Native American Women Challenging Gender

A FEMSPEC Review by Carol A. Zonza, English major and Lanette Flower Scholarship Winner 

FEMSPEC is an interdisciplinary feminist journal dedicated to critical and creative works in the realms of science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, surrealism, myth, folklore and other supernatural genres, and sources edited by Dr. Batya Weinbaum, Assistant Professor, and published in the Department of English at Cleveland State University. Native American Women Challenging Gender through Speculative Means in Literature and Art is a special themed issue with a Southwestern flavor, and Southeast influence, that will raise the interest of the speculative techniques to interrogate gender roles used by Native women from different backgrounds. 
     The writings and art in this special issue highlight myths, folklore, magical power, magical realism, and the focus on the interweaving of the real, and the surreal, as well as the tribal real. These works increase the interest not only of the different cultural locations, but also of the better understanding of the stereotypes, new images, and theories about these indigenous cultures and the extraordinary Native women of different tribes who write about them. 
     The Southwestern focus appears in Leslie Marmon Silko's works discussed in critical articles by Robert Gish, Sandra Baringer, and Delilah Orr as well as in the original Plains poetry of Sara Littlecrow Russell whose poetry stems from her activism around indigenous sovereignty and other concerns. "Bear, Mountain Lion, Deer, and Yellow Woman in Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony" by Delilah Orr, stresses spiritual renewal and ceremonial recovery. She shows how the American Indian novel Ceremony focuses on Southwestern tribal folk literature and the importance of the roles of the powerful animal spirits of the Bear, the Mountain lion, and the Deer with their guardian, Yellow Woman. This critical study of literature uses traditional prose narratives and oral tradition, Pueblo Indian religion and ceremonial rituals, and Navajo traditions with Yellow Woman as a wild game god. The author also examines the uses of oral tradition that indicate the dynamics of cultural change. 
     As for the poetry of Sara Littlecrow Russell, one poem presents a sad recall of an Indian past with Indian tears, the second shows the disappointment of a Native shopper and the blue eyed Native American Barbie in a local toy store, and celebrates finding .pretty brown dolls/at the end of the craft and hobby aisle/of the local Kmart/rows and rows of sweet dark faces/patiently waiting to provide/occupational therapy for/crochet-crazy grandmas" (88). 
     In "Dream Poet: Marijo Moore," Suzanne Zahrt Murphy shows Marijo Moore as a dream poet as well as a Cherokee woman with a voice of nature and spirit blending. Moore's works are about traditions that are a link to culture and survival as indicated in "Going to Water," a powerful sacred example of a blessing ritual using a chanting voice. 
      Moore's writings even depend on her dreams for guidance as they discuss contemporary issues. 
     Elaine Kleiner and Angela Vlaicu's "Revisioning Woman in America: A Study of Louise Erdrich's Novel The Antelope Wife," uses powerful qualities of identities with culture from Erdrich's own racial and ethnic mythology of artistic inspiration and discusses her frequent use of trickster characters. The Antelope Wife also contains four major parts of Ojibwa hero cycle mythology and the chief religious rite, centered around the "Medewiwin," or Grand Medicine Society. Erdrich's novel protects and celebrates the cores of cultures left in the wake of European invasion while telling the untold stories of contemporary survivors. 
     Annis Vilas Pratt reviews Paula Gunn Allen's poetry in Life Is a Fatal Disease, telling of alienation and "enwholement" and defining the Native American's alienation. Alienation becomes the theme in four other poems as Alien's collection moves chronologically stressing her many identities, images, and ancestral notes reweaved from bitterness and loss into hope and beauty. 
     The issue also includes criticism by Márgara Averbach, Roseanne Hoefel, and Tom Matchie; a review by Kaila Schwartz of Erdrich's children's books; fiction by Janet McAdams, Dawn Karima Pettigrew, and Stephanie Sellers; and interesting art by Kat Ball, America Meredith, Kelly Jean Church, and Allison Francisco. 

Native American Women Challenging Gender through Speculative Means in Literature and Art. Editor. Batya Weinbaum. Special issue of FEMSPEC Volume 2, Issue 2. 2001.