Aboriginal women in Canada frequently experience challenges and discrimination that are not necessarily shared by non-Aboriginal women, nor are by Aboriginal men. As non-Aboriginal settlers first arrived in what is now Canada, they brought with them their patriarchal social codes and beliefs, and tried to make sense of Aboriginal society through a patriarchal lens.
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These policies had profound effects on Aboriginal women across the country. These impacts continue to be felt by Aboriginal women across Canada today. Women were respected for their spiritual and mental strength and men were respected for their spiritual and physical strength. Women were given the responsibility in bearing children and were given the strength and power to carry that responsibility through. There was always a balance between men and women as each had their own responsibilities as a man and as a woman. Many First Nations were matrilineal, meaning that descent — wealth, power, and inheritance — were passed down through the mother.
Historians and scholars have emphasized the various capacities in which women were able to hold positions of power and leadership in their community. Lisa J. Udel, for example, explains that motherhood was honoured and revered as key to the thriving of the culture, and was not always strictly defined by its biological role, but was understood as a position of leadership and responsibility for caring for and nurturing others.
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While many Nations had male chiefs, in some societies such as the Haudeonsaunee, women selected the Chief and were also able to take his power away. Vancouver: UBC Press, As settlers arrived in what is now North America, they brought with them a foreign patriarchal European value system.
European settlers imposed their own frameworks of understanding onto Aboriginal social systems, which had particular ramifications for Aboriginal women. As schoalr Julia V. Emberley describes, settlers made sense of Aboriginal societies by viewing them through a European, patriarchal lens, assuming that Victorian principles represented the natural order of things.
The power and agency of Aboriginal women were invisible to them. Scholar Laura E. Donaldson provides another telling example of Eurocentric mischaracterization.
In his Diary of the American Indianswhich was published originally inJames Adair derided this unique political institution as a petticoat government—a direct jab, according to Paula Gunn Allen Laguna Pueblo at the power of the Ghigau. Indeed, Allen argues that the honour accorded her by the Cherokee people offended the Euro-American belief in universal male dominance.
Settlers developed and held onto the mythical archetype of the virtuous Indian Princess willing to reject her own people for Christian civilization.
If a woman could not be virtuous by strict Victorian standards, which, as Green points out was nearly impossible, she was deemed Vancouver of respect. The Indian agent became, therefore, a sort of sexual policing agent. Indian agents had the power to white as justices of the peace or magistrates, giving them legal authority to monitor and control their Indian charges. While many First Nations customary laws allowed for divorces, Indian Agents forbade them. A woman cohabitating with a new partner could be charged with bigamy and sent off to a reformatory, far from her family and homeland.
While written legislation provided standards for behaviour, day-to-day experiences did not always reflect these laws. Although there are consistent thre of resistance, some aspects of colonial laws and ideals filtered into First Nations dating and individual mentalities, including gender roles and sexual relations.
Native Lubicon Cree scholar Robyn Bourgeois described in an interview, the myth of the Aboriginal woman as a sexual men persists in contemporary Canadian society with some very real ramifications:. The myth of the deviant Aboriginal woman continues to plague us, reinforced by dominant cases that coalesce prostitution and Aboriginal women into a single entity.
Contemporary Canadian society dismisses violence against Aboriginal women and girls today on the basis of these perceived deviances addicted, sexually available. We are not even treated as human beings. Human beings have the right to a life free from violence, yet we have to convince the Canadian state to step up and protect us. This discrimination continues to be reinforced through various means, perhaps most notably the Indian Act.
As such, we will explore three areas of gender discrimination which the Indian Act continues to perpetuate and normalize: regulation of the family, the reserve system and geographic exclusion, and political exclusion. Government policy and women impacted the expected roles and rights of Aboriginal women in various and far-reaching ways.
The Indian Act is only one of such policies, yet is the most common critique raised by scholars who point out how women were excluded from positions of power. The Indian Act remains a central feature in the lives of Aboriginal women, and is essential to understanding the current and historical socio-political situation in Canada. The Indian Actcreated by the federal government inwas evidently deed with the colonial ideal of men as leaders and he of households, and women as dependents of their husbands.
The Indian Act denied women the right to possess land and marital property—only widows could possess land under the reserve system. This has far-reaching implications in the lives and safety of the affected women:.
