Aboriginal Women; Past and Present

This final paper will be focused on the lives of Aboriginal women past and present. I would like to delve into the history of how their culture switched from a matriarchal society to Aboriginal women losing respect and gaining stereotypes. Through this paper I would like to learn about how these stereotypes have come about, why they exist, and what is being done to stop them.

I would like to take in this information for myself, as an educator, to teach children of all cultures that any type of stereotyping is wrong and to teach anyone I can about the knowledge I have gained by writing this paper. To initiate my learning and teaching, I will be using a number of sources. First, to discuss the different stereotypes Aboriginal women have faced since Western civilization was introduced to Canada, I will look at Beatrice Mosioner’s In Search of April Raintree (1999) as well as Kim Anderson’s article The Construction of a Negative Identity (2000).

I will also be looking at another article by Anderson (2000) when looking at how the matriarchal society of the Aboriginals was disrupted by Western civilization, The Dismantling of Gender Equality gives a great description of how these events took place, and how all Aboriginal women suddenly lost not only their status, but their dignity. A source that provoked me to do more research on programs encouraging empowerment for adolescent women and girls is Christine General’s presentation on The Death of the Indian Princess and the Squaw given on October 22nd 2008.

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This presentation is what made the issues surrounding Aboriginal women sound so intriguing to me; I wanted to find out more, more about the program Christine and her sister are trying to get off the ground, more about Aboriginal women of the past, and more about how much has changed for Aboriginal women over the years. Christine’s presentation also led me to find more information about other programs available in Canada for Aboriginal females, women, youth, and children.

I found information on one particular program, Team Spirit: Aboriginal Girls in Sport, which focuses on the Term Paper 2 empowerment of Aboriginal girls and young women through sports and physical activity. It is run by the Canadian Association for the Advancement in Women in Sports and Physical Activity (CAAWS) and is described as “a national project to increase sport opportunities for aboriginal girls and young women through collaboration, capacity building and leadership development” on their website at changemakers. net.

I will be describing both Christine’s presentation as well as the Team Spirit website later on in this paper and discuss how both of these programs could benefit young Aboriginal women. Finally, I will also be looking at an Article written about the murder of Pamela George, an Aboriginal woman who was killed by two men while selling her body to support her family. This is article, Pamela George: a victim of history and economic racism, by Ron Bourgeault (1997) describes the events that happened on that night of April 18th 1995. This article also gives a description of the trial and what faced the two men that committed this crime.

This article will assist me in talking about the excessive violence that is put upon Canadian Aboriginal Women, and a program called sisters in spirit that has been put in place for this specific issue. Although I would rather not end my paper on a negative note, violence against Aboriginal women is something that still exists in Canada today, and what happened to Pamela George in 1995 is something that all of us should never forget. Sisters in Spirit is similar to the white ribbon campaign, but focuses specifically on the violence associated with Aboriginal women.

In my opinion, it’s very sad that there even has to be a group like this dedicated to a specific culture. These are the themes and literature that I will be looking at throughout my paper to investigate why Aboriginal women lost their power, what stereotypes have been formed and why, why Aboriginal women have violence surrounding them, and what some programs are doing to help Aboriginal women gain back their dignity. Term Paper 3 Themes and Literature Stereotypes I will be using two sources to delve into the issues of stereotypes toward Aboriginal women, I will start with Beatrice Mosioner’s In Search of April Raintree (1999).

This book follows the life of a young Aboriginal woman from childhood to adulthood, describing the experiences she went through throughout her life. April, being an Aboriginal woman, is seen as dirty by a lot of other children as well as adults during her childhood, particularly when she is sent to stay with the DeRosier family. This family is described by April all through the 3rd to 6th chapters of Mosioner’s novel. They treat April as someone not worthy of a good bedroom, nice clothes, or even the trust of her foster mother because she is an Aboriginal.

Later on in the book, April is described as a “squaw” by her attackers in the chapter where she is raped, beaten, and left to die. This term is a term that means “woman”, however it has been considered offensive since the late 20th century according to the Wikipedia definition. In my understanding, this word is similar to the word “nigger” when speaking about a black person. Though “nigger” is not heard often anymore, because it is so disrespectful, “squaw” is still a term used today. In class, we actually discussed how at Halloween one of the costumes, which was supposed to be a take on traditional, Aboriginal dress, was called “sexy squaw. This shows us that the language that April describes in the novel is not something that we will not hear anymore, and it is not something we can ignore. Another part of the novel that shows a stereotypical idea about Aboriginal women is when she marries into the Radcliff family. Mrs. Radcliff is clearly not pleased with her son marrying an Aboriginal woman, and it seems that she does not think April deserves to live in the luxury of his home. The interesting part about this section of the novel is that I don’t think April thinks she deserves to live in a place like the Term Paper 4

