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Racism, Sexism and how they affect Aboriginal women’s health

Canada's History: Aboriginal Women

Around the world, Canada is perceived as a peaceful country, fighting for human rights, freedom and equality. On the other hand, Canada is not characterized as such by the Aboriginal people that live in it, to them, Canada is the oppressor. Since its creation in 1867, Canada has tried to assimilate or even eliminate the Aboriginal people, and the biggest victims of them all: Aboriginal women. Not only have they suffered the same racist legislation that the Aboriginal people have experienced but, they have also suffered sexist legislation that deprived them of their identity and left the Aboriginal women traumatized. The Indian Act of 1876 was the piece of legislation that changed their society from the traditional matrilineal one to a patrilineal society. Racism and sexism negatively affect Aboriginal women’s health to such a degree that they have become the most marginalized group in Canadian society making them vulnerable to sexual abuse, physical violence, poverty and bad health.

When the Europeans discovered North America, or Turtle Island as the Indigenous people call it, they were not only surprised this newly discovered land was inhabited, but that the inhabitants were very different from the Europeans in one particular aspect; most Aboriginal societies were matrilineal. Indeed, as Baskin (1982) explains in her article, in the Iroquois society, which lived along the shores of the St-Lawrence river, the women possessed a lot of power over the political and economic life in the community (p. 45).

In the political life, women had to vote to choose a chief, so while not being the direct leader of the nation, they had a lot of power. Additionally, in the tribal economy of the Iroquois Nations, women and man had an equal share of food produced, since men went hunting, thus bringing meat while women would gather fruits and nuts as well as cultivate the land. Furthermore, private ownership of land did not exist among the Iroquois, rather it was owned by all women (Baskin, 1982, p. 44). Since woman “owned” all the land, one can say that they had the upper hand. She goes on to explain that the Europeans were not pleased to negotiate with Iroquois women, becoming increasingly irritated by the interventions of matrons and instead wanted to negotiate only with the men.

Indigenous Women and the Story of Canada