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The First Nations Women in Canada Essay

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Updated: Apr 13th, 2022

Introduction

The First Nations Women in Canada typically refer to females of the indigenous groups in the former British Colombia. In Canada, they are mainly of the aboriginal descendant. The Canadian public disregards the First Nations society, discriminating its members in almost all sectors, with inhumane acts committed against this group while the government remains reluctant to take action.

Women in particular have been the most discriminated. The status of First Nations Women is demeaning and inhumane; injustices continue to be met to these women with the main contributors of the status being: historical injustices; violence by white men, and internal discrimination by the society in the Band Councils.

Historical Injustices

First Nations Women have had high prostitution rates on the streets. The prostitution as a form of exploitation in the current status date back to the colonial times, where colonizers created a patriarchal system in which women were subjects of men, and were supposed to be submissive and subjugates of men.

These instilled societal believes have remained unchanged up to date with women still considered inferior to men, which has had an injurious consequence on their lives and status.1

Canada was strategic to the colonizers especially for the fine fur the area provided. Women because of their influence were used to penetrate the markets of fur but they remained removed from the actual trading.

The effects of initiated and systematically fashioned prostitution have lasted over five hundred years and have been deepened by the prevailing racism and capitalism of the 21st Century. The major advocate and sustainers of prostituting First Nations Women were the state, church, military and capitalism of which, they were all aspects of the colonizers.

In the fur industry, women were the main initiators of the production and marketing processes, penetrating the interior as they were well versed on the geography of the area, but their status was pathetic as it was that of a slave.2 The effects of capitalism transformed the First Nations society, but this transformation was demeaning to the women as they became commoditized.

They became items of trade, in many cases traded through the barter system of exchange. They were traded for cheap European goods and in other instances for alcohol and their value was market dependant on the aspect of demand and supply.

Since European women were not allowed to accompany their spouses to Canada, nor permitted to live there, the prostitution of the First Nations Women became popular with the white immigrants, brothels sprawling all over Canada.

In some cases, the First Nations Women were taken as country wives for the white males which has now been referred to as secondary wives since many men were already married back in Europe, had children but were to be later abandoned without child support or any consideration.

The church on its part carried out the state designed residential school system aimed at eradication and assimilation of native cultures. This was to execute a cultural genocide. Though the assimilation policy failed, the system created a cultural confusion on the part of the First Nation society.3

Children were held captives in these schools without their will. The parental, communal care and social instigations were lost as they were replaced by the cold-hearted foreign institutionalized childcare. In these institutions, various inhumane acts were carried out in the name of instilling discipline.

These included physical harm, psychological torture, sexual harassment, and abuse. These institutionalized injustices created internalized, systemic psychic and collective trauma of which can be cited in accounting for most of the present day injustices on women like abandonment.4

In the recent times, the historical injustices continue to affect the First Nations society especially the women. In the North, it has been reported that almost all women living there have been sexually abused by men especially assaults.

These men are mainly close relatives like uncles who justify their assault; some of these men are influential with prestigious posts on the Band Council. Women are supposed to accept their fate and those who try to effect change or any form of rebellion is threatened of more violence. Impunity thrives, as none of these culprits is held accountable for the sexual assaults.

Women of the First Nations in the modern world are still faced with injustices created because of historical injustices. The historical injustices has a broad perspective as almost all society instigated institutions participated.

The state, church, market and military participated meaning that the three set of the society namely social, political and economic branches participated. Sexual oppression has come to be perceived as a class condition.

Violence by white men

The First Nations Women continue to be discriminated by the larger society. The predominantly white society continue to discriminate, abuse and degrade the First Nations Women, yet the issue remain relatively uncovered and the government has done very little to help these victims.

‘‘According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), “Aboriginal women and girls are facing the most pervasive human rights crisis in Canada today. As of March 31, 2010 NWAC has found 582 cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.” 5

Cases of murdered, mutilated, raped women have been reported across the country, rape cases have became so many that it is like a norm for these women to be raped. The white people have been known to commit these crimes yet they have gone unpunished.

The shocking thing is that the government has ignored these crimes against humanity with institutes of maintaining justice like the courts letting the suspects walk free. Many cases involving these atrocities have been discarded or postponed for a long time delaying justice, which is like denying it altogether.

Some of the infamous murders are discussed. Helen Osborne a nineteen-year-old high school student who had high ambitions of becoming a teacher, abducted early in the morning on November 13 by unknown people and brutally murdered in 1971.

The police launched investigation and found out that four men were responsible for the murder. However, it took sixteen years for the first suspect to be convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. The other three went uncharged despite the fact that one of them testified and owned up to committing the crime.

Osborne is said to have been forced into the assailants’ car, sexually abused, physically beaten and taken from place to place. She screamed for mercy but the assailants kept on beating her. In fact, she was stabbed countless times using a screwdriver, with her face disfigured and beyond recognition.

