Women on Onion Lake Reserve Essential to Community Survival

The role of Indigenous women on Onion Lake Reserve in the late 19th century was paramount to the success of the reserve during their struggle with famine and disease. It was the perseverance of the Cree women that kept the spirit alive in their community. Their strong work ethic and refusal to give up spread hope throughout the community and helped everyone to remain focused in their work. The women kept the Cree culture and traditions alive in a time where their survival was uncertain. The women on the Onion Lake Reserve performed additional labour to ensure that their community was cared for and prospered through famines caused by settler immigration into the Plaines.

Other Note

In the late 19th century, starvation was common among Plaines Indigenous peoples. DIA agents were known to withhold food rations from Indigenous peoples, and those who did receive food often received very little. Salt pork was the main source of food that DIA agents provided and and it caused many health problems among Indigenous peoples. DIA agents realized that the salt pork was not of good quality and often refused to eat it themselves, but thought it was sufficient to be distributed to those requiring famine aid. The large consumption of salt pork led to a high number of cases of scurvy on reserves among the rapidly increasing presence of disease such as scarlet fever, chicken pox, and malnutrition. These health problems affected everyone who lived on reserves, men, women and children alike. In addition to the issues of famine rationing, many bands who were deemed ‘disloyal’ had their horses, guns and ammunition taken away making it almost impossible for them to survive.

The perseverance of the Cree women on the Onion Lake Reserve demonstrates the important and often undocumented role that Indigenous women played in their communities. Without the will of the Cree women, the survival of the Onion Lake Reserve is uncertain. These women vehemently resisted the societal pressures to be domesticated, and instead they took control of their communities when others could see no way of survival. They defied European gender norms by taking on many hunting and gathering duties that European society tried to associate only with men. By standing their ground these women were able to preserve their community and culture despite governmental attempts to dismantle it.
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