Radcliff mansion either. This supports the stereotype that all Aboriginal people are poor and on welfare, usually spending most of their money on alcohol. Anderson’s article (2000) The Construction of a Negative Identity starts off with four stereotypical names that Aboriginal women have faced since the sixteenth century: Drunken Squaw, Dirty Indian, Easy, and Lazy. This article helps us to understand where these stereotypes come from. As mentioned earlier, the aboriginal woman used to be seen as a motherly figure who held the power of the Aboriginal people, she was pure, and one with nature.

When the European settlers arrived in the sixteenth century, Anderson describes how the vision of the Aboriginal woman is as a Queen, “Exotic, powerful, dangerous and beautiful” and how this represented “American liberty and European virtue” (101). She then describes how as soon as the settlers became more familiar with the land, and wanted to take it over, the image of the queen became the image of the “Indian princess. ” This image is best described as sexual yet innocent, the example of Disney’s Pocahontas is used, “part noble savage, part princess, part loose squaw” (101).

Anderson talks about Sarah Carter’s book, Capturing Women: The Manipulation of Cultural Imagery in Canada’s Prairie West. Within Anderson’s text, Carter talks about how the term “dirty squaw” came about; This is how women began to lose their status as the power in the Aboriginal heritage. They were forced by the white Americans to have their image distorted into “beasts of burden” as Carter describes, “the distortion of native women’s physical labour and contribution to their community is the root of [this idea]” (103).

This term “squaw” was then used to describe the women as sexual and easy, justifying the way white men treated them, and took advantage of them. Term Paper 5 The Loss of Power If it wasn’t enough for these women to have these awful names designated to them, their power within their tribes was taken away and thrown out as if it was an overused rag. The article by Anderson just discussed in the previous section describes how the stereotypes against women started, and how the use of the word “squaw” degraded the women the degree that they were seen as dirty and easy, and how at times the women even thought these things about themselves.

Anderson (2000) wrote another article, The Dismantling of Gender Equity, that describes the hardships that Aboriginal women went through during the process of losing their matriarchal status, as well as any status at all. Anderson talks about how Aboriginal women lost their power through colonization, and that when the white European men came to our country and saw the status of the women they were “shocked” (58). This is when the word “squaw” came about, and the women slowly started losing their status. This article describes the Aboriginal woman as a reproducer as well as a producer.

They were in charge of childcare, food, clothing and things necessary for their tribes. The men were responsible for hunting and gathering food while the most important part of meals was what the women did with the food the men brought home, The women’s work was always more valued than the men’s . This also meant that the women had more rights to the food which was seen as the most valued part of the heritage. Women also had seniority over property, tipi’s lodging, etc. , were all considered the women’s property.

The sudden flip flop of roles happened when the western European civilization was introduced to Canada. Colonization had taken over and the first president of the United States, George Washington, was quoted as describing his ideas of civilization as “[turning] Native men into industrious republican farmers, and women into chaste, orderly housewives” (62). This is when the stereotypes of women being in the Term Paper 6 home and men being the breadwinners came about, Aboriginal women lost their status, and Western civilization had taken over once and for all.

Violence Violence against women in general has been a huge problem in our society. Men have been seen to be stronger, smarter, and have almost always had the upper hand; The White Ribbon Campaign is a campaign to stop violence against women by reaching out to men across the country. While writing my original proposal for this term paper I planned on using The White Ribbon Campaign to support my ideas about violence against women, however I have recently learned about a campaign called Sisters in Spirit.

This program is dedicated specifically towards aboriginal women, they have the same goals as the white ribbon campaign in that their main objective is stopping violence against women, they are just geared specifically to women of Aboriginal background. I decided to look more into programs like these when after reading about what happened to Pamela George. While reading this article by Ron Bourgeault (1997), I realized why the white ribbon campaign simply is not enough to stop violence against Aboriginal women.

Pamela George was a woman, an Aboriginal woman, a mother of two; she was prostituting in Regina on April 18th 1995 when a man picked her up in his car, unknown to George, with another man hiding in the trunk. In short, the two men attacked George and left her lying face down in the mud to die. After discussing this story in class, as well as reading this article by Bourgeault, I have realized why we need a program like sisters in spirit to promote the end of violence against aboriginal women in particular. Having this program will ensure focus on the violence that an entire culture on it’s own endures.

