Andrea Smith, Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, Cambridge: South End Press, 2005, 244 pg.
In this powerful work, Cherokee scholar and activist Andrea Smith provides a complex, richly layered analysis of the intertwined processes of sexual violence and genocidal state practices on Native communities. Drawing from her experiences as an activist within Native political struggles, Smith explores ongoing genocidal practices against and within Native communities using an intersectional analysis that demonstrates the ways in which gender, sexual, and racial violence are deeply imbricated in one another. Smith argues that it is critical to understand that “gender violence is not simply a tool of patriarchal control, but also serves as a tool of racism and colonialism. That is, colonial relationships are themselves gendered and sexualized (1).” Smith uses the trope of sexual violence not merely as a metaphor for the colonial and contemporary genocide of Native peoples but as the modality through which these processes take place. She explores how discourses of Native bodies, particularly those of Native women, dehumanize them by representing them as dirty, polluting, violent, inherently rapable, and ultimately as expendable. While sexual violence may be readily apparent in the history of rape and forced sterilization of Native women, Smith reveals the multiple ways in which sexual violence plays a role in the ongoing genocide of Native peoples. By exploring the patterns of medical testing without informed consent, internment at boarding schools, environmental degradation of Native lands and the persistent usurpation of Native lands and the dismissal of the sovereignty of Native communities, Smith challenges us to rethink our understanding of the criminalization and erasure of Native peoples.
Smith skillfully outlines the violence that Native communities confront. However, the most innovative aspect of this work is found in the ways that she squarely locates political activism in her analytical work, particularly in Chapter 7 “Anticolonial Responses to Gender Violence.” The central question in her analysis of gendered violence is not how to create more effective models (i.e. “culturally relevant,” preventive, etc) for treating sexual or domestic violence but rather, “What would it take to end violence against women of color (153)?” To that end, Smith presents various models culled from her experiences as a political organizer for how we might combat genocidal practices of sexual violence. She offers examples of activism and community justice by referencing the work of numerous organizations across the country such as the Brooklyn-based group, Sista II Sista/ Hermana a Hermana, that works with young women of color; Communities Against Race and Abuse (CARA), which organizes against police abuse and promotes the abolition of the prison industrial complex; and Friends Are Reaching Out (FAR Out), a Seattle organization that which works with queer and LGBT communities of color. Many of these organizations are committed to working with those communities that are marginalized by the mainstream antiviolence movement: queer people, sex workers, women of color, young women, incarcerated women and men, and immigrants. By providing these models, Smith demonstrates how activists and scholars alike might work to adopt antiviolence strategies that are mindful of the larger structures of violence that shape the world in which we live (151).” In other words, fighting against violence solely from a gender perspective is not enough if it doesn’t speak to the entire complex of oppressions that engender sexual violence.
Conquest is a stunning example of the possibilities that emerge from socially engaged and theoretically rigorous scholarship. It is clear that Smith, who is an active member of Incite! Women of Color Against Violence, has produced a work that is steeped in radical tradition of U.S. women of color feminisms. It is hardly surprising that Conquest mirrors similar work on the antiviolence movement and the intersections of race and gender in the prison industrial complex being done by Incite! activists and scholars such as Beth Ritchie and Julia Sudbury. Smith’s commitment to utilizing women of color feminist practice and theory is reflected in her ability to describe the particularity of Native women’s experiences of racial, gender, and sexual injustice and place it in dialogue with the experiences of other women of color, particularly Latinas and women of African descent. In other words, while Smith is clear about the particularity of Native women’s experiences of sexualized genocidal violence she locates it within a larger framework of what bell hooks refers to as “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” that diminishes the lives of non-white communities, and non-white women in particular, across the globe. As her work demonstrates, the survival of communities of color depends on how well we can incorporate these insights into our activist work. Conquest as both critique and activist model, presents a vision of how we might struggle for holistic, intersectional justice in our communities.