Canadian Literature Review - The Strength of Women
Reviewed by: Jasmine Johnston
Priscilla Settee, a writer, activist, and Associate Professor in the Department of Native Studies at the University of Saskatchewan, prefaces The Strength of Women: Âhkamêyimowak by introducing the fourteen Indigenous women whose highly personal stories comprise this volume. These stories, including memories of childhood, thoughts on family and community, reflections on professional life, and statements about creative and intellecutal convictions, illustrate the Cree concept of "âhkamêyimowak," which is translated into English by Settee as "persistence" and the "strength of women to carry on in the face of extreme adversity." Settee suggests that âhkamêyimowak helps to support the Cree concept of "miyo-wichihtowin," or "having good relations." She suggests that institutional forms of oppression of Indigenous women must be counteracted by good relations between human and animal communities and the environment in order to enact another important Cree concept, "wakohtowin," translated as natural laws" for the "betterment of all our relations." Each of the women whose stories are included in this collection shares visions of hope for herself, her relations, and the world. Settee's introduction concludes with a call to apply documents such as the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to First Nations communities in order to "right the historical wrongs" by "draw[ing] on the strength and wisdom of ancient values, wisdom and knowledge to create strong and vibrant communities."
The stories in this colelction are organized by topic. "Beginnings" includes childhood stories that often concern abuse and residential schools. However, access to language, learning traditional ways of living on the land, and gratitude for family, elders, leaders, and teachers who provide love and guidance also come up. "Work" continues the stories of some of the women introduced in the first chapter and also incorporates new voices. A wide array of callings are refleced upon, including hip hop, counselling, language revitalization, oral histories, leadership, and trapping and hunting. The next section, "Art," includes stories about traditional and contemporary creative practices, always with a strong emphasis on the continuity and vitality of Indigenous creative traditions. "Spirit" is an even more personal section, with stories that focus on the ways elders, Indigenous languages, and that natural world can bring healing and hope despite the oppressive forces of colonization. The final section, "Community," returns to the central concept of âhkamêyimowak. In this section, the stories are trenchant manifestos for the future based upon well-informed perspectives on the challenges currently facing Indigenous communities.
These stories contain devastating accounts of rape, murder, suicide, substance addictions, systematic racism, overwhelming work and family demands, and detailed information about pollution targeted at traditional territories. They are challenging to read. However, they also express a great deal of tenderness, respect, affection, hope, and joy, as well as a fierce determination to continue to provide leadership and support within Indigenous communities. Settee's collection offers personally inflected yet globally relevant visions of justice for all First Peoples, and, read in conjunction with Miller's and Palmater's books, the relevance and urgency of Indigenous governance of land, identity, and community are made very clear. While this book does not contain an index or description of how the stories were collected and prepared for publication, Settee's thoughtful profiles of the contributors at the very beginning of her book provide a holistic framework for the stories based upon the individual women who have chosen to share their experiences and wisdom. As well, story titles are drawn from key phrases within the narratives themselves, emphasizing the eloquence of the participants. Settee states that she and the contributors have long been in community. Thus, this collection instantiates the vaules of miyo-wichihtowin and wakohtowin through âhkamêyimowak.