Indigenous women in 'unexpected places'

Why I play off of Delorias formulation of unexpected places (Deloria 2004) here is that few people immediately associate Indigenous women with the history' of lesbian feminism in the United States. The Women in Print movement in the United States grew out of an urgent need by selfidentified feminists in general and lesbian-feminists in particular to create a cultural space where their words could be heard and shared (Hogan 2016; Morris 1999). The inclusivity of the Women in Print movement when it existed grew out of active and ongoing contestations about what feminism was/could be/should be and who feminist were/could be/should be.‘Outreach’ and access for underrepresented groups of women — women of colour, Jewish, disabled, working-class, and poor women — was a part of this ethos. While 1 agree with the important critiques have been made about the push for‘inclusion’within a multicultural frame and the particular erasure of those seeking sovereign space rather than incorporation into a multicultural collectivity, it is worth noting that if multicultural formations exist; they provide the necessary yet not sufficient ground for more radical revision. Thus, even as the erasure/incomprehension of Indigenous-specific issues as such was as widespread in the (lesbian)feminist movement as it was and remains in both mainstream and non-Indigenous counter-hegemonic US worldviews, a space was opened for Indigenous women’s voices under the ethic of inclusion that would not have otherwise existed.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the US printing trade was dominated by white workingclass men, many of whom held conservative cultural values that were threatened by the rise of womens and gay liberation movements at that time.The mechanics of printing involved large, heavy dirty machinery; ‘typesetting’ required picking up individual metal letters and arranging them in words, sentences, paragraphs, and pages. Printing presses were big, noisy and potentially dangerous, and knowledge of their workings was passed down in apprenticeships and unions historically closed to women and to men of colour.

Activist women experienced problems getting their broadsheets and posters about everything from abortion rights to lesbian dances printed by printers who claimed their material was obscene. Thus, they decided to take the means of production into their own hands and acquire printing presses of their own. Once these presses were acquired and their mechanics learned, the next obvious step was to expand printing production and learn to produce pamphlets, journals, and books.The self-help aspects of the 1960s and 1970s feminist movements were a key element in this. Skills and knowledges that had previously been coded as male were taken on by feminists who then felt a political responsibility to share their knowledge with other women.

The production of books and journals required their distribution as well as a network to publicise their existence. Women s bookstores and coffeehouse spaces emerged to fill that void. The coffeehouse/performance space could be a part of the bookstore space or a floating event in a church or community centre venue where poets, singers, musicians, and comedians could reach a feminist audience.The independent bookstore — whether ‘women’s’‘gay’ or other served as far more than a space that housed books for purchase. In the pre-internet days, bulletin boards were literal and material, holding scraps of paper scrawled with requests for roommates, items for sale or wanted, event flyers, and political posters. The bookstore was a public space where fortuitous encounters could occur; a seemingly unlikely parallel can be drawn to Samuel Delaneys brilliant analysis in Times Square Red/Times Square Blue of the public space of porn theatres and sex shops in New York City as places where cross class, cross racial and cross social grouping connections were made (Delaney 1999). 1 would argue that for feminists the womens bookstore offered a similar dialectic of both random and directed encounters and that the loss of that space has had detrimental effects on the possibilities of community building of relations and knowledge.

The feminist bookstore was a crucial site for transmitting local and national information beyond the bookshelves. The physical location drew visitors from out of town as well as connected women from the same area who might not have met each other in other venues. A national network of book sellers and event promoters communicated with each other through word of mouth and eventually through two crucially important movement publications: Carol Seajay’s Feminist Bookstore News and Toni Armstrong s Hot Wire Magazine.

The imperative to speak the unspoken in the service of creating positive social change is what drove the creation of the plethora ofjournals, small presses, chapbooks, zines, the development of feminist, gay, and/or ethnically based community archives to disseminate and preserve that speech. The grassroots network of feminist women who established a base for literature and criticism that previously no mainstream publishers would touch was one of the most significant accomplishments of the post-Civil Rights women s movement in the United States.The underlying ethic of this kind of knowledge production is communal political and cultural growth; its goal is not financial profit or credentialisation. Women with extremely limited economic resources stole hours from the clerical, organising, or low-status academic jobs worked for survival and created journals, novels, and poetry chapbooks, bookstores, presses, coffeehouses, and cultural festivals. Community-based work that overlaps but exceeds academic spaces has been a critical and often unremarked on force in developing anti-racist and anti-colonial consciousness.

