Elevate Difference

Keeping the Campfires Going: Native Women’s Activities in Urban Communities

Keeping the Campfires Going: Native Women's Activism in Urban Communities is a collection of essays featuring the struggles and triumphs of Native women living in urban communities. Written about people living throughout North America from San Francisco to Chicago to Vancouver to Anchorage, the essays focus on the role that women have played in keeping their native people connected as a community. The range of women and communities presented gives a broad, yet still specific, view of the conflicts overcome and those still being addressed.

Traditionally (based on reading the book and not attempting to generalize) Native and Aboriginal communities were rural, at times isolated, and not urban. Increasingly the Native and Aboriginal population is growing in cities. The challenge to holding onto one’s past and identity in the face of pressure and a changing world is magnified. The struggle in finding a home, literally and metaphorically, as both a woman and a Native American or Aboriginal is illuminated and discussed. The women are negotiating finding and keeping a place within the native community as well as making a place for themselves within the larger, non-native community.

The women are standing up to be heard and to be seen, and to confront and to change the stereotypes and misconceptions about their place in the world. A quote from a flyer distributed in Vancouver sums up much of the book for me: “We are Aboriginal women, givers of life. We are mothers, sisters, daughters, aunties and grandmothers. Not just prostitutes and drug addicts. Not welfare cheats. We stand on our Mother Earth and we demand respect. We are not here to be beaten, abused, murdered, ignored.” They are embracing their past and their heritage, and they are claiming a place in today’s society.

The essays are well-researched and professional, and while there are personal stories and anecdotes given, the focus is on academia. Many of the contributors are anthropologists and professors. The challenge they face as women is made two-fold because of their Native or Aboriginal background, and I had not before been as truly aware of the depth of the challenge.

Written by: Kristin Conard, November 17th 2009