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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Wrestling with Fire: Indigenous Women’s Resistance and Resurgence


Indigenous activist movements are often articulated through the concepts of struggle, resistance, and resurgence. Indigenous women activists often tie these concepts to vocabularies of responsibility and obligation. Nelson examines the root meanings, contested uses, and pragmatic roles of struggle and resistance in Indigenous women’s activism, including her own experiences as a Native woman and scholar-activist. She articulates this struggle through the concept of “wrestling with fire,” which serves not only as a metaphor for activism, but also as a unique approach by Indigenous women who have specific responsibilities to the natural elements. Real fire and the fire of activism can bring both destruction and renewal, and these interrelated and complex processes have always played important roles in indigenous land management, culture, and spirituality. An ethnopoetic analysis on the role and power of fire in ecological processes and Indigenous oral literatures concludes the essay, with a proposal for how to incorporate Indigenous ways of being in reciprocal relationship with the regenerative power of fire.

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