Taté Walker: Feminism is not a single story 


Intersectionality in feminism matters. Or, as author, activist and feminist Audre Lorde put it, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives.”

Feminism is not monolithic. And that’s why, if we as women are to come together, we must start considering the huge disparities that exist between white women and women of color. Consider just one factor: The huge health and wellness gap for women of color.

Earlier this month as part of a health equity learning series, The Colorado Trust invited award-winning multimedia storyteller, community-builder, and social justice and indigenous rights activist Taté Walker to speak. Taté (which means “wind” in Lakota) dips their toes in a lot of creative pursuits — they’re a photographer, a young-adult novelist and the former editor of Native Peoples magazine, and their essay “Origins” was recently published in the collection Fierce: Essays By and About Dauntless Women. But they came to Denver’s History Colorado Center to educate the audience about violence against indigenous women in the United States.

Taté, a Mniconjou Lakota and a citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (one of the tribes that famously protested the Dakota Access pipeline in 2016), identifies as a “banner-waving two spirit feminist and Indigenous rights activist” (they/them/mother).

And, in light of historical and present-day violence against indigenous women, Taté’s work couldn’t be more important. According to the Indian Law Resource Center, “more than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence, and more than 1 in 2 have experienced sexual violence.”

“Violence has stalked indigenous women of the Americas since explorers and settlers began colonizing this land,” says Taté.

Historical trauma that has been perpetuated through colonialism, slavery, war and genocide has generational tentacles that are effective even today, says Michelle Sotero, assistant professor of health care administration and policy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Environmental violence is also inextricably connected to the health of indigenous women whose cultural traditions and being are not separate from the land. Taté notes, “Nation borders are arbitrary, and our indigenous brothers and sisters north and south of the so-called United States experience similar violence.”
Similar to large numbers of African-American and Latino women whose health care is often compromised by high poverty rates and substandard patient care, indigenous people face barriers to health care. But there’s an additional strain: Indigenous people who live in rural/reservation areas may be many miles from the nearest clinic. And Taté says the recent government shutdown affected indigenous health care clinics through limited staff and adding to already long wait lists.

What little health care is available often doesn’t consider the specific needs of indigenous people: For instance, culturally appropriate care for rape and domestic violence trauma. (Locally, the Haseya Advocate Program of Red Wind Consulting works to help indigenous people with such challenges.)

Taté says all hope is not lost. It’s up to those who wish to shoulder the burden with native communities to push for advances in health equity for future generations. The first step is to listen to indigenous people, and then use whatever privilege you may have to push for needed changes.

Taté says that means that “white or white-passing folks” need to “get past our defensive reactions, and recognize, uh, I have work to do and my ignorance has me all up in my feelings, but as a quality individual it’s up to me to do better and ensure my circle around me does better too.”

Wondering what you can do? Taté suggests calling your legislators, considering indigenous folks when you vote, and learning more about indigenous culture (particularly if you work in the nonprofit sector and want to help directly).

Here’s another idea: We could abolish Columbus Day and formally replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. As we take the time to come together as women and support each other, intentionality speaks for itself. Feminism that fails to recognize intersectionality is not solidarity. Or as Audre Lorde put it, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

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