What is Ecofeminism Anyway?
Community Forums
Grassroots Activism
Ecofeminist Perspectives
Links to Allies
Ecofeminist Resources
Back to Eve Online

Native American Spirituality
"On Common Ground: Native American and Feminist Spirituality Approaches in the Struggle to Save Mother Earth"
by Judith Todd
From The Politics of Women's Spirituality: Essays on the Rise of Spiritual Power Within the Feminist Movement, Edited by Charlene Spretnak, New York: Anchor Press, 1982.

"For All Those Who Were Indian in a Former Life"
by Andy Smith
From Ms. Magazine, November/December 1991

Background on the context in which this essay was written.

Date Readings Were Discussed: June 1, 1992
Present: Colleen M., Robin Z., Catherine C., Lisa B., Cathleen M., Bernadette C., Christine J., Bobby C., and Peggy C.

Andy Smith's compelling essay on European American feminists who appropriate Native American spirituality articulates an important analysis of racism. She specifically targets purported feminists in the New Age movement, a movement several women described as politically problematic (see Monica Sjöö's work on New Age Patriarchy).

There are feminists, however, who practice Wicca, Goddess worship, paganism, etc. Although these gynocentric spiritualities share an earth-based focus with Native spirituality, we felt they certainly have a dynamic and raison d'être altogether their own.

By implying a monolithic feminist spirituality (linked to the New Age), the potent political nature of embracing prepatriarchal spiritualities gets elided. As Judith Todd writes, by the time Europe colonized the Americas

". . . the Old Religion with its spiritual awareness of the sanctity of the living Mother Earth had been rather thoroughly destroyed; natural human feelings of connectedness with the Earth had been suppressed so that no European remnant of a spiritual worldview stood in the way of industrialization and capitalistic exploitation.

But here, in the hearts and minds of the Native American peoples, was that same loathsome Earth-reverence again. It had to be contained and, hopefully, destroyed lest it resonate with the white population, remind them of their own ancient, prepatriarchal spiritual heritage, and prompt their consciences to check the progress of patriarchal `civilization.'"

Smith's primary criticism is directed against white women who profit from or superficially consume Native spirituality while ignoring indigenous struggles for human rights, survival, and recovery of stolen lands. As her closing cri de coeur proclaims, "Our spirituality is not for sale."

Several women identified with Smith's principled stance since New Age Patriarchy also co-opts and commercializes alternative spirituality. (Such exploitation is, of course, nowhere near as pervasive or rapacious as the abuse of indigenous rituals and sacred objects, nor for the most part is racism involved.)

Some women asked whether it is ever okay for non-Natives to participate in Native spirituality. A few women strongly advocated that if interaction is to take place, it should only happen after one has re-searched and re-claimed one's own prepatriarchal spiritual/cultural roots. Only then can non-Natives engage in genuine sharing instead of the usual take, take, taking.

One woman expressed frustration by the thought of being locked out of other cultures. As a descendant of various European ethnic groups, she felt estranged and disconnected from roots which had been severed several generations ago. Providing she is sincerely respectful, she asked why can't she just "be here now" and devise a multicultural persona of her own making. A woman of color lent her support by remarking that spiritual principles are universal, and that all peoples simply overlay them with their own cultural coloring.

One woman countered by saying that at this time, in this age, it may not be appropriate for white people to experience the cultures of people of color. In a world dominated by white supremacy, she argued, the privilege of white skin always makes for an unequal exchange. Another woman felt that privilege—be it race, class, gender, whatever—can and should be used for positive social change.

Most women appreciated Smith's opinion that cross-cultural sharing is possible, but only if it is truly respectful: "The way to be respectful is for non-Indians to become involved in our political struggles and to develop an ongoing relationship with Indian communities based on trust and mutual respect." [emphasis in original] She disapproved, though, of white people who ". . . join in our struggles solely for the purpose of being invited to ceremonies."

Another woman disagreed with the position that sharing in another culture's spirituality is permissible only if one is politically active in that group's specific issues. She spoke about her previous activism around James Bay and its direct connection to Inuit land rights. She refused to concede that her current work with toxic wastes should somehow preclude her from sharing in Native spirituality simply because the work does not explicitly involve Indians. She believed that progressive activism in the ecofeminist spirit of an interconnecting web of life has a rippling effect on all cultures and ecosystems.

The discussion moved in the direction of peoples wanting and needing their own space. One white woman talked about the women of color tents at women's music festivals and how she feels disappointed that she can't always be included. But she added that she absolutely respects the need at this stage in patriarchal history for people of color to have separate space.

We all felt that women likewise need safe space. Even though she supports racial and gender separatism, another woman maintained that dialogue is imperative, especially among women of all races. She advocated that the strongest counterforce to the Global State of Patriarchy is the sustenance and harmony of diverse women's culture. The patriarchy wants to keep us apart in accordance with its divide and conquer strategy. Citing Malcolm X, she observed that if you don't know your history and the history of others, then you'll never know your friends from your enemies.

One woman felt that feminists of European descent most certainly have historical roots for political and spiritual solidarity with Native Americans. She noted that at the exact same time Columbus et al were waging genocide against Native Americans, women in Europe—many also practitioners of nature-based spirituality—were confronting gynocide in the form of witch hunts. Who knows what outrage European women would have summoned forth in opposition to the holocaust in the Americas had they not been experiencing their own holocaust.

All women agreed, however, that shared historical oppression does not excuse white women from working on their own racist behavior. To that end, we acknowledged Andy Smith's influential contribution to our struggle to wipe out racism in all of its manifestations.

Back to Essay Topics