Imposition of Judeo-Christian Patriarchy, Mixed Marriages and Father Abandonment /Impact of Neglect on Metis Families


The dominance of maleness is deeply embedded in Western/European cultures as a result of centuries of philosophical, literary and religious traditions which position the supposed superiority of the male gender as a result of irrefutable conditions of biology. That is, male dominance, as evidenced in both the public and private sphere, and in political, social and religious organization, is premised on men being intellectually, morally and physically advantaged. (One practical example being women's natural confinement to the private realm and subsequent exclusion from the physically, intellectually and morally demanding conditions of decision-making in the public sphere, such as those experienced in politics, thus resulting in their lower numbers of representation in this field). The hegemony of male dominance has also resulted in differing expectations for parenting. For example, women are subjected to much more intensive surveillance and scrutiny as it relates to their parenting styles and level of engagement than men. Men who are involved in parenting are praised for their exceptionality, whereas if the same standards were applied to women, they would be considered abnormal and morally deficient. Biologically speaking, there is no known scientific evidence to support the belief that men are intellectually or morally superior to women. Nor is there any scientific evidence to support the belief that women are better suited or more necessary to parenting or caregiving than men. If one were to strictly speak along the lines of the gender binary, caregiving is no more a woman's job than breadwinning is a man's. Rather, caregiving is a necessary condition for the propagation of the human species - a condition which is socially, not biologically conditioned. However, the socialization of caregiving activities as a woman's responsibility, combined with male dominance in the public and private sphere, has resulted in a high propensity for men's neglect of parenting responsibilities and abandonment of children in western societies, as well as in societies where such structures of patriarchy have been imposed. That is, men are able to escape their parenting responsibilities with minimal social or legal consequences, but women cannot. In addition to the socialization of gender, the socialization of ethnicity has historically played a role in acceptable notions of fatherhood, particularly in mixed marriages. Beginning shortly after Contact, European men formed unions with Indigenous women, often resulting in children. This also allowed such men to form alliances with the nations from which these women originated, better ensuring the survival of ill-equipped European fur-traders and voyageurs. However, because their children were mixed-race, they were also considered inferior to white children, and thus these families could be (and many were) abandoned with little to no negative repercussions for the father. (Note: this is not to ignore the colonial construction of gender, of which common beliefs perpetrated by media and religion were that European men had irrepressible sexual needs. The simultaneous construction of Indigenous women in the new country as immoral and sexually licentious "squaws" presented such men with a convenient outlet for sexual expression. However, the belief that these women always desired sexual activity, and, like the land, were "there for the taking", rendered mute any consideration of consent, resulting in widespread sexual violence. These beliefs are deeply entrenched in the colonial Canadian psyche and continue to affect perceptions of Indigenous women today.) Black feminist theorist bell hooks argues that without a lack of positive male role modelling, men who experienced father neglect or absenteeism internalize and perpetuate the patriarchal narrative that male parental absenteeism is a normal and even essential component of masculinity (hooks 2003, 95-108). Please also see related entry titled "History of Racist and Gendered Perceptions of Indigenous Women."

Prior to Contact and the imposition of male dominance and control through conversion to Christianity and the Indian Act, nation-specific Indigenous law ensured the protection of individuals who experience a greater incidence of vulnerability, including women and children. For example, when a romantic relationship was formalized between individuals of the opposite sex, the male partner would cohabit with his wife and her family. This provided the new couple with emotional and domestic support as they raised their family, and also provided the woman with the safety net of guaranteed shelter if the relationship with her partner deteriorated. Euro-Christian social organization, however, demanded that nuclear family units be abbreviated to the immediate relations of parental dyads and their children in separate shelters, thus alienating women from this support system. As well, systems of housing and gender discrimination in the Indian Act further exacerbated this problem. Perhaps most damaging, however, was the colonial imposition of male dominance, and the perceived right of men to engage in various forms of violence against women. This was legitimized through interpretations of Christianity and centuries of philosophical and literary traditions, as mentioned above. One of the ways in which this violence has manifested is father neglect and abandonment, as detailed in "Relevant Resources" on this page. These interviews detail the frequency with which father abandonment occurred in First Nations and Metis society. This is not a phenomenon that existed prior to Contact. Historian Diane Payment describes the historical transition: "The fur trade restructured the plains economy and placed women in a subservient and inferior productive role. The negative European attitudes and behavior toward Aboriginal women, called ‘squaws,’ slowly but effectively eroded the AmerIndian woman’s position" (pages 20-21, book cited in "relevant resources" below). Payment also says: "“The status and circumstances of Metis women in St. Boniface in the early 1800s is alluded to by l’abbe Provencher in his correspondence. Like his contemporaries, Provencher was convinced of the inferiority and dependence of women with respect to the male ‘chef de famille.’ He referred to women as ‘le sexe,’ implying their tainted sexual role. But he also commented on the cruelty and moral depravity of many French-Canadian voyageurs who abused their wives. Provencher failed to convince many men to abandon the AmerIndian custom of marriage ‘a la facon du pays’ in favour of a Christian marriage, as men liked the freedom of ‘turning off’ (leaving) their wives" (pages 21-22). She also notes, "Quite a few Batoche young men went off to the Klondike gold rush between 1897 and 1900, some abandoning their wives and children altogether" (page 33). As well, Metis man Ernie Vandale reports on his observations: "Got a lot of children here that don't know where their father is and no responsiblities. The man don't seem to have any responsiblities, left it all to the mother." Metis man Clarence Trotchie reports on his experience: "I remember my mother, well my mother raised our family pretty well. My father had nothing to do with that. He was separated when I was seven years old. And my mother and my two older brothers sort of raised us, the two younger ones. And it was a real struggle." Metis woman Josephine Tarr reports on her experience: "I lived without my husband for 17 years and whatever I made it had to go to my children, my husband never supported us. So he shacked up with another woman; he ran away from us. So I never bothered him." The neglect of male parental roles of responsibility created psychological and economic hardship for women who were abandoned in family units, as well as their children.