Canada as a country is undergoing colonialism which is deeply affecting Indigenous communities. Our country was founded on patriarchal values, and this disrupted the role Indigenous women have in society. We see gendered-colonialism being the most disruptive when we look at how Indigenous people were assimilated. Assimilation was justified through the Indian Act which allowed our government to forcefully implement laws that expressed social injustices for Indigenous populations. I will speak specifically about Indian-status and how this term of identification impacts women of what was historically a matrilineal community. I will bring into context the severity of cultural superiority from a subjective stance. Through these stories, I will speak of how reconciliation is a metaphorized, and Indigenous women are still experiencing discrimination in our contemporary world that embodies patriarchal laws in a colonial country.
In this blog post, I will use the term “Indian” when discussing Indigenous people who are legally categorized in the eyes of the state as “Indian.” I will also use the term “Indigenous” to speak of “Indians” under the Indian Act. It is important to note that not all Indigenous communities in Canada use the term “Indigenous” and not all Indigenous communities are impacted by the Indian Act in the same way. These terms will limit my research and analysis.
Status cards are a form of identification that was implemented by colonial settlers. Before the amendment Act in 1985, Indigenous women suffered greatly in regards to their right to claim status. Status membership affected women’s ability to claim ownership of land on reservations, acquire social benefits and the ability to pass along Indian-status to their children. If Indigenous women did not marry a status-Indian, she then lost all of her rights as an Indigenous person of Canada.Harry write that”between 1876 and 1985 approximately 25,000 Indian women lost Status and had to leave their communities” (Harry 21). This was very damaging for Indigenous communities as their societal identification process relies on matrilineal ties in regards to clan membership.
Today, status cards are based on blood quantum. However, blood quantum is based on marriage and parental ties and this creates confusion. The identification process was determined by patrilineal connections to Indigenous heritage. It was not until 1985 that the Act was amended and Bill-C 31 became the new criteria for Indigenous peoples to gain status.This Act allowed for Indigenous women to regain their Indian-status if they lost it through marriage. However, even though they were able to eventually gain status, the gender-discrimination impacts were felt for continuing generations. Indian-status cards labeled and still continue to label those who meet the standards of the government’s minimum blood quantum. In order to be an “Indian” in our contemporary society, an Indigenous person must have 6(1) or 6(2) classifications. 6(1) and 6(2) are numerical terms that indicate whether or not one or both parents have Indigenous descent.Palmater recognizes that “these two classes are unequal in one important respect: the ability to transmit Indian status to their children (Palmater 44). 6(1) “Indians” have gained status because both of their parents also have possessed Indian-status. Whereas on the contrary, 6(2) “Indians” have status but are not granted the ability to transmit that status to their children. The legislative context and the role of state in regards to this system of identification is crucial for understanding the “current political and social relationships that divide Indigenous peoples, their communities and nations” (Palmater 23). This legal system legitimizes the oppressive social structures of Canada.
It is evident that the Indian-status card was created by a patriarchal society which aimed to create a strong social divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. However, as we looked at the history of patriarchal influence when Canada was being founded, we recognize the perception men of power had in regards to female presence. Indigenous women were stripped of their status if they did not marry another “Indian.” For me, this an interesting concept to analyze because many Indigenous governing systems, including Haida where I come from, prior to colonial contact were predominately run by the women of the community. Indigenous women held the knowledge and rule of laws of political practices such as specific ceremonies that go along with certain functions. Historically Indigenous women pass down knowledge, teach other community members their wisdom and make political decisions. In Stevenson’s article, the scholar compared how European women are perceived in comparison to Indigenous women. Stevenson states that “European women were chaste dependent on men, [whereas] Aboriginal women had considerable personal autonomy and independence-controlled their own sexuality, had the right to divorce and owned the products of their labor” (Stevenson 46). In a patriarchal society, men assume the nature of women and the “ideal women was characterized by virtues of piety, submissiveness, and domesticity (Stevenson 46). Patriarchy is “about the valuing of masculinity and maleness and the devaluing of feminity and femaleness” (Johnson 224). Status cards are an example of “the ways gender privilege and oppression are organized through social relationships and unequal distribution, opportunities and resources” (Johnson 114). Androcentric assumptions made by colonizers disrupted community structures regarding gender roles and these impacted territorial claims, working roles and the voices of women in decision making.
