When reading Indigenous American Women the question of why Native American studies in general but indigenous women especially are such a minor part of our education became very clear to me. There are a few elements that pose a challenge for us as a public to learn and understand better Native American women’s history and get out from underneath the cloud of underrepresented and stereotypical thinking of this group of people.
The first of these issues is that the majority of the voices we hear from in regards to this group of people are much skewed with prejudice from white males in literature and the media. First of all a large portion of the writings on Native American women come from the view point of white males. As stated in chapter five; “Throughout American history, white writers, politicians, and military men have authored biased works that describe Natives as being among the lowest forms of life” (25). From the beginnings of our country powerful men such as Theodore Roosevelt have depicted natives as horrible sub-humans. The stereotypes of natives started in the 18th century and have been passed down through writings by powerful white males. Mihesuah states that Native women are the best people to describe what it means to be a Native because they are “those who live it” (29). However they are rarely the ones who are telling the stories as they are instead told by the media, authors, and politicians who continue to further darken their story. As usual in history the story of these women is being told from the viewpoint of the victors. How can we as a public better understand Native American women’s history when the majority of the teachings are from these groups? “My background as a woman, as a woman of color, and as an indigenous woman of color has exposed me to a great deal of prejudice” (144). These prejudices have carried into the workforce whether it is literary or media outlets and have limited the true voices that we need to hear from. Chapter 5 states this perfectly by saying that “Most minority women scholars know that the academic playing field is not always level when it comes to race and gender” (22). Until the voices teaching us about these women come from indigenous women themselves, Native American women’s history will continue to be underrepresented.
The second issue posing a challenge to this part of history is the fact that a majority of the studies on indigenous women are based on theory. Milhesuah states it best in regards to a group of graduate students by saying, “how these graduates could call themselves Indian Historians if they had not worked with specialists in the field of Indian History” (26). The majority of our Indian Historians are learning theories that are taught by non-Natives and then trying to apply the theories to every situation (27). This is how universities are teaching Native study students and these students are then going on to teach the rest of us. The public than believes their teachings to be true which in most cases is far from the truth. Writing and learning about Native women is not an easy task as indigenous tribes take great pride in their culture and traditions and getting first person information like talking to Native women face to face is key in becoming truly educated. Milhesuah states “ but if they are allowed to enter the lives of Natives, they should be forewarned that interviewing Natives is very time-consuming, that interviewers must be sensitive to the privacy and self-respect of those women, and that their project must be important to the women whose voices they utilize” (8). In today’s academic world of quick internet searches and fast past education the necessary steps of studying indigenous women are skipped.
In the end I believe that the two main factors that are hindering us from gaining a better understanding of Native American women’s history are that the voices we hear from on this subject are prejudice and just happen to be in power and a majority of the historians who teach this topic are misinformed using theories. Until these problems are fixed Native American women’s history will continue to be a history not known to many.