This is not to say that its participants were all anti-racist and anti-colonial, far from it, but that building skills and infrastructure intended to provide space for sharing a plurality of womens voices provided a space for Indigenous women s work that did not exist in the same way elsewhere, and that did not exist for Indigenous men.

Iowa City, Iowa might seem like an unlikely home for lesbian feminism, but it gathered writers and activists who produced powerful conferences like the 1989 Parallels and Intersections: Racism and Other Forms of Oppression, and created and maintained a lesbian collective journal of prose, poetry, and art with national circulation, Common Lines/Lesbian Lines, from 1981 to 1996.

Paula Gunn Allens poem ‘Some like Indians Endure’was published in Common Lincs/Lesbian Lines1 in 1982 and her angry response to the editors’ omission of her Indian identity in their bio of her followed shortly (Allen 1982a). She noted that this omission changed the readers’ understanding of the poem, making it seem like just another example of non-Indian gay and lesbian cultural appropriation (Allen 1982b). Perhaps somewhat ironically, the poem’s next publisher was gay white male anthropologist Will Roscoe in his anthology Lining the Spirit (1988). Roscoe’s (1988) OUT/LOOK National Gay and Lesbian Quarterly' article on ‘The Zuni Man-Woman’ was scathingly critiqued by editorial board member Ramon Gutierrez in his response ‘Must We Deracinate Indians to Find Gay Roots?’ (Gutierrez 1989).

In response to the colonial stigma against and erasure of both women’s power and non-het-eronormative gender and sexuality' formations, Allen offered a valorisation of what she describes as a ‘ceremonial lesbian’, or ‘medicine dyke’ in her widely' influential 1986 book The Sacred Hoop: Reconering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions, claiming a correlation between non-heteronormative identities and spiritual power and leadership, rather than marginalisation or scorn (Allen 1986). Significantly, like the majority of her work, this book was not published by' an academic press, but by’ one known for its social justice advocacy, the Unitarian Universalist Beacon Press. Like other work produced on the margins, The Sacred Hoop saw heavy use in classrooms within the academic institutions that would not have been willing or able to produce it.

Along with the decolonising emphases of Allen’s refraining comes an echo of the 1970s lesbian feminist reversal of stigma embodied in the iconic and multiply awarded lesbian feminist poet and critic Adrienne Rich’s formulation of ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ and the existence of‘a lesbian continuum’ on which all women he (Rich 1980). Rather than being‘unwomanly’, peripheral to the women’s movement, and/or a ‘lavender menace’ lesbians were framed as the most woman-loving and the most politically woman-identified women (Rich 1980). Similarly, Allen posited special and superior qualities for these roles across tribal nations. Subsequent critics have questioned the simplicity and homogeneity of this salvo, yet at the same time I think it is important to remember the contexts of erasure and contempt that these reclamation and revision projects grew from. In the United States, it was community-based political movements — Black Power, AIM, Gay Liberation, Women’s Liberation, Anti-War, and Anti-poverty' that enabled the racism, colonialism, and misogyny shaping canonical knowledge formation in the academy to become more widely apparent.

Allen’s partnership with white working-class poet Judy Grahn in the 1980s included their hosting of weekly' womens spirituality discussions on Sundays at Mama Bear’s Bookstore (1983—2003) a lesbian feminist bookstore/cafe/cultural space on the Berkeley/ Oakland border. Mama Bear’s was founded by Alice Molloy and Carol Wilson after a contentious split between workers in their first bookstore collective I.C.I-A Woman’s Place Bookstore and a lockout resulting in arbitration and litigation. Allegations of racism and conflicts over versions of feminism shaped the split, which resulted in the existence of two different stores. The original Woman’s Place basement housed the Women’s Press Collective, publisher of works by collective members Willyce Kim, Pat Parker and Wendy' Cadden along with Judy Grahn (Cutler 2015).

