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Native Women's Studies: Dialoguing with Community, with Academia and with Feminism

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(Thesis) Ph.D.
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At Malaspina University College, a collaborative effort between members of the First Nations Studies and Women's Studies Departments produced a number of courses in the Women's Studies Department related specifically to and taught by Native women. These courses have been very successful in attracting and retaining a significant number of Native women students. Thirty current and former Native women students worked in collaboration with the researcher (a Native women's studies instructor) to explore, through dialogue, questions emerging from the students' experiences in academic women's studies. Analysis of interviews (individual and focus group) reveals three general areas of focus related to the women's experiences: community, academia and feminism. The women talk of their commitment to the re-creation and maintenance of their respective communities, and to their dreams of a larger, inclusive community where they can be present as Native women. This position is both supported and antagonized by their lives in academia, where they struggle continually with the threat of failure to measure up to standards set by the institution, and with non Native people's general ignorance of the histories and cultures of Native peoples. The Native women's studies courses offer a much-appreciated place for the women to congregate in significant numbers to dialogue on issues particular to them. Paradoxically, they engage in intense and often hostile dialogue with the feminisms they encounter in mainstream Women's Studies. They struggle to reconcile feminism with their positionings as Native women, a conundrum that brings into question the purpose and role of Native women's courses in a mainstream Women's Studies department.
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