It is clear that colonization aimed to domesticate Indigenous women. Living in a world where women are oppressed and fitting into the even more oppressed minority group makes it difficult for Indigenous women to succeed. The intersectional consequences often lead to socio-economic despair, and this is when we have Indigenous women stereotyped as “welfare queens.” The imposed legal structures of Indigenous communities have made it difficult for Indigenous communities to revitalize their traditional way of life. The Eurocentric views of the Canadian government assumed that Indigenous women’s role were insignificant to society, led to women not being able to participate in political issues or even own a piece of land. Historically, the matriarchs of the clans usually made the important decisions, and the men of the community were messengers of their decisions. Today, we see an overrepresentation of men in contemporary Indigenous political regimes such as Band Councils. Band Councils are government systems that were created for Indigenous reservations. Only those who obtain Indian-status are able to live on these lands. The unequal representation of women in Band Council positions mimics our Canadian federal government. Harry brings to point that, Indigenous women resisted patriarchal structures however,”status women were unable to vote in band elections until the Indian Act of 1951″ (Harry 22). For a huge portion of time Indigenous women were discriminated against and unable to contribute their perspectives on societal issues.
Women are continuing to be left out of conversations in political and social contexts. Indigenous women and their rights need to be thought about in a decolonizing manner. Much of the Canadian population does not acknowledge factors such as “race, histories of colonization, and the structural inequities between the so-called developed and developing nations (1 Bhandar, Ferreira da Silva).Today, women as an entire gender, are regaining their proper representation in the politic domain and these movements are fostered by feminist ideals. Fraser speaks of how feminism is represented in Canada, but she leaves out the Indigenous story of this civil rights movement (1 Fraser). It is evident that “whites have been beneficiaries of civil rights legislations” (Ladson-Billings 12). This brings to light more complex issues that portray “cultural sexism.” Even though women are fighting for equal rights that men acquire at birth, these potential rights are viewed as something that is to be inhabited by a white middle-class females.
Education is a high factor that plays into the efforts of decolonizing. Simpson raises a question that resonates with me as an Indigenous women of Canada and she asks “how can we reconcile when the majority of Canadians do not understand the historic or contemporary injustice of dispossession and occupation, particularly when the state has expressed its unwillingness to make any adjustments to the unjust relationship?” (Simpson 21). This question is something that I often ask myself when I’m put in a difficult position of educating my peers or family members about Canada’s colonial history. Simpson recognizes that since Canada has made efforts to reconcile and established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, that “in the eyes of the liberalism, the historical wrong has now been righted and further transformation is not needed, since the historic situation has been remedied” (Simpson 22). In order to reconcile and live in harmony “one nation cannot be dominant over the other” (Simpson 107). Today, Indigenous communities are still fighting to protect their ancestral territory and waters. These large capitalist views that have inspired projects such as Enbridge Pipeline, LNG, and The Dakota Access Pipeline are reminders to Indigenous people that the state and current citizens of their country do not care about Indigenous people’s way of life and their land is only good for making a profit. The ecological destruction of Canada and the Northern United States is directly linked to cultural displacement.
August 13th of 2016, the Haida society faced significant changes within their traditional political structures. Due to the irresponsible choices of eight Haida men the community in Masset B.C were forced to revaluate their hereditary chieftainship customs. Historically hereditary chiefs are born into this privileged title due to their ancestral blood line and this responsibility is passed down from one generation to the next. According to Haida law a Haida citizen can only claim titles of a hereditary chief after potlatching their chief name with witnesses attending the ceremony. At this potlatch they are gifted a copper plaque stating their societal, moral and familial obligations to not only their clan but the Haida society as an entire. The chiefs will then respect their clan members by representing their interests and follow the influence of their clan matriarchs. Meaning that every important decision will be discussed with the ladies held of high esteem within their clan.
However, on March 22nd of the year 2016, eight men from the Northern part of Haida Gwaii signed a letter addressed to Sheryl Young, the Secretary of the Board of the NEB (National Energy Board), proclaiming their support for the Northern Gateway Pipeline This number of supportive hereditary chiefs was viewed as significant to the National Energy Board because the Haida are made up of “22 clans, each overseen by hereditary chiefs” (Jeff Lee). The letter composed by the eight men stated that they as hereditary chiefs of the Masset community support the project of the Northern Gateway Pipeline. They enforced their approval by stating that this pipeline would be beneficial for the economic growth of both British Columbia and Alberta provinces. These men signed as hereditary chiefs when in fact only four out of the eight have rightfully claimed that title through potlatch. By falsely using the term hereditary, the men jeopardized their integrity as Haida citizens and left the community with a hard decision to make.
With intense feelings of betrayal, two clans from Masset British Columbia decided to host a “shaming feast” and denounce their chiefs of their title, privilege and honor. The clans were able to achieve this through the commonalty of political views regarding the pipeline and they used their emotional and moral attachments to the cause to justify their stripping of the two chieftainships. The objective of this ceremony was to regain their dignity as society who is predominately opposed to the Northern Gateway Pipeline. This ceremony consisted of 500 witnesses who were supporting the cause for obtaining strong political control within their clans and haida nation.
