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Essay: Lee Maracle’s Bobbi Lee Indian Rebel

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  • Published: 15 July 2022*
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  • Words: 1,934 (approx)
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  • Tags: Feminism essays

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Lee Maracle’s Bobbi Lee Indian Rebel reveals the untold narrative of Indigenous women in Canada. The book is styled in as an autobiography and follows the life a young Indigenous woman plagued with challenges of poverty, addiction and oppression. Taking place mainly in Toronto Lee Maracle describes the up rise of activism on issues of race and gender. Lee’s experiences are used to manifest and reflect ongoing issues existing within Indigenous communities today. Lee’s autobiography proves the power of testimony. By linking generational resistance Lee transforms her present by recovering her past. Lee’s testimony provides an analysis of female Indigenous narratives in Canada. This will be contrasted with recent indigenous social movements in Canada and reflect the contribution of Lee’s narrative to social movements today.

I. Summary of Content

The book follows the life of Bobbi from early childhood into adulthood. Bobbi was born in Vancouver, she was the daughter of a metis woman, and had seven siblings. Her childhood was filled with difficulties and struggles of poverty. She was kicked out at sixteen years old, and moved to the United States with friend named Toni (Maracle, 2017, p. 27). This didn’t last long, Bobbi eventually had to go back to Vancouver to help her family. However, nothing was ever permanent to Bobbi. Soon after moving back to Vancouver she left to Toronto, to help her brother (Maracle, 2017, p.47). Her brother had been pushing drugs and found himself addicted. Shortly after Bobbi became addicted as well. However, Toronto brought her to the fore front of anti-racist demonstrations (Maracle, 2017, p. 59). This had been her first experience in politics, though marginal her experience transformed her outlook. At eighteen Bobbi was back living in Porterville with Toni. She had gotten off of drugs and was working towards a better life. She had been introduced to the Native Alliance for Red Power, she became an active member in the group (Maracle, 2017, p.87). NARP became Bobbi’s driving force, she had noted issues and the effect of oppression on the Indigenous community and was focused on changing it.

The autobiography follows the life of Bobbi Lee and proves that hardships and the oppression of others does not limit ones’ ability to rise above. Lee’s life had been plagued with hardship. Her family and friends faced issues of addiction, harassment, rape and violence. These themes are presented through an autobiographic form. However, they provide the reader with an analytical tool on how to asses issues affecting Indigenous communities. Her story brings forth the stereotypes of Indigenous communities, and life on reserves and challenges their cause with government neglect and outside oppression.

II. Critical Assessment

Contribution to the Field of Social Movement Studies:

Lee Maracle’s Bobbi Lee Indian Rebel frames the ongoing issues existing within Indigenous communities. By allowing the reader to inspect the most personal aspects of Lee’s life, we are able to follow the struggle and the necessary need for change. Social movements are founded by grievances felt by a community whether they regard economics, governance, or based on issues of identity (CITE). The Indigenous communities in Canada offer a unique grievance, Indigenous communities have been stripped of their lands and rights and have become dependent on an institutionalized system.

Maracle’s autobiography defines pivotal moments in her life that help describe social grievances of Indigenous communities regarding economics, governance and identity. We see economic grievances through her families living situations in Vancouver, as well as her brother Ed’s in Toronto. Issues of cyclical poverty continue as a prominent theme throughout the book with issues of addiction and dependency. In regard to governance we see through Lee’s life the neglect she faces as an Indigenous woman. Her younger sister had been a victim of rape, due to lack of governance and availability of resources nothing was done (Maracle, 2017, p.41). Another incident involved Lee, while hitchhiking a group of men attempted to take advantage of her (Maracle, 2017, p.79). Similarly, she feared her grievances would not be heard, or even that she would not survive the incident. She had known that had anything happened to her it would be unlikely that justice would ever be served. Her community had been stricken by poverty and addiction was subject to neglect by government officials. Maracle’s book opens a window into the life of Indigenous people living in Canada, her contribution to the field of social movement studies aids the mobilization of Indigenous narratives.

III. Historical, Political, and Social Themes

Indigenous communities in Canada have been historically neglected and ostracised by the Canadian government. Maracle’s autobiography follows her life through the 1970’s, this is the beginning of second wave feminist movements and civil rights movements (Thompson, 2002, p.338). The political climate of the time was centered on the ideals of change. In the United States reformations were being made in government allowing the full protection of African Americans from discrimination. Political tensions regarding race were rising (Thompson, 2002, p.338). This meant discourse across most western countries was directed by notions of injustice.

In Bobbi Lee’s experience as a child, politics seemed out of reach. It is important to note when focusing on issues of injustice regarding the Indigenous community that they are entrenched institutionally. Bobbi Lee’s mother was a metis woman, meaning both of her were not indigenous. In many cases metis people are revoked from Indigenous rights claims. Metis rights are particularly discriminatory towards women. Metis women, who’s fathers are non-indigenous will not have permission to the same rights as other Indigenous people (Dubois & Saunders, 2013, p.190). This is significant in the progression of movements regarding Indigenous rights.