While Allen had a career inside academia where she built recognition of the existence of American Indian literature as well as her community-based work, Beth Brant /Degonwadonti (Bay of Quinte Mohawk) and Chrystos (Menominee) were two of the Indigenous women writers whose work was only widely circulated and made legible through the existence of lesbian feminist publishing networks crossing the US and Canada borders. ‘Women’s bookstores’ always meant feminist bookstores, substantially but by no means solely lesbian-feminist. This kind of categorical elision allowed the genre of‘women’s music’ to be described as such when its demographics were largely lesbian and predominantly white (Reagon 1983).

Beth Brant’s work was first widely circulated through Sinister Wisdom, a literary journal of primarily lesbian writers, poets, critics, and artists, which at the time of this writing has survived 44 years past its origin in this era, through 114 issues and 13 editors, maintaining a commitment to racial, ethnic, class, and age diversity throughout its publishing history. In 1982, editors Michelle Cliff and Adrienne Rich encouraged Brant to compile and edit the first anthology' of contemporary American Indian women’s writing, A Gathering of Spirit: Writings and Art by North American Indian Women, which like other path-making work was printed as a special double edition (Brant 1983) before being produced as a book (Brant 1984). In a circle of return, Sinister Wisdom’s most recent double issue is the anthology’ A Generous Spirit: Selected Work by Beth Brant, edited by Janice Gould, who passed away shortly' after its completion (Gould 2019). Gould was a personal friend of Brant’s, while the author of the anthology's afterword Deborah Miranda never met her in life, but both were profoundly' impacted by Brant’s work and by this writing, this evidence of existence.

The power of these anthologies is rooted in a history where small press anthologies have had an enormous impact in both coalescing (feminist) communities and making the analyses of/from those communities legible to others. In the United States, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (Moraga and Anzaldua 1981) amplified and spread the formation ‘women of colour’ as a political identity and locus of production throughout academic and non-academic space. American Indian women were present in that early formation through the work of Barbara Cameron (Hunkpapa Lakota, Fort Yates band), Chrystos, and the former Anita (now Max) Valerio (Blackfoot), while co-editors Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua addressed Indigeneity through Chicana lenses.

Chrystoss poems ‘I Don’t Understand Those Who Have Turned Away from Me’ and ‘Ceremony for Completing a Poetry' Reading’ in This Bridge reflect her passionate and ambivalent relationship with feminist community (Moraga and Anzaldua 1981: 68, 191—2). It was Chrystos who put Indigenous issues front and centre into lesbian feminist networks through her prolific writing, speaking, and activism. Often the sole voice speaking about sovereignty and land struggles within lesbian feminist circles, she was angry at these absences. As a poor/ working-class lesbian she gained cultural capital through the circulation of her poetry' and her readings but financially supported herself for many' years by working as a maid for a wealthy Bainbridge Island household. At Out/Write 90, the first national lesbian and gay writer’s conference created by' OUT/LOOK National Gay and Lesbian Journal' that I coordinated while a graduate student, she told me that she used to turn tricks at the conference hotel in its former incarnation, to the great interest of the hotel wait staff surrounding us. She both enjoyed shocking people and was also angry that so many of the issues she wrote and spoke about were shocking to those with the privilege of never experiencing them (Hall, 1991).

Four of the five books of poetry Chrystos published were through the Vancouver-based feminist collective Press Gang in aesthetically beautiful editions designed by Vai Spiedel: Not Vanishing (Chrystos 1988), Dream On (Chrystos 1991), In Her I Am (Chrystos 1993), and Fire Power (Chrystos 1995). Press Gang’s publishing arm evolved from its 1974 origin as an all-women’s printing trade collective that supported women’s entry into the trade, to becoming a separate entity — Press Gang Publishers Feminist Cooperative — in 1989 (Wayback Machine 2002; Simon Fraser University Archives n.d.).

While Chrystos’s relationship with Press Gang and the feminist publishing industry was also passionate and ambivalent, I think it is fair to say that her powerful and beautiful world-changing work would not have been fostered in any other literary context of the time in the nexus of sexism, racism, homophobia, and classism shaping the non-feminist publishing environment. Her work circulated in book, broadsheets and reading and had a profound impact on many, including Deborah Miranda (Esselen/Chumash), who later published her own pathbreaking history/poetry/memoir Bad Indians (Miranda 2012) with a non-academic small press. My first introduction to Miranda was through her essay on Chrystos’s work,‘Dildos, Hummingbirds and Driving Her Crazy’ (Miranda 2002), exploring the absence of explicit eroticism and sexuality in work by and about American Indian women. These moments of textual connection are like messages in bottles that light in the hands of those who need to read them. The work does not get canonised or reliably stay in print, and yet it circulates to be recovered.

