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In present-day Japan Indigenous Ainu women stitch together ancestral values and global Indigenous activism to challenge bitter legacies of settler racism and colonial erasure. Instead of orchestrating this resistance in spectacular mass protest or raucous clashes with the state, they invoke ancestral knowledge and inhabit ancestral spaces through clothwork as a silent yet politically potent resistance to these erasures. Ainu women’s expressions of Indigenous modernity in Japan, a nation which has long denied the presence of Indigenous peoples and its own history of settler colonialism, directly clash with narratives of Japan’s imagined homogeneity. These spaces of cultural vitalization allow Ainu women to move between “being Ainu,” a racist label attached to Ainu bodies by settler society, to actively “becoming Ainu” and determining what this means through their art. By placing their ancestors at the heart of their resistance, Ainu women reinstate ancestral balance through gendered labor and gender complementarity, refusing the settler patriarchy and vertical gender hierarchy imposed by the colonial state. In this Ainu women reject majority Japanese and Eurocentric models of feminism, insisting on an Indigenous Ainu feminism and imagining women’s empowerment through their grandmothers and elders. Drawn from long-term relationships with Ainu communities and a sustained engagement with a multi-generational group of Ainu women, the book offers insights into the complex dynamics and centrality of Ainu ancestors in these women’s life-worlds.
The Fabric of Indigeneity is the first comprehensive text to address contemporary Ainu cultural politics and situate them in a conversation with global Indigenous studies as well as Japanese and Asia Studies. The book’s focus on women and gender in Indigenous society provides a unique perspective on different understandings of gender practices and contrasts steeply with mainstream Japan or mainstream European societies. This is the first text to examine the history of settler patriarchy and settler colonialism in Japan from the perspective of Indigenous Ainu women. Further, lewallen argues that Indigenous studies must expand its arc to critically engage with non-western Indigenous communities and models of settler colonialism toward articulating a more globally sensitive and responsive Indigenous studies. As such, lewallen proposes new directions for the analysis of settler colonialism and Indigenous mobilization in other Asian and Pacific nations.