Government Control of Indigenous women


In the first half of the twentieth century, the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA) had its agents exercising extreme control and surveillance over Indigenous women and their personal lives. It was a priority for the DIA and its agents to uphold the Euro-Christian ideals of marriage, and as a result they believed surveillance over Indigenous marriages was an effective way to ensure that relationships remained moral. DIA agents were known to withhold payments to Indigenous women if they believed they were not acting in a way that was consistent with European marital norms. Many women were not given their payments if they chose to leave their husbands, no matter what the circumstances were. DIA agents forced women to become more domesticated and to tend to their men to ensure that their relationships would survive. This resulted in many Indigenous women being forced to remain in abusive relationships. The process of withholding payments until Indigenous women agreed to conform to the new European social standards created a negative relationship between Indigenous women and government authority in Canada. Please see related entry titled "History of Racist and Gendered Perceptions of Indigenous Women."

By using money as a form of control, the government was able to create a power dynamic in which Indigenous women were directly dependent on the DIA agents for their survival. Many women were dependent on their annuity payments to provide for their families, especially if they had children. By asserting power over the deliverance of these payments, DIA agents forced Indigenous women to conform to their European relationship norms or face the consequence of not receiving payments. This practice left many Indigenous women in vulnerable positions because they were often forced to remain in abusive relationships to avoid retaliation from the government. Indigenous societies were familiar with divorce, and they placed no stigma on individuals who chose to part ways. In contrast, European society saw divorce as a taboo and was not accepting of individuals who chose to divorce. This societal difference was detrimental to Indigenous women because they were stripped of their agency and instead were left in a vulnerable position within society.
Sub Event
Withholding Payments to Force Indigenous women to Conform to European Moral Norms