womens' Reproductive Health 79
5. "Natural Laboratories": Medical Experimentation in Native Communities 109
6. Spiritual Appropriations as Sexual Violence 119
7. Anticolonial Responses to Gender Violence 137
8. U.S. Empire and the War Against Native Sovereignty 177
Resource Guide 223
What People are Saying About This
"Andrea Smith brilliantly weaves together feminist explanations of violence against Native women, the historical data regarding colonialism and genocide, and a strong critique of the current responses to the gender violence against women of color . . . Conquest is one of the most significant contributions to the literature in Native Studies, feminist theory, and social movement theory in recent years."
"Andrea Smith has no fear. She challenges conventional activist thinking about global and local, sexism and racism, genocide and imperialism. But what's more, in every chapter she tries to answer the key question: What is to be done? Conquest is unsettling, ambitious, brilliant, disturbing: read it, debate it, use it."
"A must-read for everyone concerned about Native people and our Native world."
"Conquest is the book Aboriginal women have been waiting for. Andrea Smith has not only meticulously researched the place of rape and violence against Indigenous women in the colonial process, but she is the first to fully articulate the connections between violence against the earth, violence against women, and North America's terrible inclination toward war."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Argues that violence directed at Indians has been specifically sexual¿Indians, especially women, seen as inherently dirty and therefore proper subjects of rape and extermination¿and that putting the most disadvantaged groups at the center of any analysis and policy reforms is the key to avoiding using one axis of oppression to increase another, as she argues occurs when reformers try to use the criminal justice system to punish batterers and rapists in Indian communities. She also connects New Agey white interest in Indian ceremonies (not usually religions, but the trappings thereof) with sexual violence: it¿s all about knowledge, and knowing the unwilling, and knowledge is of course a word for sex as well as information.She admits that many proposals for dealing with offenders in the community are hampered by the fact that many in the community don¿t see sexual violence as a big problem, and I was left uncertain what concrete steps she wanted to see, but that¿s a standard problem with a big critique and the connections she makes are important ones. Reproductive ¿choice,¿ for example, looks very different if you¿re from a group historically at risk of forced sterilization, losing your children to the state, and tremendous material difficulty if you do have children. Reproductive justice is a very different thing than choice, and she argues that Indian women should make strategic alliances on both sides of the abortion/contraception debate, and also demand to get something out of those alliances rather than accepting that their interests are somehow subsumed in those of the larger (white) group.
Detailed and clear explanation of the treatment of Native American people throughout history. A must read for all US Citizens.