Yesterday we celebrated the International Day of the Indigenous Peoples and with that, we celebrate the many contributions, successes, and fierce history of the Indigenous nations.
One such recent example is a new film. On Friday, August 5, 2022, the new Predator franchise movie Prey was released on Hulu and quickly became the most watched premier on the streaming service to date. However, the streaming record is not the most important part of this film. Rather, it is its representation of Indigenous. Set 300 years ago in the Comanche nation, Prey follows the journey of Naru, a fierce warrior who faces off with an alien species, a Predator. When this Predator arrives and danger emerges onto her tribal land, she goes out to make sure her people are safe by successfully battling against the creature. Despite not being seen as capable because she is a woman, Naru takes on the challenge. What makes this film unique is the placing of a young indigenous woman as the warrior protagonist along with the fact that the film was simultaneously released with a dubbed version in the Comanche language. Prey ultimately highlights the importance of Indigenous people, specifically the Comanche, and their contributions to our world.
As exemplified by the film Prey and throughout history, it is easy to see that Indigenous women are the pillar of their communities. They care for the family and resources while also keep the scientific knowledge. Many have gone as far as being representatives in the fight to defend their land and fight for rights for their people. “However, despite the crucial role indigenous women play in their communities as breadwinners, caretakers, knowledge keepers, leaders and human rights defenders, they often suffer from intersecting levels of discrimination on the basis of gender, class, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.”[i]
Women in these communities suffer “high levels of poverty; low levels of education and illiteracy; limitations in the access to health, basic sanitation, credit and employment; limited participation in political life; and domestic and sexual violence.”[ii] Though, there has been some progress for Indigenous women’s rights ranging from decision-making processes in some communities, achieving leadership in communal and national roles, and standing on the protest frontlines to defend their lands and the planet’s decreasing biodiversity. Despite all the progress, the reality remains that Indigenous women are not seen or represented and are negatively affected by decisions made for them making them too often victims of discrimination and violence.
“This International Day of Indigenous Peoples, let’s reclaim the role of these heroines.”
One way we can reclaim these heroines is by digging in to the past to see where they paved the way for others. Far too often the suffragette movement which led to the passing of the 19th amendment has been exclusionary in its retelling. “For the longest time, the word “suffrage” has been aligned with the historic passage of the 19th Amendment, a decree ratified a century ago…outlawing discrimination of voters on the basis of their sex. But in reality, such shorthand, couched in twentieth-century white feminism, was exclusionary.”[iii]
When we learn about the history of the suffragette movement, we hear names like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, but, there were so many more people involved. White women are given the glory for the 19th amendment without any trace of the women of color who paved the way. Some of these women were Indigenous women. “Lawyers such as Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Tribe, Yankton-Sioux writer, Gertrude Simmons Bonnin also known as Zitkala-Sa, and Omaha lecturer Susette La Flesche Tibbles”[iv] were pivotal in the movement for women to get the right to vote. Indigenous women participated in numerous ways including participating in suffrage parades, making compelling speeches, and writing commentary. However, most important to note is how these women were a basis of inspiration for the women’s suffrage movement. One such way they inspired the leaders of the suffragettes was “remarks Native American women had made at the 1888 International Council of Women, the first meeting of women’s rights advocates in the Western world. Historians noted that Native women from across Indian Country were the only suffragists in attendance who held legal right to their own possessions or property. Yet, these societal structures were the target of aggressive colonization tactics of the era steeped in Christianized ideology and racist “civilization” policies. In this regard, suffrage for Indigenous women represented a greater purpose: their sovereignty.”[v] This shows how Indigenous women paved the way for women’s right to vote but due to a white historic retelling. These women were robbed of their contribution and like their people have been pushed out.
On this week, when we celebrated the International Day of the Indigenous Peoples, we must remember, reflect, and research all the ways Indigenous women played vial roles in our history. Even though we are seeing more representation in popular media, such as in the film “Prey” we still have a long way to go. Colonization, imperialism, and a whitewashed history have taken so much from Indigenous people. We, as a society, need to work to discover the truths and break down the injustices that they have endured. However, we must also not play the savior as has been seen throughout history. Indigenous people, particularly women, must be given the opportunity to empower themselves and assert their way into the history they have been a part. “Over one hundred years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the prolonged political and symbolic disenfranchisement of Indian Country has its place, again, in reflecting on the passage of laws that shift power for the betterment of all Americans, not just Native Americans. In this way, the Native vote — precious, if not almost sacred — represents the most powerful tool we have in our democracy, though not yet fully realized.”[vi]