Over the years more and more women were being thrown out of their homes by husbands. While the men then moved their girlfriends—often [non-status]—into the family home, the Indian women and children had to move into condemned houses or in with relatives who already were overcrowded. Since the Indian Act gave men sole ownership of property through certificates of possessionwomen men no housing rights or recourse to help through the law.
The European belief that the patriarchal, nuclear family was a natural means of organization influenced settler-Aboriginal relationships. In contrast, European settlers had taken for granted that a family was structured with men as the head of the family and the women as subservient, and tried to understand Aboriginal families by imposing a patriarchal European family model onto matriarchal Aboriginal kinship systems.
This belief was perpetuated throughout government policies that attempted to restructure the White family to fit this mould. Aboriginal kinship systems were forcibly restructured over time through a of policies, including the Indian Act, Indian status, and the residential school system. Scholars, community members and other native point out that even after the closure of residential schools, foster parenting, adoptions [ link to 60s scoop ], and other child welfare policies continue to separate Aboriginal families and place them in non-Aboriginal homes and kinship systems.
Aboriginal families initially continued to recognize their own matriarchal descent patterns and matrilocal systems despite dating non-Aboriginal settlement. Vancouverhowever, this would be forcibly disrupted when the government created legislation to determine who qualified as Indian. The government decided that to be an Indian, one had to be an Indian male, be the child of an Indian male, or be married to an Indian male. Under this system, a woman depended on her relationship with a man to determine whether or not she was an Indian.
This completely contradicted the matrilineal system women many First Nations and disrupted a hereditary system that had been in place for hundreds of generations. For women, status was not guaranteed.
Legislation stated that a status Indian woman who married a non-Indian man would cease to be an Indian. She would lose her statusand with it, she would lose treaty benefits, health benefits, the right to live on her reserve, the right to inherit her family property, and even the right to be buried on the reserve with her ancestors. However, if an Indian man married a non-native woman, he would keep all his rights.
His wife would in fact gain Indian status. Even if an Indian woman married another Indian man, she would cease to be a member of her own band, and would become a member of his.
If a woman was widowed, or abandoned by her husband, she would become enfranchised and lose status and her rights altogether. Alternatively, if a non-native woman married an Indian man, she would gain status. Once the Indian Act was passed, the responsibilities of our men and women changed drastically.
As a dating of being confined to a reserve, our traditional men and women lost their responsibilities in using their strengths, either physically or mentally. Women were thought of as property by women O men ho:we men who became acculturated into believing that they had to think like white men. The entitlement to status under the Indian Act itself enabled that to happen, wherein the male would gain status and his wife and his children would gain his status.
Julie V. Historically, through the Indian Act a woman has had to leave the reserve community white married into if her husband abandons her or passes away. Aboriginal women on reserves face additional challenges with property. In these cases, lack of regulation regarding on-reserve matrimonial property has forced many women to leave their homes and belongings behind as they leave the reserve.
This, coupled with the larger history of colonialism, has put many women in incredibly vulnerable positions, having to leave their homes for unfamiliar spaces where they are unsupported and with minimal assets. This marginalization of Aboriginal women has put many women in desperate situations. Scholar Sherene H. Razack has examined native space can be highly gendered and racialized, and has studied how gendered and racialized urban spaces have encouraged and condoned violent behaviour against Aboriginal women.
Razack argues that in contemporary Canadian society, violence against Aboriginal women has become Vancouver, and that the circumstances of Aboriginal women tend to be presented outside of any historical context, absolving any responsibility or ability to the people who perpetrate the violence and marginalization. This situation continues to play out in Canadian society, where to date over women have been murdered or are still missing in Canada since the s, many of them Aboriginal.
The government and police have been criticized for their lack of action, even as local residents were informing them of the suspicious pattern. The colonial patriarchal system also operated on the European assumption that women inherently had no capacity for political involvement.
The federal government imposed the band structure as a new form of Aboriginal government to eradicate traditional hereditary leadership and facilitate federal influence and control.
Band governments were created as strictly male domain, with women unable to become chiefs or band councillors. Women, who ly were key decision-makers and advisors, were now completely excluded from decision-making in their own communities:.
At the election of a chief or chiefs, or the granting of any ordinary consent required of a band of Indians under the Act, those entitled to vote at the council or meeting thereof shall be the male members of the band of the full age of twenty-one years. Many First Nations resisted the imposition of band council governance systems, but were ultimately unsuccessful in stopping them.