Book Review: #Notyourprincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy & Mary Beth Leatherdale (2017)

September 12th, 2017 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

“We aren’t historic figures; we are modern women.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for allusions to violence against women, suicidal ideation, genocide, and racism and sexism.)

It’s strange to me how people always want me to be an “authentic Indian.” When I say I’m Haudenosaunee, they want me to look a certain way. Act a certain way. They’re disappointed when what they get is . . . just me. White-faced, red-haired. They spent hundreds of years trying to assimilate my ancestors, trying to create Indians who could blend in like me. But now they don’t want me either. I’m not Indian enough. They can’t make up their minds. They want buckskin and war paint, drumming, songs in languages they can’t understand recorded for them, but with English subtitles of course. They want educated, well-spoken, but not too smart. Christian, well-behaved, never questioning. They want to learn the history of the people, but not the ones who are here now, waving signs in their faces, asking them for clean drinking water, asking them why their women are going missing, asking them why their land is being ruined. They want fantastical stories of the Indians that used to roam this land. They want my culture behind glass in a museum. But they don’t want me. I’m not Indian enough.

(“The Invisible Indians,” Shelby Lisk)

Because history moves like a fevered heat down through the arteries of generations
Because PTSD to the family tree is like an ax Because colonization is the ghosts of buffalos with broken backs
Because today only burning flags could be found at the ghost dance of my people

(“Stereotype This,” Melanie Fey)

I feel like I should begin this review with a word of caution: If you see any complaints about formatting problems ahead of the pub date, disregard them. The Kindle version of this ARC is indeed a hot mess, but this is par for the course when it comes to books with a heavy graphic element. The acsm file, read on Adobe Digital Editions (which I loathe, but happily suffered for this book!), gives a much clearer picture of what the finished, physical copy is meant to look like. And, if Amazon’s listing is any indication, #Notyourprincess: Voices of Native American Women will only be released in print.

That said, #Notyourprincess is fierce, vibrant, and nicely organized. It feels a lot like an experimental art project, and I mean that in the best way possible. Within these here pages you’ll find an eclectic mix of personal essays, poems, quotes, photographs, line art, watercolors, comics, portraits of activists and athletes, and interviews with Native women. #LittleSalmonWoman (Lianne Charlie) even adopts the format of an Instagram page, while “More Than Meets the Eye” (Kelly Edzerza-Babty and Claire Anderson) profiles ReMatriate, which shares images of modern Native women on social media in order to reclaim their identities and broaden our ideas of what a “real” Native American woman looks like. (The quote in my review’s title comes from Claire Anderson, a founding member of ReMatriate.)

The topics touched upon run the gamut: genocide, colonization, forced assimilation, cultural appropriation, kidnapping, rape, domestic violence, mass incarceration, mental illness, sexuality, addiction, street harassment, homelessness, and intergenerational trauma.

As with most anthologies, #Notyourprincess is a bit of a mixed bag; although, as a white woman, I’m 110% positive that Indigenous readers will get more out of it than I did. Much to my surprise – since I don’t always “get” poetry – some of the poems are among my favorites. Helen Knott’s “The Things We Taught Our Daughters” is a searing and heartbreaking indictment of interpersonal violence, rape culture, and the patriarchy, while Melanie Fey tackles intergenerational trauma and contemporary bigotry with equal passion and anguish in “Stereotype This.” (Both of these are examples of the book’s eye-catching design, fwiw.)

I also enjoyed the pieces that mixed visual and written media; e.g, “My Grandmother Sophia” by Saige Mukash and “It Could Have Been Me” by Patty Stonefish. Shelby Lisk’s “The Invisible Indians,” quoted at the top of this review, is a powerful rebuttal to Western notions of what a “real” Indian looks like (and brings to mind the 2016 book, ‘All the Real Indians Died Off’: And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz & Dina Gilio-Whitaker).

My absolute favorite piece is the lone comic in the collection, “A Tale of Two Winonas” by Winona Linn. An f-you to the doomed lovers trope, Linn addresses such heady topics as suicide, rape, forced marriage, colonialism, and racism and misogyny with humor and wit – and all in a mere two pages. I was thrilled to see in the “Contributors” section that Linn is currently in Paris, working on a graphic novel.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I did not mention “Real NDNZ,” Pamela J. Peters’s profile of the Real NDNZ Re-Take Hollywood project. This photo series takes scenes from classic American films and replaces them with images of Native actors – thus highlighting and reimagining the racist stereotyping of classic cinema, while also combating the invisibility of Native actors in modern film. #Notyourprincess includes some rather stunning portraits of Shayna Jackson as Audrey Hepburn and Deja Jones as Ava Gardner.

 

(Click on the image to embiggen.)

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(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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