Indigenous Women Roles A change over colonization


Aboriginal women and young girls suffer tremendous discrimination in the contemporary Canadian society. They are victims of racism , sexism and unconscionable levels of domestic violence . We can state that Aboriginal women have been described as facing a double-burden that for being discriminated as a woman , and further for being Aboriginal. Knowing that, I asked to myself "what has the government done to stop this situation?'' The result was frustating : nothing . The justice system has done little to protect them .

Massive protest in defense of missing and murdered Aboriginal women

I wanted to know more about this issue and I found out that the key to begin to understand this situation and why Aboriginal women deserve their careful listening , I must examine how both Native and non-Native gender relations were developed during Canada's colonial history.

Gender relationships with the settlers

I have clear that as settlers first arrive to "Canada" they brought their European patriarchal model that greatly contrasted with the Indigenous society , and they imposed it as they took over the territory.

My objective is to understand how this drastic alteration of women influence affected them as a group and how it still impacts in the Aboriginal women situation across Canada today by comparing the women roles before and during colonization and presenting a cultural group that has been used as perfect example of women power and equality.

Justice for Aboriginal women . They deserve to be understood !


Before the arrival of colonizers , Indigenous women traditionally played a central role within Aboriginal family, government and spiritual ceremonies ; they were powerful and strong .

Clan mother and wise old Cherokee woman : both held positions of power in their communities

Men and women were equal in power and enjoyed personal autonomy (women were economically independent) , both had functions that were vital to the survival of the community .

Men were hunters , responsible for providing food , shelter and clothing.

Women were responsible for the domestic sphere and for bearing and the early socialization of children.

Women were viewed and respected as life-givers.

Motherhood was honored as key to the continuation of the culture and wasn't always defined by the biological role, but was understood as a position of leadership and responsibility for caring and nurturing others.

As well, women were wonderful horticulturalists and contributed to small hunting and gathering . They were responsible for distributing the products and their labors , even land holdings.

In marriage, husbands and wives respected and honored one another and they took care of each other honesty and kindness . Men were were respected for the spiritual and and physical strength and women were respected by their spiritual and mental strength .

Marriage balance of love for each other .

Also, women figured centrally in almost all Aboriginal creation legends that are passed from generation to generation . It was believed that the Creator gave them sacred gifts.

In Ojibway and Cree legends , it was a woman who came to the Earth from the sky to care for the Earth.

It was also a woman, Nokomis , who taught Original Man (Anishinabe) about the medicines of the Earth and technology.

As a result, we can see that although women roles and culture varied between First Nations, they all shared three main characteristics: gender roles were complementary , women were able to hold positions of leadership and their central roles within their societies is often reflected in the religion and spiritual part of the culture.

Wise women meeting


Colonization has greatly affected Aboriginal women . In order for the the colonizers to claim Aboriginal land it was important for them to ensure that Aboriginal women became colonized as well .

"A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground"

The settlers had a predeterminate ideas of appropriate female behaviour and status .The European ideal of womanhood or "how a woman need to behave" , revolved around female domesticity. The Europeans believed that a women's role was to cater to their fathers , husbands or nearest male relative , and to support her family . Unlike Aboriginal women in their pre-contact societies ; in the European model women had no voice ,and no power . They were considered only a property of men , treated as objects . It was't simply that women had no rights ; once they married they had no legal existence, they were legally dead : no custody of their children or rights to their own property and earnings and no vote . They didn't even have control of their own body.

"The two shall become one and that one is the man."
Women role in the Victorian model

In this way, the European ideal of women was projected on Aboriginal societies because settlers thought it was the only way of contrasting savagism with civility ; they believed how a society treated its woman determined its evolutionary state .

Without trying to understand Indigenous culture and listen to them, colonizers judged Aboriginal women using their Victorian and Christian model . For them, Aboriginal women appeared "antithetical to the natural condition of women" .

Contrast between Aboriginal sexual freedom for women and the rigid Victorian model

As a result , missionaries and colonizers worked together to colonize Aboriginal women in Canada and condemned everything about their lifestyle and personal being (authority, appearance , economic and spiritual important positions... ) . Missionaries directly attacked Aboriginal women's lives and characters that showed their autonomy and independence .Indigenous women were ABUSED . Settlers destroyed the rights of both sexes to divorce , sexual freedom outside marriage and female ownership and power .

