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Structural Violence towards Aboriginal Women

In this blog entry I am going to examine structural violence and colonial/fedral governments determination of who was and was not an ‘Indian’ as an example of structural violence towards Aboriginal women.

Structural violence is the systematic ways in which a given social structure or social institution harms people by preventing them from meeting their basic needs.(Gaultung 1997) Structural violence is inequalities ingrained into a society that excludes members of particular groups from participating in major social institutions. Aboriginal women continue to experience structural violence within the Canadian government today.

An example of Structural violence is the ‘Indian Act’

The Indian Act (1876) is the legislation that has intruded on the lives and cultures of status Indians more than any other law. Though amended repeatedly, the act’s fundamental provisions have scarcely changed. They give the state powers that range from defining how one is born or naturalized into ‘Indian’ status to administering the estate of an Aboriginal person after death… the act (sic) gave Parliament control over Indian political structures, landholding patterns, and resource and economic development. It covered almost every important aspect of the daily lives of Aboriginal peoples on reserve. The overall effect was to subject Aboriginal people to the almost unfettered rule of federal bureaucrats. The act (sic) imposed non-Aboriginal forms on traditional governance, landholding practices, and cultural practices. (Henry, Tator, Mattis and Rees, 1998: 130)

The Effects of Structural Violence on Aboriginal Women

The first definition of who and who was not an ‘Indian’ was passed by the lower Canada legislature in 1850 for the purpose of Indian administration, but it wasn’t until 1869 that definition by patrilineage was imposed (Canada, SPC 1850, c.41; Canada, SC 1869, c.6) If an Aboriginal woman was to marry a White man she would be denied the birth right as Aboriginal citizen;  and so would her children, this law did not apply to men.

 In 1951 patrilineage was imposed further making it even more strict by denying women who married out, their Aboriginal/Band membership. Aboriginal women were legally stripped of their identity and forced to make their way, as best they could without:

  • On reserve services like health and education
  • They were no longer eligabile to receive their fair share of Aboriginal annuities
  • Lost the right to live on reserve free from taxation
  • Lost their right to live on traditional lands
  • Lost their right to participate in Aboriginal local activities and
  • Raise their children in their traditional extended family system
These laws remained in place for more than a century. This regulation remained in effect until the Indian Act was revised in 1985 by Bill C-31.
Over the next decade, more than 130,000 people – mostly women – applied to have their rights and status restored. For the tens of thousands of women who had been affected over the previous century, losing their status meant the loss of independent standing in their community and increased dependence on their spouses. In many cases, the laws led to women losing all ties to their home communities. (http://www.missingpeople.net/recent_reportsamnesty_internati.htm)
The primary goal of the federal government’s Indian policy was the destruction of tribal organizations, cultural transformation, and the eventual assimilation of all First Nations Peoples into the Canadian mainstream body politic (Tobias, 1983)
Stevenson, Winona. 2011. ‘Colonialism and First Nations Women in Canada’
Henry, Frances, Carol Tator , Winston Mattis, and Tim Rees. 1998. The color of Democracy: Racism in Canadian society, 2nd edn. Toronto: Thomson Nelson Canada
Canada. Status of the Province of Canada. 1850, chap. 41; 1857, chap 29.
Tobias, John. 1991. ‘Protection, Civilization, Assimilation: An Outline History of Canada’s Indian Policy’,  in J.R Miller, ed., Sweet Promises: A Reader on Indian-White relations in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

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