Aboriginal Women Post Colonialism

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In Post Colonial Canada, Aboriginal women still face discrimination and many challenges which leaves them marginalized in society. Aboriginal women are faced with multiple forms of oppression which allows for discrimination for being aboriginal and a woman. Since colonization, settlers have brought with them patriarchal values and norms which has created a Eurocentric modal of hierarchy that was imposed on the Aboriginal community. This has had a major affects on Aboriginal women across Canada. Early colonial assimilation methods have allowed for Aboriginal women influence to be afflicted in Canadian society today. [1]


Post-colonialism focuses on the effects and consequences of colonization and imperialism. It seeks to further understand the implications of controlling a country by the establishment of settlers for the exploitation of the native people and their land.

Post-Colonial theory focuses on the complex affects of colonialism with the intent of deconstructing colonial identities. While the term "post-colonial" implies a time-place after colonialism, the term actually refers to the criticisms and study of colonialism rather than a socio-political time frame [1]. In relating post-colonial theory to Aboriginal women, concepts of gender, ethnicity, Nationalism, representation are all important factors in better understanding Aboriginal women's unique position and to move forward with post-colonialist theories. To the post-colonial Indigenous Feminist, understanding an individual's unique intersection of race, class, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexuality, socio-economic status, health, age, ability, access are important to understanding how colonialism works in creating identities [2].


Colonial Language as a Tool

When thinking about colonialism, language and communication play an important role as central tools of domination and oppression. There has been substantial literature completed on language and colonization. Joan Swann suggested that that since colonization white men have controlled access to literacy, education, bureaucracies, legal documents, and news reporting in North America , as a result women’s lack of access has contributed to the silencing of their voices within public sphere.[2] Lee Maracle explains that the language used to deny knowledge to Native people lies within lawmakers, politicians and academics who continue to use language that no one understands.[3] . Within the colonial discourse language is one of the tools used by the oppressor to create and maintain power in society.

Aboriginal societies have used Orality to record history, stories, and law within their communities since time immemorial. Contemporary Aboriginal scholars, such as Lee Maracle and Thomas King, have long used Orality as the focus within their literature and writing. Revitalization of Aboriginal languages is a current issue, as these languages contain invaluable history and knowledge. Respecting and reviving First Nations, and Indigenous languages has become tools for activism and awareness raising for many Aboriginal people. There is currently a movement to add Aboriginal languages as Canada's official languages [3][4]. Aboriginal Orality and languages contain not only history, but a sense of presence and intimacy that creates relationships and inspires listeners - Orality is considered a powerful tool of knowledge and awareness and is highly regulated [5].

It is important to note that ideas, concepts, philosophies and world views are imbedded into language structures. Feminist scholar Audre Lorde, in her essay "Can the Master's Tools Dismantle the Master's House", visualizes colonial language as oppressive without the "tools" (language, words, signifiers) to deconstruct/dismantle its own biases/structures [6]. Within this concept, the English language is inherently biased to priveledge certain groups while oppressing others. Using this concept, the key to better understanding post-colonial theory would be to situate knowledge in the margins, using the many languages that challenge the hegemonic globalization of English.

Impact of colonialism and colonization

There are many implications of colonial settlement towards Aboriginal women in Canada today. Motherhood, Violence and Health are examples shown below that are a product of colonial settlement.

Colonialism and Motherhood

Historically, Aboriginal Nations of Turtle Island were Matrilineal and Matriarchal societies. In this sense, the Aboriginal mothers and grandmothers held unique positions of power within their communities [7]. Colonialist endeavours which had the purpose of disconnecting Aboriginal peoples from their territories and communities used misogyny and disenfranchisement practices to replace these Matriarchal societies with a Patriarchal society system [8], this violent colonial practice has been the subject of Indigenous Feminist academic Andrea Smith's book, Conquest [9] [10]. Christian missionaries and settlement resulted in the conversion of many Aboriginal people and communities, which impacted social order and organization [11].

Residential schools, the 60s scoop, adoption and foster care have disconnected many Aboriginal children from their parents - this causes displacement, severed family ties, and a complete disruption to nurturing parental skills [12] [13]. By labelling Aboriginal mothers as being inadequate, the Canadian government validated it's destruction of the Aboriginal family through policies such as Residential schools, the 60s scoop, adoption and foster care; in 2007, the Canadian government officially apologized for the Residential schools and long-term suffering caused [14]. However, the Truth and Reconciliation movement seeks to further research and disclose Canada's dark history with Residential schools and racism [15].