In the part of Bourgeault’s article that focuses on the trial, one of the two men were quoted as saying, “she deserved it, she’s an Indian. ” This is when I started to understand that acts like these against Aboriginal women are not strictly based on violence, crimes like these are not Term Paper 7 based on whether or not men are stronger than women, acts like these are pure acts of racism. The article goes on to say that these boys were model Canadians, who were “reliving their high school years” as university students. How can something so horrific be considered anything remotely close to “reliving high school years? All of these issues; stereotypes, racism, loss of power, and loss of status are unacceptable. I thought that I lived in a country of equity, I thought we were a multicultural country. Now learning that as soon as European settlers arrived to Canada Aboriginal women were tossed aside like trash, it makes me think twice about the people and policies that are living in a place I thought was so safe and free. I actually just learned that I have some sort of connection to the Micmac tribe of Prince Edward Island; does this mean that I am at more risk of violence and intimidation?

Rape? Murder? Programs After learning more about all the issues that Aboriginal women have had to face, I was very interested in finding out which programs are out there that are directed specifically toward Aboriginal girls and young women. I have already touched on Sisters in Spirit which is a support system for Aboriginal women and girls who have experienced violence in their lives, however after hearing Christine General speak I was more interested in finding programs that are available for Aboriginal girls to teach them more about their culture, empowerment, and history.

The program objective described by Christine is as follows: “Since the self-esteem of young native women on our reserve is so low, we thought that the integration of Art, consciousness raising of women’s issues, and traditional Native teachings may benefit the young girls and women. This could help cultivate a sense of identity and pride in being a Native woman. It would also offer them a group of people for support, and hopefully foster their self-esteem along the way. ” (Personal communication, Christine General, October 22, 2008) Term Paper 8

I think that self esteem is important for all women, especially with our body images being questioned, thanks to media influence. I can only imagine how an Aboriginal girl, young woman or adult woman’s self-esteem could been damaged by being identified as dirty, lazy, squaw and the other things I have discussed throughout this paper. I think that it would be beneficial for a program like Christine and her sister’s to be implemented in the lives of Aboriginal women to heighten their self-esteem through traditional teachings, art and issues that are important to the Aboriginal culture.

Christine’s program for Aboriginal women will include the understanding of Native women’s roles, past and present, understanding the notion about family and beauty, the role that art plays in the culture and the use of traditional medicines (for personal use only; to keep balance in the soul, mind and body). I really like how Christine’s program is focused more on traditions and practices of the aboriginal culture, whereas the other program I found for Aboriginal women and girls focuses more on physical activity to keep the girls involved in sport, collaboration, and leadership skills.

Team Spirit: Aboriginal Girls in Sport, developed in 2005, focuses on “some of the social and systematic barriers that limit Aboriginal girls’ participation in sport and physical activity. ” Some of the barriers that this program addresses are things like the minimal amount of support that these girls get from program providers, their families as well as the community around them, as well as the common stereotypes about not only Aboriginals but females in sports and which ones they should and should not be doing.

Another barrier that the Team Spirit program is trying to overcome is the lack of girl-specific programs, meaning this program is specifically female based, which ties into another barrier of the low self-esteem involved in being a young woman in our society. Another thing that the Team Spirit program is trying to implement is the idea of female role models for Aboriginal girls, which may also lead to more learning and higher self-esteem. Term Paper 9

I think that both of these programs would be beneficial for groups of Aboriginal girls and women, however I think that knowing the Traditions, values and culture of the Aboriginal heritage is very important, and that Christine’s program seems to involve more encouragement when it comes to these vital parts of the Native culture. These programs do however, have the same problems when it comes to getting a good start; Funding is one problem that they both face, as well as lack of qualified staff. Another issue is, again, the issue of stereotypes against women and Aboriginals and the lack of support for both of these groups.

Reflection I decided to focus my paper on this issue because I knew nothing about it. There was so much to wrap my head around that when I initially started to type, I didn’t know which issues to cover, considering there were so many issues that these women faced and are still facing today. I think that I covered four of the most important themes that are involved with the issues of Aboriginal women, past and present. Stereotypes, Lack of power, and violence are things that are beginning to be diminished in our society however they do still exist in a lot of ways.

This is why I think that while the programs dedicated to Aboriginal women are very beneficial, there needs to be more education about the Aboriginal heritage for non-Aboriginal children and youth, earlier than at the university level. The reason why I think this would be beneficial is because during my whole educational career I have never learned this history, never understood the struggle that Aboriginal women have faced over the years. I think that it is important to implement teachings about different cultures in elementary and high school so that together we can eliminate discrimination in Canada all together.