Thesis Women Roles

These concepts were written right into the Indian Act, with certain rights afforded to men and women of “good moral character,” as determined by the Indian agent.The Indian agent became, therefore, a sort of sexual policing agent.

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Beverley Jacobs, Former NWAC president and Mohawk activist, “International Law/The Great Law of Peace,” 35.

Despite the vast socio-cultural diversity amongst Canada’s hundreds of First Nations, historians and experts largely agree that a balance between women and men’s roles typically existed in pre-contact Aboriginal societies, where women and men had different, but complementary roles.

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. 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.

Scholar Rebecca Tsosie identifies three common characteristics: gender roles were not ranked hierarchically but rather considered to be complementary, in many cases women were able to transcend gender roles, and “the central role of Native women within their societies is often reflected in the religious or spiritual content of their cultures.” And, as scholars Shari M.

Huhndorf and Cheryl Suzack point out, “although Indigenous women do not share a single culture, they do have a common colonial history.As the colonies consolidated to form the Dominion of Canada, Crown policies were created throughout the country with the goal of assimilating and “civilizing” First Nations peoples based on a European model.These policies had profound effects on Aboriginal women across the country.European men further believed that a woman should remain chaste and “virtuous,” according to their cultural and religious beliefs.Settlers developed and held onto the mythical archetype of the virtuous Indian Princess willing to reject her own people for Christian civilization.Aboriginal women in Canada frequently experience challenges and discrimination that are not necessarily shared by non-Aboriginal women, nor are by Aboriginal men.Aboriginal women have been described as facing a “double-burden” – that for being discriminated against as a woman, and further for being Aboriginal.The Indian Act gave the agent power to jail people, and the agent’s responsibility for registering births, marriages, and those eligible for Indian status gave agents power to punish those who did not conform.While many First Nations customary laws allowed for divorces, Indian Agents forbade them.Historians and other experts also emphasize that women across many First Nations were responsible for land holdings and allocation of resources—they controlled access to certain areas as well as distribution of its products.Ultimately, however, as women’s roles varied greatly between First Nations, they shared similar characteristics.


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