Not Missing, Not Murdered: Rebelling Against Colonial Gender Violence

by Abaki Beck

Our piece this week is Not Murdered, Not Missing: Rebelling Against Colonial Gender Violence by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. This is a powerful, personally reflective essay about colonial gender violence in Canada, focusing on murdered and missing Indigenous women. She asserts that within Anishinaabeg society, they expressed gender fluidity; people of all genders contributed to the economy (by hunting or preparing foods) and family life (like child care) and were able to openly express their sexuality. The rigid gender binary was imposed by colonists 1) because it was their own worldview and they viewed Indigenous worldviews as savage and 2) it would allow for further exploitation of Indigenous people by destroying their families, communities, and relationship to the land.

Because of this history, she argues that the state shouldn’t be depended on to address colonial gender violence (for example, she critiques the necessity of the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women). Instead, she argues that Indigenous communities need to learn how to deal with colonial gender violence from within, with a focus on supporting the victims. Indeed, because colonial gender violence is so deeply interwoven with the history of oppression, land theft, and attempted assimilation of Indigenous peoples in Canada, she argues that addressing gender violence should be at the center of all decolonization and resurgence movements. She reflects that she personally doesn’t know how to effectively deal with gender violence, and many tribal communities don’t either.

This is an impactful reading for several reasons. Primarily, it asserts the importance of recognizing Indigenous gender expressions. The Anishinaabeg defined gender broadly, and individuals were not limited to a certain job in society based on their gender. Additionally, Simpson notes that this broad definition of gender meant the contemporary/western gender hierarchy was not necessarily in place in Indigenous communities: women and children were given agency and power as were men. As she states, “Strong communities are born out of individuals being their best selves.” Second, this piece recognizes that ongoing fights for Indigenous rights and justice are inextricably linked to colonial gender violence. It is crucial to view historical and contemporary gender violence (imposing of the gender binary, stripping Indigenous communities of their traditional family and kinship structures, rape and sexual abuse, etc.) as impacting contemporary violence against women and Indigenous struggles. Until this ongoing gender violence is both recognized as colonial and as significant in how we define community, family, and being, we will continue to impose colonial ideals onto our communities.

POC Online Classroom strives to make readings and resources that celebrate the intellectual tradition and knowledge production of marginalized communities more accessible. Rad Reading is our series that highlight texts to read and writers to support! We will post every Tuesday.