In 1982 the Canadian Constitution underwent reformations and created new provisions regarding the protection of aboriginal treaty rights (Nikolakis, 2019, p.59). Such rights include the right to self-govern, this was unclearly defined and took up until 1995 to clarify and amend (Nikolakis, 2019, p.58). The right to self-government allowed for Indigenous communities to govern internal issues regarding their own communities (Nikolakis, 2019, p.59). The aim of this was to further nation-building and economic independence. However, these outcomes have not yet been realized. There are continuous debates over land rights and Indigenous identity and freedom. In modern politics, Maracle’s book legitimizes the concerns and grievances her community faces. By creating a normalized discourse of Indigenous truths, grievances are more likely to be heard and aided.

IV. Contribution to Feminist, Indigenous and Anti-Racist Movements

Maracle’s work contributes to modern day feminism as it emphasizes intersectionality. Up until recently feminist discourse has neglected the unique experience of minority women. Second wave feminism began in the 1970’s and initiated discussions of multiracial feminism (Thompson, 2002, p.338). Maracle’s book follows Bobbi Lee’s experience as a young woman in the 1970’s and discusses her first encounters with politics, and feminist discussions. Lee like many at the time was excluded from discussions or feelings about feminism, because of the injustice felt by her and her community.

Injustice is not always easily defined or framed, and for many injustices has been a constant in their reality. Maracle discusses issues of addiction and violence faced within the indigenous communities. Without explicitly saying “this is unfair” she paints a picture of injustice in its many colors. The story of Bobbi Lee opens a discussion of Indigenous and feminist movements in the 1970’s. The contribution of the autobiography to feminist and Indigenous movements is its honest recollection of pain. The 1970’s followed the Civil Rights movement, and anti-racist movement primarily taking place in the United States (Thompson, 2002, p.340). Lee became involved in rallies and demonstrations while living in Toronto (Maracle, 2017, p.59). She had felt marginalized at the time and was unaware of the impact of her presence. She had learned a lot from Doug, the man she had been living with. Still however in those discussions there is a focus on a anti-racist male narrative (Maracle, 2017, p. 62). This however later inspired Bobbi Lee to pursue such action in her own life. Her involvement in anti-racist demonstrations gave her a taste of activism, this allowed her to reflect on the ongoing issues in her own community.

Lee became involved with the Native Alliance for Red Power at the age of 18 (Maracle, 2017, p.87). This group became a driving force in her life, it allowed her to discuss issues of violence, addiction and injustice in her community. Institutionalism controls the lives of many Indigenous people living in Canada (Arthur, Derrikson & Klein, 2017, p.68). A perception has been created by the government that has controlled the narratives of indigenous people. The goal has been to assimilate the Indigenous communities. In order to have control over these communities their land has been seized by the government, they were then forced on to reserves, and their economic interactions became controlled (Arthur, Derrikson & Klein, 2017, p.68). Her focus and involvement with the Native Alliance for Red Power was to empower Indigenous communities across Canada and put an end to negative stigmas.

V. What Frames her Experience

Neoliberal theorist would define the indigenous experience as one constructed by political elites, government and economic institutions. Neoliberal policies are rooted in colonial sentiment, and their outcome has not only dismantled Indigenous communities, they have also blamed them for their conditions of life (Altamirano-Jimenez, 2018, p.45). The Canadian state has privatized Indigenous lands and has created a precarious indigenous citizenship different than a Canadian citizenship (Arthur, Derrikson & Klein, 2017, p.68). The dispossession and privatization of land by the Canadian government has created a form of dependency and again has made the federal government the donor of rights to these communities (Arthur, Derrikson & Klein, 2017, p.69). This frames all Indigenous experience. Indigenous communities across Canada are exposed to poverty, issues of addiction and mental illness often ending in suicide. The experience of these communities is dominated by federal policy limiting their ability to find the necessary and proper resources.

Beyond issues of land rights and cyclical poverty, Indigenous women are exposed to a certain form of violence. Across Canada indigenous women have been murdered and have gone missing (Altamirano-Jimenez, 2018, p.44). These cases have never been solved and are likely to sit on the shelves of police stations across the country. This relates back to second wave feminist movements and discourse regarding the unheard voices of minority women (Thompson, 2002, p.338).

VI. Conclusion

Lee Maracle’s Bobbi Lee Indian Rebel is an autobiography following the life of empowerment. The book follows themes of injustice and tells a narrative of an indigenous woman taking control of her life. The difficulties faced by the lead character Bobbi Lee surround issues of addiction, violence and poverty.

As a Canadian citizen, indigenous rights have always been a topic I have advocated for. However, I can be an advocate and an ally, but I can never fully understand the life of an indigenous person living in Canada. Maracle’s book gave me the opportunity to learn more about the issues plaguing the community and the growth and empowerment women like Maracle have had. Indigenous rights and indigenous women’s rights are still subject to controversy in Canada. As a citizen of the country it should be each individual’s duty to know the history and issues surrounding us. Indigenous communities in Canada have been historically neglected and abused. My suggestion to future readers is while reading to remember this is not the story of just one woman, this is the story of many. Change cannot happen without the full support of the nation. It is this generations responsibility to help right the wrongs of the Canadian government, and aid the indigenous communities gain their independence and identity.


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