We Are Dancing for You
Native Feminisms and the Revitalization of Women's Coming-of-Age Ceremonies
"I am here. You will never be alone. We are dancing for you." So begins Cutcha Risling Baldy's deeply personal account of the revitalization of the women's coming-of-age ceremony for the Hoopa Valley Tribe. At the end of the twentieth century, the tribe's Flower Dance had not been fully practiced for decades. The women of the tribe, recognizing the critical importance of the tradition, undertook its revitalization using the memories of elders and medicine women and details found in museum archives, anthropological records, and oral histories.
Deeply rooted in Indigenous knowledge, Risling Baldy brings us the voices of people transformed by cultural revitalization, including the accounts of young women who have participated in the Flower Dance. Using a framework of Native feminisms, she locates this revival within a broad context of decolonizing praxis and considers how this renaissance of women's coming-of-age ceremonies confounds ethnographic depictions of Native women; challenges anthropological theories about menstruation, gender, and coming-of-age; and addresses gender inequality and gender violence within Native communities.
Cutcha Risling Baldy's research on the Hupa flower dance is important feminist and Indigenous scholarship as she is not only approaching the subject as a key insider, but she is also exploring what it means in the larger continuum of Hupa epistemologies and ontologies. While this could easily and beautifully linger in the ethnographic realm of scholarship or in the more common California Indian Studies sphere of examining the devastating consequences of colonization and genocide in California, Ms. Baldy instead magnificently pushes the analysis further by developing a Hupa feminist methodology. She models the political possibilities in reviving the dances that are geared especially toward woman. This tribally specific work and her analysis reaches beyond Northern California and into other Indigenous groups who are working to decolonize structures by regaining healthy gendered elements of tribal life and activist work. These insights are key to our understandings of cultural production, gender, and revitalization and vital to understanding solutions for California Indian communities.
A truly significant contribution to the field exploring Indigenous approaches to menstruation and the meaning of womanhood. That it is grounded in the particular culture of the author makes it all the more valuable and unique.
I am in awe . . . Risling Baldy's interventions into the field are many and absolutely necessary. We Are Dancing for You is located in a place, in the lives of a community where the voices of individual women are heard, as is the author's. [This book] locates its authority in community knowledge and language. It pushes back against the outside, primarily white male ethnographic professional as authority.
Part meticulous research, part spiritual journey, and fully in the heart of cultural re-invention, We Are Dancing for You does work that cherishes, educates, celebrates, and enriches our future generations with the knowledge that yes, our bodies are the archive, and the archive is alive and singing.
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