Consent, Violation, and Indigenous Peoples

February 8, 2010

I spend a lot of time thinking about rape and sexual violence.  These are topics that I am particularly interested in as a feminist and an activist.  Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about the use of the word “rape” to mean something other than, well, actual rape, and I haven’t been quite sure where I come down on it.  I just read something, though, that parallels this discussion, and I think is particularly relevant when we’re thinking about how to conceptualize rape and, more broadly, consent and violation.

In her book, Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, Andrea Smith talks about the many (many, many) ways native people in North America have been seriously fucked over by colonialism and modern (especially U.S.) government policy.  She includes a quote from a Native woman who belongs to a tribe that the government non-consensually experimented on by placing a nuclear reactor on tribal lands to see how much environmental radiation people can safely take in through “food, water, milk, and air.”  The woman describes the harm to her people, principally in the form of cancer cases, and then says “Is this what it feels like to be raped?”

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