On the East Coast, Sister Outsider (Lorde 1984), an anthology of speeches and essays by Audre Lorde was promoted by Nancy Bereano while an editor at the Crossing Press prior to founding her own lesbian feminist Firebrand Press in Ithaca, New York. Audre Lorde is arguably the lesbian feminist writer whose work remains in the greatest circulation (especially in contemporary social media) and whose work has been taken up within academic contexts that previously ignored its subject matter. In an article written for the Feminist Wire, an online site that “seeks to valorize and sustain pro-feminist representations and create alternative frameworks to build a just and equitable society” (n.d.: online), and thus revitalises engagement with past and present feminist analyses, Bereano noted:

Lorde’s work was not taken seriously during her lifetime by many who now regularly sing her praises. Very few straight women, either African American or White, called her ‘sister’. Political men, both African American and White, rarely included her work as they publicly deconstructed oppression. Academics, with few exceptions, did not deem her worthy of analysis or inclusion on their required reading lists. And, in the few instances where her writing received attention either literarily or politically, it was her poetry that was noted. The fact that her prose was published exclusively by small independently owned women’s presses was both a result of the major houses’ narrow perspective and the fact that Audre Lorde’s prose, particularly her myth-shattering essays, was instrumental in framing a changing reality for many women, primarily lesbian women (a readership long dismissed by the mainstream publishing world).

(Bereano 2014: online)

In the service of reflecting on and changing realities, Firebrand published and distributed nationally and internationally over 90 books of fiction, poetry, and prose — almost a third of which were written by lesbians of colour and women from a variety of Nations — Janice Gould (Koyangk’auwi/Maidu), Beth Brant (Mohawk), Carole LaFavor (Ojibwe), Jewelle Gomez (loway, Wampanoag heritage) and Vickie Sears (Cherokee), as well as by Wendy Kose (Hopi/ Miwok) and Anna Lee Walters (Pawnee/Otoe-Missouria) from 1985 to its closure in 2000. This is a remarkable record, and proportionally American Indian in a way that I do not think is matched by any other single small press.

There is some dissonance between Bereano’s robust history of feminist activism — including anti-racist, LGBT rights, and ageing issues — and its lack of engagement with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy surrounding her, or with Indigenous politics nationally — while simultaneously providing a remarkable level of material support in publishing this work and these authors. My assumption is that this was a positive material outcome of multiculturalism discourses of the 1980 and 1990s in combination with the ethos of inclusivity embedded within a grassroots lesbian feminist movement intent on including ‘all women’ but that did not focus on significant constitutive structural differences, and that the US racial binary of Black and White structured her thinking even as she published works outside of that binary.

It is worth exploring the geopolitical context in which Bereano’s press operated. Ithaca, New York, is in Haudenosaunee country, on the territories of the Cayuga Nation, whose members were largely driven out and dispersed to the Six Nations reserve across the Canadian border and other spaces in the United States. Although Indigenous erasure is the norm in the United States, Haudenosaunee activism and anti-lndian racism made contemporary ongoing Indigenous existence and resistance episodically newsworthy to the mainstream press in New York State, including struggles over casinos, land-claims, and disputes about Cayuga governance, as the Cayuga Nation embarked on a resettlement project in their homelands. Unlike other US locations where I have taught, in upstate New York non-Indigenous undergraduates were aware of ongoing Indigenous existence. 1 give this brief background to highlight that it is more difficult for politically engaged non-Indigenous activists to be unaware of contemporary Indigenous struggles in this location even as the normative erasure and placement of Indigeneity as something of the past continues to frame non-Indigenous US social justice movements.

Most relevant to this chapter, the nearby organisation NOON (Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation), a group of mostly white Syracuse area residents who felt some responsibility to learn about the histories and needs of the Onondaga whose land they occupy, created a well-attended educational speaker series that included dialogues between Sally Roesch Wagner, a white feminist historian focused on the early US women’s rights movement, and Jeanne Shenandoah, an esteemed midwife and Eel Clan Traditional Medicine Keeper of the Onondaga Nation (Wagner 2001; Shenandoah and Wagner 2006). Wagner has long contended that the early white women’s suffrage leaders who came together at Seneca Falls for their famous initial convention were inspired by the Haudenosaunee women whose powerful presence and respected social roles they were witnessing in neighbouring Haudenosaunee communities. The interesting question for me is how does this conversation disappear, and why has Wagners work in Sisters in Spirit (2001) not been taken up for further exploration, or even just dispute by white feminist activists in the area?

