Source: Canadian Review of Sociology.
Canadian Review of Sociology.
48.1 (Feb. 2011): p67.
Document Type: Report
The Indian Act banned women from elected leadership positions in reserve politics in Canada until 1951. This paper locates women in reserve politics and provides an analysis of the First Nations women who served as chiefs and councilors across Canada. Amy Wharton's gender-based Interactionist Approach is used to explore the leaders' unique social and political situation. Does gender make a difference in their experiences as leader?
EUROCENTRIC IDEOLOGIES LOOMED LARGE IN EARLY colonial Canadian society. Notions of liberalism, private land ownership, human control over nature, individualism, and western-European superiority over colonized indigenous people were foundational to the creation of the Canadian state and the Canadian ethos (Voyageur and Calliou 2007). Canada's founding principles clashed with those of the First Nations (1) whose beliefs included: collectivism, communal ownership of land, living in harmony with nature, and equality. As First Nations people became increasingly governed and legislated under the new colonial regime they were slowly stripped of their social, political, religious, and economic rights in Canadian society and soon found themselves in a subordinate position vis-a-vis mainstream Canadians.
The imposed law, formalized as the patriarchal Indian Act (Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development 1876), was amalgamated shortly after Confederation (2) when all the legislation regarding Indians was consolidated under one statute. (3) The Indian Act was particularly harsh for First Nations women who soon realized that much of the status, power, and authority they had enjoyed in their community before European contact had been lost. They were removed from positions of respect and high status within their own communities; and viewed as mere chattels of their husbands or fathers under Canadian law in mainstream society. Indeed, First Nations women were doubly subordinated; first, as First Nations people in a new social order that deprived them of their rights; and second, as women who were deemed inferior both to Indian and mainstream men.
First Nations women experienced state-legislated exclusion from the political process under the Indian Act. (4) This rule was changed with the 1951 amendments to the Act that enabled them to participate in reserve politics as both candidates and voters. First Nations women have been "officially" governing reserve communities (5) since the first female Indian Act chief, Elsie Marie Knott was elected in 1952. One year after she was elected, an Indian Affairs Branch Report stated:
Indian women played an increasingly active role in band affairs. Twenty-one have been elected to the office of chief or councillor since the new Act came into operation in September 1951. (Canada Department of Citizenship and Immigration 1952:43)
More and more First Nations women picked up the political gauntlet over time and by 1960, the newspaper, The Indian News (1960), reported that 10 female First Nation chiefs had been elected across Canada.
The number of female Indian chiefs and councillors has increased greatly over time (6); however, little is known about these leaders. Biographical information on individual contemporary women chiefs (7) is provided in a smattering of mainstream magazine articles where they are portrayed as curiosities because they ventured outside the traditional domestic and caregiver roles generally set for women in Canadian society.
In this paper, I explore the relatively and heretofore unknown phenomenon of elected female leadership in Canada's First Nations community. (8) The goal of this research is to enhance our knowledge of the First Nations women leaders by examining the women's unique...