MMIWG Chap 4 ~ Colonization as Gendered Oppression

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Decades ago (1975) A Course in Miracles was published by the Foundation for Inner Peace.  It consists of 669 pages followed by a workbook of 360 lessons, the last being “Let all the world be blessed with peace through us.”

I purchased the book at some time during my life journey and although never completing it, I often recognize the Miracle influence in other books or thoughts I’ve heard.  Reclaiming Power and Place impresses me as having the same timeless magnitude – although it also carries a political imperative.

Chapter 4, Colonization as Gendered Oppression, speaks of the added stigma to women within the dehumanization of the Indigenous people.  The shame and secrecy that colonialism bred among families meant never talking about their personal histories, much less the historical forces that shaped their lives.  The Indigenous people were dispossessed of their land and resources and subject to external control, essentially treated like animals as Europeans created a new reality in North America.

Early European explorers claimed land for their home countries, where the feudal system was contrary to Indigenous concept of land stewardship and the notion of relationship with Creator.  As well, the Europeans claimed souls for the church as anyone without a Christian God was considered less than human.  Both male and female Indigenous healers were considered evil.  The early missionaries devalued Indigenous women in keeping with the European role of subjugation.  As well, gender-diverse people were dismissed and rejected by religious authorities.

The process of colonization was inseparable from capitalism as the developing economy depended on removing Indigenous Peoples from their lands.  With the BNA Act of 1867, Indians were considered wards of the Canadian state.  Treaty agreements were narrowly interpreted to further restrict First Nations, rather than growing together in the Indigenous spirit of reciprocity, respect, and interconnectedness.   (The themes repeat!)

Building a farming economy meant killing the buffalo.   Treatment of women was sexist and demeaning as the definition of “Indian” became tied to male bloodlines and the status of a women depended on her husband.  This devalued women at an economic level and led to banishment of some family members, the “Indian Act” of 1876 enforced by both police and Indian agents.  A further “pass” system was introduced to control the movement of all First Nations people.

Further indignation was caused by declaring First Nations and Metis women promiscuous.  Concerns re trafficking were identified as early as 1886 but in true patriarchal fashion (my emphasis) the women were criminalized.  “First Nation women and girls were targeted because they failed to live up to a normative standard that imposed non-Indigenous beliefs and expectations about women that came from very patriarchal and oppressive societies in Europe.” (p.256)

In the residential schools, education of girls focussed on domestic duties.  As well, schools were separated by sexes, which caused further alienation within families.  “Children were denied the spiritual and cultural teachings that would have traditionally accompanied their coming of age and would have emphasized the importance of respectful relationships and encounters.” (p.264)

“Eugenics,” coined in the late 19th century to describe selective breeding, likely caused many First Nations women to be sterilized.  As well, many patients were removed from their communities for up to years in the name of public health with the fear of tuberculosis.  Canada had 22 Indian hospitals by 1960.

Forced relocation to lands unfit for agriculture, combined with the pass system that limited traditional hunting, contributed to impoverished conditions and reliance on state welfare with a dramatic increase in off-reserve populations.  This led to the “Sixties Scoop” where more than 20,000 Indian children were taken from their families.

Maternal kin connections led to the emergence of a distinct Metis nation as First Nations women became fur traders wives.  Land tenure or cash payments were not issued in the names of women and most of the promised land was sold to new immigrants, pushing the Metis further into poverty and marginalization with racial and gender boundaries enforced.

A similar process happened with the Inuit where their relationship with Europeans was grossly one-sided.  The Inuit were pushed to the margins of political, economic, and social power.  Many groups were repeatedly relocated, sometimes reinforced by shooting of the sled dogs.  Formal schooling became compulsory in the 1950s and often involved separation of children from their parents.  As well, many patients with tuberculosis were removed for extended periods, some never to return.  The Hudson Bay Company, RCMP, clergy, and government agents replaced traditional family leaders.

The emphasis of Chapter 4 is that colonization is a structure rather than a series of isolated events.  Indigenous knowledge systems and identity were targeted by colonizers who wanted to possess the land.  It isn’t “history” because the policies and structures still exist today and are still forms of violence.

Three conclusions:

  • The process of colonization was gendered because Indigenous women and girls had a different experience than Indigenous men.  Europeans brought a legal and social order based on patriarchy, i.e dominance of men.
  • Targeting of Indigenous women and girls was a common thread through the colonization process.  Residential schools and various relocations caused many women to go missing.  These conditions fed violence.
  • Indigenous peoples were economically marginalized; women experienced additional political and social marginalization because of patriarchy.  Racist ideas continue to dehumanize Indigenous women and make them targets of violence.  Inter-generational trauma creates cycles of domestic violence in which individuals can be both victim and abuser .

Nevertheless, the strength and resilience of Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse people is recognized.  Those who have survived and continue to manifest their traditions deserve to understand what caused their oppression so they can move forward with greater purpose and clarity.

We all play a role in learning, understanding, and transforming the structure of oppression to create a system of reciprocity, respect, and interconnectedness that was meant to be.