An Intersection: Being an Indigenous Woman in Canada in 2018
Author: Maddie Case & Lauren Archer
The intersection between being a woman and being Indigenous is one that is often ignored or forgotten. It is important to give a voice to Indigenous women and hear what they have to say, in order to gain a greater understanding. That is why I have chosen to interview a young Indigenous woman attending Queen’s University, who also happens to be my friend, to share her story and provide discussions on her personal experiences and the vast array of systemic issues that Indigenous women face today.
Can you tell me about your Indigenous heritage and the experiences of your family?
I’m 1/8 Mohawk via my maternal grandfather, whose father was Scottish and mother was Mohawk and Seneca. There’s certainly a lot to say about my families experience with and as people of indigenous heritage so I’ll try and keep it as short as possible. To begin with I think it’s important to note that as someone with a mixed white European and indigenous ancestry, I am not, nor do I appear to be a visible minority and so my experience has never been one of direct oppression or racism, however I have both heard and seen the devastating and disheartening effects of the engrained social, financial and health bias against Canadian indigenous people that was brought about by, and was allowed by our own Canadian government via systems of systematic discrimination. As for my own experience, my family lost five languages from the abuse and brainwashing of the residential school system, my great-grandmother contracted tuberculosis during her time in residential school, and my grandfather was both physically and verbally abused by his teachers (nuns at the time) for being a “savage”.
Can you discuss the intersection of oppression that occurs when being an Indigenous woman?
I think that indigenous people are an especially marginalized and oppressed group and women even further so because they not only face discrimination and barriers due to their ethnicity and gender, but unfortunately, in some situations, face issues of violence within their own communities. We know that the residential school system was a horrible system of oppression and the horrifying abuse of these schools is now widely recognized and discussed more than it ever has been before, however unfortunately what is not always discussed as much is the intergenerational effect that that abuse had on indigenous communities. Languages and traditions were lost, but generations of children who were abused and ripped away from their families were raised in these schools and left many of them with systems of post-traumatic stress. Drug and alcohol abuse is still an all too common issue in indigenous communities, most of which began decades ago as a coping mechanism for the abuse and oppression. Many were left unable to raise children in the way that their ancestors did and the way they likely would have liked to as so many were deprived of love and were dealing with their own personal repercussions of the abuse they faced. Violence has also been an unfortunate symptom of the residential school system as well as the racism and oppressions that many Canadian indigenous people have faced due to misplaced anger, unfortunately women are often the victims of this violence.
When discussing the intersection of oppression of indigenous women it’s impossible to ignore the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, however the reasons why indigenous women are a particularly vulnerable group are seen far less in mainstream discussion, but to keep it short, it really comes back to the systems of racism and oppression, like the residential schools, that have been allowed to flourish in this country. The symptoms of intergenerational dysfunction that stemmed from this oppression is what has made indigenous women a particularly vulnerable group, and it is these symptoms that I’ve mentioned that have largely contributed to how and why so many indigenous women have gone missing.
What are some of the issues you feel that Indigenous women face in today’s society and what should we be doing?
I think one of the issues that all indigenous people in Canada often deal with is that there are still far too many people out there who don’t know or don’t care about the racism and oppression indigenous people in this country have dealt with which only further perpetuates the problem today. We need far better education throughout the country on our indigenous heritage and history if there is ever going to be any true reconciliation because too many harmful stereotypes still exists. There’s a lot of other issues including safe drinking water, physical and mental health including addiction, and land rights that I’d love to discuss but a lot of it comes down to jurisdictional issues and if I get too far into I could go on for hours but to give you an example of the jurisdictional conflict, which I consider one of the reasons indigenous communities don’t always get the support they need, is health care which in this country is under provincial jurisdiction, however reserve territory and pretty much all indigenous issues fall under federal jurisdiction which can make issues like health care sometimes dealt with slowly and not always in the best interest of the community.
Another major issue that indigenous people in Canada continue to face is isolation. As the government slowly chipped away at indigenous lands most of the land that remained was isolated and cut off from the natural resources that were such an integral part of indigenous cultures and life and has created issues like access to clean water and education which in turn in further hinders job opportunities and public perception. I hope what I’m making clear is that many of the issues that indigenous people face are part of this vicious cycle in which they’ve been isolated and oppressed by Canadian colonialism and then further isolated by the lack of opportunity caused by this isolation if they choose to stay in their own communities. It’s completely unfair and so many people in this country don’t understand the scale of the issue, which is of course why we need better education for and on indigenous people. I really believe that better education will make a huge difference.
The interviewee kindly asked to remain anonymous and we thank her for sharing her experiences with Queen’s for Critical Empowerment. Our interviewee’s experience as an Indigenous woman in Canada is far from isolated, as exemplified by Mique’l Dangeli’s experience fighting the Federal Government earlier this summer. She is a member of the Tsimshian First Nation and their territory is located on the Canada-Alaska border. Her Canadian citizenship was threatened earlier this year due to the Federal Government’s recognition of her and her territory as outside of Canada. Mique'l argued that she is not an immigrant to her nation's traditional territory and discussed the importance of remaining on traditional territory for the cultural continuity of her language. Her story exemplifies contemporary struggles Indigenous peoples face against the dominant social order, similarly shown by our anonymous interviewee’s contribution. As per the request of the interviewee to remain anonymous, we took the opportunity to share Mique’l’s similar story to raise awareness of contemporary issues faced by Indigenous women in Canada.
For more information on Mique’l’s story, visit: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/indigenous-woman-fights-to-stay-in-canada-saying-traditional-territory-is-b-c-1.4729876