Sociology professor Patricia Hill Collins pointed out in her article that race, class and gender cannot be experiences separately, she further argues that white, middle class, able-bodied women have been stereotyped as nurturing and maternal, while women of colour or disability have not.Indigenous mothers face scrutiny for mothering practices and are blamed for child neglect. [4] Marlee Kline argues that the First Nation’s child welfare cases effectively blame First Nations women for the effort of social ills that are largely the consequence of this history and present. Many of this ‘mother blaming’ has led Indigenous mothers to be essentialized as ‘immature’ and ‘drug dependant’. Kline points out that this is particularly apparent because of the difficult life and circumstances of First Nation women which is due from historically rooted structures of colonialism and racial oppression. These factors are seen as ‘indicators’ for inadequate mothering. Another example she provides is that how the permanent home requires the dominant ideals of cleanliness and tidiness ideology to ‘good motherhood’, many indigenous homes which are crowded with family members are not ‘safe environments’ for children according to child welfare law. These cultural differences are in turn related to histories of colonialism and racial oppression.[5]

Another interesting point of discussion is traditional vs. modern birthing practices and how this may affect indigenous cultural beliefs and traditions. Because the way one is born into this world is often a very spiritual process, it is important that modern medicine includes accommodation of these cultural traditions into their contemporary procedures. Allowing aboriginal women to be informed of their birthing options, including how the healthcare system is able to be accommodating of any cultural requirements, allows mothers to have a better and safer childbirth. Giving Birth in Hospital Settings

Poverty, Violence, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

Aboriginal women in Canada face systemic violence through limited access to resources, marginalization and sexualization. Aboriginal women in Canada are over-represented in low-paying, low-skill jobs and, according to the 2005 census, earn 77% of non-Aboriginal women on average [16]. Aboriginal women are also over-represented in the prison system [17] [18]. While there is an overwhelming number of Aboriginal women in prison, there is a startling underrepresentation of Aboriginal women within Post-Secondary Institutes [19]. The unbalance of representation of Aboriginal women within prisons and post-secondary institutions points to systemic violence, oppression and privilege [20].

Many research shows that there is greater violence towards Indigenous women in Canada. In a Amnesty International survey conducted, Indigenous women were nearly three times more likely then non Aboriginal women to report being a victim of violent crime. [6]Indigenous women are more likely to face frequent incidence of violence and more severe. A Statistics Canada report showed that the national homicide rate for Indigenous women is seven times higher than non- indigenous women.[7]

Above is a video depicting the history of violence against women in poetic form.

There has been a startling number of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIW) recorded since the mid 20th century. The lack of support and care from RCMP, government groups, and mainstream media has led to an atmosphere of neglect and dehumanization from the state. British Columbia - a province of unceded land - is the site where many of the MMIW have been reported. Aboriginal communities across Canada have demanded a National inquiry to better understand this massive injustice - it is important to note that Aboriginal girls and Women continue to go missing today. There has been an undeniable link between racism, violence and representations of Aboriginal women and girls as sexualized objects that has been caused from centuries of racism, misogyny and displacement from colonialism [21].


Indigenous women in Canada face many health problems compared to non-Aboringal women such as poor life expectancy, morbidity rates, heart diseases, cancer, and high suicidal rates.[8] Carrie Bourassa, Kim Mckay and Mary Hampton's study, 'Racism, Sexism and Colonialism' focuses on the links of colonization and Indigenous health. The authors acknowledge that colonialism is intertwined with sex and race as they point out that Sexism, racism, and colonialism are dynamic processes rather than static, measurable determinants of health; they began historically and continue to cumulatively and negatively impact health status of Aboriginal women. Colonialism depends on the oppression of one group by another, beginning with a process described as "othering" .The process of "othering" occurs when society sorts people into two categories: the reference group and the other." Women who bear their "otherness" in more than one way suffer from multiple oppressions, leaving them more vulnerable to assaults on their well-being than if they suffered from one form of oppression.[9]

Indigenous Women and Food Insecurity

Colonization, and the advent of the residential school system, imposed a ‘westernized' food system on many indigenous communities. As such, Indigenous individuals were no longer encouraged to secure food by way of traditional methods, such as hunting, fishing, gathering or farming. Instead, Indigenous communities were to rely on the importation of non-nutritious and processed foods. [10] As many Indigenous communities are located in remote areas, the importation of food has shown to be financially burdensome. [10] Based on traditional notions of Indigenous women being responsible for securing food for their families, [11] Indigenous women are disproportionally affected by the insurmountable cost of imported food. Accordingly, it is estimated that 91 percent of Indigenous households headed by women are deemed food insecure. [12] There is also an overwhelming number of Indigenous communities in Canada who do not have access to clean, running water [22].