Unlike European women, Aboriginal women faced a different kind of sexism based on racism and misunderstanding ; their burden was more severe : to be "good" they had to abandon their own culture , exile themselves from their people and transform into the European ideal . THOSE EFFECTS HAD ACCOMPANIED THEM UNTIL NOW .

Colonization and abuse of Aboriginal women


Haudenosaunee Confederation flag

Commonly called the Iroquois Confederacy or the League of Five Nations , the Confederacy is properly called the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (people of the Long House) and they occupied the Eastern Woodlands cultural area. The Confederacy is made up of the Mohawks , Oneidas , Onondagas , Cayugas and Senecas and was intended as a way to unite the nations with a common goal to live in harmony . Each nation maintains its own council with Chiefs chosen by the Clan Mother , but allows the Grand Council to deal with issues affecting the nations within the confederacy.

Map of the Haudenosaunee confederation


I chose the Haudenosaunee Confederacy because they are an example of a matrilineal society , which means that descent wealth , power, property and inheritance were passed down through the mother . Women have always had the leadership role among the community and all its members must respect and take care of them . Women are always part of the decision-making and if the men are not considered to be doing the right thing , the women will step in to correct them .

We can see the powerful status of women in the figure of Clan Mothers, the true leaders . They have the ultimate power select and depose the Chiefs , they watch over all families and they the government structure intact with their experience .



It was a woman, Sky Woman, who came to the Earth through a hole in the Sky to care for the Earth and creates life .


Jigonsaseh or the Mother of Nations helped the Peacemaker in the foundation of the Six Nations' Great Law, which emphasizes a balance between gender roles.


Families are based primarily on the clan system. They start with a female ancestor with all those dwelling in her long house linking back to her . Each family was called the long house family with the Clan Mother as the head. All female descent will live in the long house their entire lives bringing their husbands to live with them.

Children in the long house family were much closer to women ; because women were more often taking care of the property and crops while men were out hunting or fishing .

Children called their mother and their mother's sisters all "mother" , leaving them with a great sense of security and collective love .


The roen Elders holder respected positions within the communities as the wisdom keepers: to impart traditions and help raise the children.


Among the Haudenosaunee are groups who come together as families called clans. As a matrilineal society , each clan is linked and passed down by a common female ancestor , with women taking a leadership role within each clan.

The clans are represented by birds and other animals , taking example of their characteristics and teachings. They are divided into three elements: water, land and air . Each member of a clan is considered a relative even if they belong to different nations .


They are the true leaders within the Haudenosaunee communities . It is a title which is passed down to female relatives through a clan .

It is her responsibility to look out for the welfare of the clan by controlling the actions of the Chief and ensuring that he is performing his duties in accordance with the Great Law. In fact , she has the ultimate power to select and depose the Chiefs .

Clan Mothers are also responsible for naming children from their own list of clan names and approving marriages.

As we can see , the Haudenosaunee is a great example of how well a society works when the gender roles are balanced and women have power as well. In fact , they were used as models to inspire the first feminist movements in the United States .

The Haudenosaunee were an inspiration for early feminists


The conclusion I've come with after finishing all this research and project is that although Indigenous women do not share a single culture , they do have in common the terrible effects of a shared colonial history.

I feel that Aboriginal societies were more advanced and developed than us in terms of gender equality and women rights and value ; they created harmonic societies based on the mutual respect to each other and peace with the environment . In contrast, nowadays, we are still facing lots of women discrimination and violence around the world . We are only starting to fight for an equal society that Indigenous societies originally achieved . I think settlers made Aboriginal people to regress in this aspect , transforming their societies by diminishing Indigenous women's status and power . That has leaded to the horrible situation of hundreds of missing and murdered of Aboriginal women at the present time .

Families of missed and murdered aboriginal women in a protest .

Stolen sisters protesters demanding justice for aboriginal women .

Little Indigenous girl demanding to be heard and have a successful future as woman .

In my opinion , as a feminist , it's time for all of us to hear and understand Aboriginal women story and start working to solve the problem . We should take the Haudenosaunee community as an example that is possible to achieve a world with equity and peace instead of seeing it as an impossible dream.

Justice for Indigenous women in Canada




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