The case took long to conclude and it is suggested that it is because people in the society felt the case was unimportant, as she was an Aborigine. The police, town people and the Attorney General’s department have been accused of neglect and racism. The main suspect was eventually released on parole in 1997.

Books have been published recounting ordeals of white men who hunt down, with no clear purpose except malice, native vulnerable women. The ordeals tell of how these women are viciously beaten, mishandled, raped and killed. The criminal investigations never take place or if they do, then they are late or flawed.

The media never seem interested in the cases and if they do, they consider them as not catchy thus underreporting them. The public lacks sensitivity or is indifferent as the criminals go unpunished. John Crawford a serial killer is said to have heartlessly killed First Nations Women.

He killed Serlion in cold blood of which her body was found naked. In the trial of John, Serlion’s family laments to have been ignored by the investigators completely. Despite the seriousness of the case, John was sentenced for ten years only and released even before the completion of his jail term.

Three years after release, John raped an Aboriginal woman by the name Janet Sylvester and in the same year, he murdered three women who were of First Nations society and Janet was later found murdered. He later brutally murdered numerous women of whom all of them were First Nations Women. John admitted to the murders and never at any time seemed remorseful.

The society never seemed to care or condemn John. A number of First Nations Women among them girls were found murdered, reported missing or said to have been assaulted in communities living near or on the highway between Rupert and George on the northern part of Canada. Over thirty native women are reported to have disappeared along the Highway, which has come to be referred to as the Highway of Tears.

Many native women disappeared along the highway and it was not until the first non-native woman disappeared that the media and state turned their focus on the area. Another serial killer by the name Pickton has been charged as the serial killer behind the murders.6

Native women are also reported to have disappeared or murdered in Edmonton. Gordon Jordon a Vancouver barber murdered at least seven First Nations Women by intoxicating them with alcohol on different occasions.

Band Council status

A band in the First Nations society constitutes of one community and many bands are responsible for the control of the prestigious community land. A band is the governing organ of the native people. The Indian Act controls the functions and the legality of the band.

Women were exempted from the leadership of the band with males dominating various leadership positions. The chief councilor is the overall head of the band of which women were initially not been allowed to be chief councilors.

The status of members is clearly stated in the legislations of the Indian act. A woman who marries a man not of the same community that is not of First Nations society, loses her status together with her children, however, men who marry outside the community do not lose their status. This has been termed as discriminating to women and women have endeavored to change these laws.

The law has been changed although has conditions for women. Men including the bandleaders have been reported to have assaulted women or sexually exploited them but nothing has been done nor any bandleader prosecuted.

In the late 20th Century, it was argued that women played a crucial role in bands affairs. In 1953, the law prohibiting women to run for office were amended and since then, twenty-one women have served in the band councils.7

Conclusion

First Nations Women remain the targets of serial killers and other criminals. They are discriminated by their society and the large community at large. They remain unemployed with and uneducated compared to the rest of the society. Their status remains low with low life expectancy compared to the white women.8

Compared to their white counterparts, they are in a poor status and the government must together with the larger society, take an initiative to uplift their low ignored status. The progress made still leaves a lot to be desired.

Bibliography

Admin. 2010. ‘‘There is a heavy responsibility on Aboriginal leaders.’’ Urbanrez. Web.

Barry, K. 1984. Female sexual slavery. New York: University Press.

Denis, Claude. 1997. We are not you: First Nations and Canadian modernity Ontario: Broadview Press.

Deveaux, Monique. 2006. Gender and justice in multicultural liberal states. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Haig-Brown, Celia. (1988). Resistance and renewal: First Nations people’s experiences of the residential school. Vancouver: U.B.C. Press.

Ponting, Rick. 1997. First Nations in Canada: perspectives on opportunity,empowerment and self-determination. New York: McGraw- Hill Ryerson

Stark, Christine,. Whisnant, Rebecca. 2004. Not for sale: feminists resisting prostitution and pornography. Melbourne: Spinifex Press.

Voyager, Jane. 2008. Firekeepers of the twenty-first century: First Nations women chiefs. Quebec: McGill-Queens University Press.

Footnotes

1 Barry,.Female sexual slavery 1984

2 Stark & Whisnant, Not for sale: feminists resisting prostitution and pornography, 2004

3 Haig-Brown, Resistance and renewal: First Nations people’s experiences of the residential school, 1988

4 Deveaux, Gender and justice in multicultural liberal states, 2006

5 Admin, ‘‘There is a heavy responsibility on Aboriginal leaders,’’ 2010

6 Ponting, First Nations in Canada: perspectives on opportunity, empowerment and self-determination, 1997

7 Voyager, Firekeepers of the twenty-first century: First Nations women chiefs, 2008

8 Denis,.We are not you: First Nations and Canadian modernity, 1997

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