Movements and Responses

There have been many movements and responses to the Post-Colonial struggles of Aboriginal women. Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) is a National Association that promotes social, economic, cultural and political well-being of First Nations and Metis women within Canada.[13] Amnesty International's "No More Stolen Sisters" is a movement within Amnesty International that provides justice for the missing and murdered Aboriginal women of Canada. [14]

Amnesty International Canada has placed into effect one movement in support of Aboriginal women called No More Stolen Sisters [23]. Determined to rally support against the staggering amounts of violence against aboriginal women and missing aboriginal women the program offers information about the issues and proposes steps to improve upon it by appealing to the public and the Canadian government. Statistics from 2014 alone reveal that Indigenous women are four times more likely to be murdered than non-Indigenous women and that from 1980-2012 there have been 1,107 murder cases of Indigenous women and girls and is likely even higher in reality due to gaps in police and government reporting. No More Stolen Sisters seeks to have this issue treated as a national human rights crisis and proposes a national action plan dedicated to addressing the violence against and disappearances of Aboriginal women. With efforts to grow in the eye of the public and maintain a political presence this organization desires to promote real change in the issues impacting Aboriginal women.

Through the use of Twitter, the “#AmINext” topic has manifested widespread discussion on the issues of missing and murdered Aboriginal women [24]. This was started by Holly Jarrett as a movement involving people to post photos of themselves holding a sign reading “#AmINext” in order to raise awareness of the issue. Jarrett’s investment in the issue stems from personal experience when her cousin, Loretta Saunders, an Inuit woman from Labrador, was found murdered in a wooded Area off the Trans-Canada Highway in New Brunswick. Although Jarrett discusses hopes for a public inquiry from Stephen Harper on the issue, the real goal is simply to get more Canadians involved and recognize the problem even without being directly affected by it. As she concluded when discussing the movement, “As long as we’re talking about it, that’s way further than we were last year.”

See also


  1. [http://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/home/community-politics/marginalization-of-aboriginal-women.html
  2. Swann, J. (1992). Girls, Boys, and Language (Language in Education). Blackwell Pub.
  3. Maracle, L. (1992). Oratory: coming to theory. Give Back: First Nations Perspectives on Cultural Practice. Vancouver: Gallerie Publications. 85-94.
  4. Collins, P., & Anderson, M. (2010). Race, Class, & Gender: An Anthology (8th ed.). Wadsworth Publishing.
  5. Kline, Marlee “Complicating the Ideology of Motherhood: Child Welfare Law and First Nation Women” in Fineman, Martha Albertson and Karpin, Isabel (eds.) Mothers in Law: Feminist Theory and the Legal Regulation of Motherhood (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995).
  6. VIOLENCE AGAINST INDIGENOUS WOMEN AND GIRLS IN CANADA: A SUMMARY OF AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S CONCERNS AND CALL TO ACTION. (2014). Amnesty International. Retrieved from http://www.amnesty.ca/sites/default/files/iwfa_submission_amnesty_international_february_2014_-_final.pdf
  7. O'Donnell, V., & Wallace, S. (2011, January 1). First Nations, Métis and Inuit Women. Retrieved November 16, 2014, from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-503-x/2010001/article/11442-eng.pdf
  8. Wilson, A. (2004). Living Well: Aboriginal Women, Cultural Identity and Wellness. Prairie Women's Health. Retrieved from http://www.pwhce.ca/pdf/livingWell.pdf
  9. Bourassa, C., McNabb, K., & Hampton, M. (n.d.). Racism, Sexism, and Colonialism mpact on the Hea Aborigina Women in Canada. Canadian Women Studies, 24(1). Retrieved from http://pi.library.yorku.ca/ojs/index.php/cws/article/viewFile/6172/5360
  10. 10.0 10.1 Spiegelaar, NF. and Tsuji LJS. “Impact of Euro-Canadian Agrarian Practices: In Search of Sustainable Import-Substitution Strategies to Enhance Food Security in Subarctic Ontario, Canada” in The International Electronic Journal of Remote Health Research, Education, Practise and Policy pp. 1-13. 2013. James Cook University Publishing
  11. Jacob, M. “Claiming Health and Culture as Human Rights: Yakama Feminism in Daily Practice” in International Feminist Journal of Politics pp. 361- 380. 2010. Taylor and Francis Online
  12. Willows et al “Prevalence and Sociodemographic Risk Factors Related to Household Food Security in Aboriginal Peopled in Canada” in Public Health and Nutrition, pp. 1150-1156. 2008. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, U.K.
  13. http://www.nwac.ca/
  14. http://www.amnesty.ca/our-work/issues/indigenous-peoples/no-more-stolen-sisters