This event highlights contemporary issues Indigenous communities are battling in regards to their land and environment preservation. It is evident that colonial views and values are still influential even within the most traditional aspects of indigenous societies. The men did not acknowledge the matriarchs (women who hold political power and respect) of their clan prior to signing this document. Furthermore, this event portrays how integrated the capitalist are within Indigenous communities. The idea of “nature” and the “wilderness” holds significant value to the spiritual and cultural beliefs of Indigenous people. And therefore, by continuing to dismantle it and abuse the resources, is making a statement and attacking all aspects of Indigenous life.
From a young age Indigenous youth are “told that individually [they] are stupid, and that collectively [their] nations were and void of higher thought (Simpson 32). I had personally experienced a negative self-perception of my Indigenous heritage when I moved away from Haida Gwaii to attend boarding school at the age of thirteen. It is was clear to me that my community was suffering from drug addiction, alcoholism, low employment and education rates and our youth were not interested in learning our culture. For me, Haida culture was a huge component in my life prior to leaving the island for educational purposes. I recognized the point of view in which a majority of the Canadian population perceived Indigenous people and this began to cloud my pride. For that reason, I became ashamed of my own ethnicity. Ladson-Billings argues that ““members of minority groups internalize the stereotypic images that certain elements of society have constructed in order to maintain their power” (Ladson-Billings 14). Racism became a growing issue of mine in the eleventh grade, and I made it my responsibility to educate myself. Yosso states that “racism is often well disguised in the rhetoric of shared ‘normative’ values and ‘neutral’ social scientific principles and practices” (Yosso 74). With that being said, much of the Canadian population who act as perpetrators are not even aware that their actions are so harmful.
When addressing the issues of lack of education and knowledge regarding the Indigenous perspective of colonialism, I focused specifically on residential schools. With my research, I found out the damaging effects they still have on communities today. My great grandmother attended a residential school, and I learned how her experience as an Indigenous woman has affected my family. With my gained knowledge, my perspective on my people changed, specifically the women of my community. I now realize that education and exploiting the historical truths are a key component to eliminating ignorance in the world and the stories of our past contribute to our present and future. By becoming aware of the Indigenous story of discrimination, our society would be able to eliminate “conceptual categories like “school achievement”, “middle classness,” “maleness,” “beauty,” “intelligence,” and “science” normative categories of whiteness,” (Ladson-Billings 9) while words such as “irrelevant,” “uneducated,” “welfare,” and “backwardness” are associated with Indigenous communities.
The Canadian government through the Indian Act successfully implemented a system that worked to erase Indigenous identity. The status cards and blood quantum is essential for Indigenous rights to claim their ancestral title. To bring this fact to a universal understanding, Tuck and Yang compare the black community in the United States with the Native Americans. These concepts mentioned are identical to the Canadian system. To achieve a status card you need to obtain a minimum amount of “native blood” however, on the contrary, the black community follows the one drop rule. This comparison is essential for our understandings of categorization within North America. The status card system of identification was created to lessen the number of true Indigenous people. Tuck and Yang say that “their status as Indigenous peoples/first inhabitants is the basis of our/their land claims and the goal of settler colonialism is to diminish claims to land over generations” (Tuck and Yang 11). Through this system, we now have specific terms such as “Indian” “Native American” “First Nations” and “Indigenous” to describe those who meet the blood quantum minimum. These terms serve to strengthen “a racialization that portrays contemporary Indigenous generations to be less authentic, less Indigenous than every prior generation in order to ultimately phase out Indigenous claims to land and usher in settler claims to property” (Tuck and Yang 11). Those who do not meet the blood quantum standards to obtain status are left in the middle. They are not Indigenous in the eyes of colonizers or settlers, but they also do not have the right to claim that they are “white.” However, this system works to assist those who benefit from colonialism and white privilege. Indigenous people, in particular, Indigenous women struggle with maintaining their rights to the land. Ecologic connections are so deeply connected to Indigenous culture and by framing the land mass of Canada in a colonial context makes it difficult for this oppression to be corrected.
Just like colonialism, “patriarchy isn’t static it’s an ongoing process that’s continuously shaped and reshaped” (Johnson 115). The issues I discussed in this blog highlighted the complexity of Canada’s historical injustices and how they are still damaging Indigenous communities today. Furthermore, experiences with colonialism and the imposed colonial regimes are felt differently based on gender and ethnicity. Women have suffered significantly more because they combatting two type of oppression- racial and gendered. Indigenous women have endured a long history of displacement through the Indian Act and their rights to claim status as women. Furthermore, in a patriarchal culture where women are beginning to fight for their civil rights, the Indigenous perspective are often left out. This blog aimed to surface the intersections of land, identity, gender and discrimination Indigenous communities are challenged with in the past and present Canada. They key to decolonizing is education, however, the system put in place using Eurocentric tactics has been so successful in diminishing all aspects of Indigenous life that it will take generations to tear apart and reconcile the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
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