Canadian Journal of Native Studies Review - The Strength of Women

Reviewed by: Arden Ogg

How does one become an agent for social change? Historically, there are as many different answers as there are individuals, most shaped by the relentless force of necessity. In this book, Priscilla Settee argues that given the sorry state of this world, students need to be much more of the solution (p. 116). And so every year in her Native Women course, she sets students out upon that path assigning them a community service project of their choice as part of their course requirements. Through real-world experiences, some of them will encounter needs beyond their own for their first time; some may even discover personal strength within themselves, as yet untapped.

Harnessing one's inner strength for the benefit of others - living as an agent for social change - is hardly new among Aboriginal women. Woemn are often relied upon as the bakbone of their families and communities. Those who assume this essential role do so not out of ego or personal ambition. Typically, they are utterly uninterested in climbing the White, Western "ladder of success", where one's personal concerns outweigh those of others. The value placed on relationships, a mother's success is shared with her family and by extension, with her community. To cite a phrase used recently by former AFN Chief, Ovide Mercredi in addressing the January 2012 Crown-First Nations Gathering, "From there, we will all rise up".

Through the compilation of Aboriginal women's experiences told by the women who lived them, Settee shares with her students and with us the voices that have inspired her own social activism, encouraging her to "rise up" in company with those around her. She characterizes the thread that connects her subjects with the Cree word âhkamêyimowak, which she associates with perseverance against all challenges. The challenges faced by women living in the space between a rapacious dominant culture and besieged Aboriginal tradition are endless. All of the stories collected here show us strength and persistence, some in the face of profound personal pain, devastating family dysfunction, or the genocidal effects of residential schools. All of the stories unfold in the shadow of colonialism. None of the women in this book is a stranger to hardship.

In a metaphorical way, this book is a roadmap, now showing "where the path may lead," but rather a record of the diverse and unique trails blazed by fifteen very different Aboriginal women, each finding her way as best she can through the difficult territory between the "old world" and the "new." Through her life experiences, artistic expression, their spirit and their work, they bring honour to their communities. Their remarkable paths hold the power to inspire us all.

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