FWF Quarantine Q&A: Ambelin Kwaymullina

Ambelin Kwaymullina is a writer, illustrator and law academic, who comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Her book Living on Stolen Land is a prose-styled look at our colonial-settler ‘present’.

What does feminism mean to you?

Honestly? I’ve mostly experienced it as an agent of exclusion. Many Indigenous women have spoken to this (including the amazing Aileen Moreton-Robinson whose groundbreaking work Talkin’ Up to the White Woman has just been released in a twentieth anniversary edition). So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that feminism in settler-colonial lands has shut out Indigenous women and misappropriated our struggles. There is much more understanding of this than there was once was, but there is still exclusion. Sometimes this takes place in new ways – such as ecofeminism where Settler women claim a connection to land that erases Indigenous women’s sovereignties; or any form of feminism which excludes transgender women and denies a place to all the strong Indigenous sistergirls.

Indigenous women are not another intersection existing within the context of Settler feminism. On the contrary – feminism in settler-colonial nation-states takes place on the sovereign lands of Indigenous women, and all Settler women who are not Indigenous benefit from the violent dispossession of Indigenous women (white women most of all). Too often, Indigenous women are made a sideshow to the main event of Settler women (generally white, middle-class Settler women) marching towards equality. But the sense of progress is illusory because the march is taking place in the context of settler-colonialism, and equality achieved and perpetuated by standing on the backs of dispossessed Indigenous women is no equality at all. Unless respectful relationships with Indigenous women and our sovereignties is the first and primary concern of feminism, it becomes a means through which settler-colonialism reinscribes itself and equality will never be within reach of anyone.

I say in Living on Stolen Land that:

Settler-colonial lands
will only be decolonised
when the structures of settler-colonialism
have been replaced
by structures grown out of respectful relationships
with Indigenous sovereignties

What might feminism look like if it was grounded in respect for Indigenous women’s sovereignties?

You are known for YA and picture books. What was the impetus for the birth of Living On Stolen Land? What was your inspiration for its poetic-prose style?

I’m a law academic and for over a decade I’ve been writing (in the form of academic articles) to many of the matters covered in Living on Stolen Land; I’ve also done cultural competency work around relating respectfully to Indigenous peoples. Living on Stolen Land is the culmination of all that thinking and work. The poetic-prose style was the most accessible form of writing I could come up with; I wanted to write these ideas in a way that meant everyone could engage with the content. 

In your poem Listening you write:

Are Indigenous peoples speaking
and not being heard?
Do Indigenous peoples want to speak
but have no opportunities?’

Do you feel in this current climate of Indigenous Lives Matter protests and social media ‘blackouts’ that Indigenous voices are being heard, and do you have hope that meaningful change will come about?

I do have hope. But I also have a sense of, it’s great that so many people are here but where has everyone been? Indigenous peoples have been fighting for justice – and shouting out about injustice – for a really long time. I hope people they stay in this conversation, and commit to doing the work of allyship and forming genuine partnerships with Indigenous peoples to create lasting change.

Could you share some reading, listening or social recommendations?

In addition to all the Indigenous women whose work is linked to above, I’m re-reading the powerful Indigenous poets Ellen Van Neervan and Natalie Harkin; I’m enjoying the incredible storytelling (including through art) of the Indigenous creators who have produced deep narratives of culture and history in picture books such as Cooee Mittigar and Alfred’s War; and I’m meditating on the incisive Indigenous critical thinking offered online by Jacinta Koolmatrie, Teela Reed, Allison Whittaker, Claire Coleman and Kirli Saunders.

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