Certainly, political passion and commitment to ideals of social justice was the fuel of lesbian feminist work, not professional advancement or monetary gain. Lack of material resources meant that undercapitalisation was an ongoing threat to the most successful of feminist presses, due to the absurd economics of bookselling in which production costs and payments are so widely separated (Miller 2006). In another moment of unexpected juxtaposition, it was the popularity of cartoonist and now MacArthur award-winning graphic novelist Alison Bechdel’s community-inspired ‘Dykes to Watch Out For’ (Queer Comics Database) comic collections that in many ways subsidised Firebrand Press’s production of less commercially sustainable work. Vermont-based Bechdel’s work explored the relationships between a wide range of characters, whose ages, physical abilities, size, racial, sexual, gender, political identities presented the best of lesbian feminist communal possibilities, warts and all, with humour and complexity. But with all its attention to the anti-racist and anti-imperialist political lives and commitments of its multiple characters, there was still an Indigenous absence.

Some of these absences were filled from other unexpected places — the small presses responsible for the circulation of Indigenous women’s writing in the United States were of course not limited to lesbian feminist publishing, but what they all shared was an interest in analyses that would benefit social justice movements, not a focus on scholarly disciplinary norms.Three of the most influential non-fiction books by Indigenous women who held tenured positions in the academy, yet whose political, cultural and intellectual work exceeded those confines are Haunani-Kay Trask’s From A Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawai'i (1993); Paula Gunn Alien’s The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American IndianTraditions (1986), and Deborah Mirandas Bad Indians (2012).

Trask’s book was first published in 1993 by the Maine-based Common Courage Press, whose mission stated:

By publishing books for social justice, Common Courage Press helps progressive ideas to find a place in our culture. The press provides a platform to spread these ideas to activists and ordinary citizens alike. It has sold a total of over one million copies since its founding in 1991, and its books have been translated and reprinted in 24 countries. ... More important, the press has given a voice to people and organizations who might otherwise never have been heard, and inspired many who might otherwise have stayed silent.

(Wayback Machine 2006: online)

It took another six years for a revised edition of From A Native Daughter to be published by a university press (Trask 1999).

As mentioned earlier, Allen s Sacred Hoop (1986) was published by the Unitarian Universalist Church’s Beacon Press, who describes its work as:

An independent publisher of serious non-fiction. Our books often change the way readers think about fundamental issues; they promote such values as freedom of speech and thought; diversity, religious pluralism, and anti-racism; and respect for diversity in all areas of life.

(Beacon Press n.d.: online)

Most recently, Deborah Miranda published her book Bad Indians (2012) with Heyday Press, self-described as:

An independent, non-profit publisher founded in 1974 in Berkeley, California. We are a diverse community of writers and readers, activists and thinkers. Heyday promotes civic engagement and social justice, celebrates nature’s beauty, supports California Indian cultural renewal, and explores the state’s rich history, culture, and influence. Heyday works to realize the California dream of equity and enfranchisement.

(Heyday Press 2015-2020: Online)

I record so much of these presses’ mission statements here both to highlight emphases on equity, enfranchisement, and social justice inspiration motivating their work and to raise the question of how those qualities do or do not impact academic publishing. The editors of those presses may not have known much if anything about the intricacies of American Indian gendered roles, Hawaiian sovereignty or California Indian resistance to the Missions prior to taking on these projects that have inspired so many field-changing conversations in the academy and activist inspiration beyond, but their commitment to social change created a platform for this work.

There is a great deal of excellent work produced through academic publishing networks whose authors are motivated by those goals, but the academic systems of validation of that work do not address those goals as centrally important, if addressing them at all. Authors holding those values thus have to work against a structural grain to publish within those contexts. Upholding disciplinary norms that are indifferent to if not actively hostile toward social change (i.e. activist) oriented work is another layer of work that can impede the development of analyses that can change practices in the world.

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