Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Indigenous Women, Girls, 2-Spirit, and Transgender people

Summary

Indigenous survivors of sexual exploitation and trafficking, community activists, and scholars document that coercion and deception are means of forcing Indigenous women, girls, 2-Spirit, and transgender people into survival sex work. In Saskatchewan, Saskatoon is considered a significant part of the transit corridor used within the Prairies to expedite trafficking of gender marginalized Indigenous peoples. Notably, sex trafficking of gender marginalized Indigenous people in Canada is so pervasive that it has not only received international news coverage (CNN - Canada's Stolen Daughters, attached Resources), the Canadian government has received international criticism from the U.S. government, national organizations (Native Women's Association of Canada), and international non-governmental organizations (the United Nations and the Canadian Women's Foundation).

Survivors of sex trafficking, community activists and scholars have discussed factors which increase the vulnerability of Indigenous women, girls, 2-spirit, and transgender people into trafficking. Experiences of abuse/violence; limited supervision; substance use/misuse; proximity to foster care; educational absence on information related to sexuality, contraception and pregnancy, models of healthy platonic and romantic relationships; overall lack of access to education; familial and communal residential/day school attendance, intergenerational trauma; housing insecurity and/or a lack of rental history; unemployment and job insecurity; a lack of culturally-appropriate support services (mental and spiritual health, medical, etc.); an absence of support networks (family/friends); having resided in a rural, northern or other isolated area where there may be a lack of infrastructure such as sewer, electrical or water services; lacking access to basic necessities for survival; and gang involvement. Many, if not all of these factors of vulnerability are linked to the settler colonial policies and beliefs which continue to oppress gender marginalized peoples.

In the aforementioned CNN Article "Canada's Stolen Daughters," Diane Redsky, who runs the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre in Winnipeg (a Centre which engages in anti-trafficking advocacy work and runs a healing lodge) was interviewed. She commented:  "We're still in a society that targets Indigenous women and girls. In fact the national task force concluded that there's a market for Indigenous girls" (par. 28).

The psychological and physical impacts of sexual exploitation and trafficking are described in the literature review and analysis released by the Native Women's Association of Canada, titled, "Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Aboriginal Women and Girls":

"What can be gathered from looking at the span of the above statistics, both the 2005 and 2011, is that there is a solid continuation of traumatic and damaging experiences that Aboriginal women and girls experience both prior to being trafficked and in the life of being trafficked for sexual acts. Unfortunately, experiences of violence, various forms of abuse, and trauma seem to be very consistent and prevalent within human trafficking. One of the defining characteristics of Farley et al’s research is the examination of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in prostituted and sexually trafficked women. PTSD consists of three types of symptoms: persistent, intrusive re-introducing of trauma; numbing of responsiveness and persistent avoidance of stimuli of trauma; and persistent autonomic heightened arousal. Those who participated in the study completed an evaluation of criteria for PTSD. In a 2005 paper examining prostituted and trafficked women, out of the one hundred participants, including both First Nations and non-First Nations, 72% qualified for PTSD, which is 'among the highest reported in populations where PTSD has been studied, including battered women, combat veterans, childhood trauma survivors, rape survivors, and torture survivors' (Farley, Lynne, & Cotton, 2005, p. 255) . Those who are prostituted and sexually trafficked often experience extreme and intentional violence, abuse and torture. It is no surprise that these women and girls fulfill the criteria for PTSD. Such evidence suggests the difficulty of trying to move on from sexual exploitation, trafficking, and prostitution. It is a deeply traumatic experience that impacts on one’s physical self, the mental, and the emotional" (pages 10-11).

This excerpt from the Globe and Mail contains the testimony of a sex trafficking survivor as to the long-lasting impacts of PTSD in terms of her ability to function:

"But even if there is no physical evidence, illness and violence are so pervasive that, eventually, “trafficking will produce a health consequence,” says Tara Wilkie of the Surrey Memorial forensic team. Patients are provided with support after leaving the hospital, but Ms. Wilkie says the after-effects of trafficking can leave someone with lifelong physical and mental-health issues. Bridget Perrier seems to be living proof of this. As she sits on the couch of her Toronto home, phone buzzing, two dogs scampering around, pictures of her children on the wall, her old life seems like the distant past. Yet, she says, a decade of sexual exploitation “damaged me to a point where ... I have panic attacks. I have PTSD. I can’t have a baby naturally because my cervix is just shot. I sleep with the lights on. I’m hypervigilant. And there are flashbacks. “Sometimes a smell will set me off, gagging.” Pine-Sol, used to disinfect the rooms, “triggers it.” As do “certain male colognes, certain deodorants.” Also damaged: her relationship with others. She says her clientele was so predominantly white that, even today 'I can’t be on an elevator with a Caucasian man'" (pars. 85-90).

Regarding solutions for recovery from post-traumatic symptoms, including PTSD, the Native Women's Association of Canada literature review and analysis notes:

"Many who are sexually exploited and trafficked come from backgrounds where formal education and job skill development have been compromised from traumatic childhoods and growing up in abuse. To help these women and youth escape the cycle of sexual exploitation, they need training in viable alternatives for income. It is not enough to protect women and girls from pimps and traffickers; the conditions of growing up in poverty and without a full education must also be addressed for lasting difference" (page 25).

Bluntly put, one participant phrased it aptly: ’People don’t heal overnight. It took seventeen years to get all the shit inside of you and it’s probably going to take twenty years to get it out of you’ (p. 36). Quick-healing regimens are unrealistic. Healing takes time, and sexual exploitation is a violent, oppressive, and damaging process. In a 2003 study on sexual exploitation with some 854 participants, their findings were that prostitution was multi- traumatic, with 68% meeting the criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder (Farley, et al., 2003, p. 34), which, also happens to match the same range of PTSD as combat veterans (Weathers, Litz, Herman, Huska, & Keane, 1993, as cited in Farley, et al., 2003, p. 37). If prostitution is categorized as choice and trafficked as forced, it may be that trafficked women are dealing with even more PTSD." (page 29).


 

Result

Gender discrimination and sexualization of Indigenous women, girls, Two-Spirit, Transgender and Non-Binary people, is deeply embedded in the foundation of Canadian policy, society, and consciousness.  That is, stereotypical gendered narratives were constructed by colonizers that depicted Indigenous peoples as morally inferior and culturally uncivilized - including a predisposition to extreme sexuality (this was the underlying rationale for gender segregation in the Indian Residential School system). 

Settler Colonists viewed Indigenous 'sexuality' as a threat that needed to be subdued, and another area in which they could assert dominance and control over Indigenous lives. Early on in the period of Contact with Europeans, Indigenous women, much like the "virgin" soil of North America, were perceived as available for possession by white, European men. These tropes of availability, in combination with stereotypes which constructed Indigenous women as exotic and erotic, asserted that Indigenous women were incapable of consenting (always available to the Colonial sexual appetite) and therefore inherently inviolable.

In addition to social marginalization enforced through colonialism, narratives construct Indigenous women, girls, Two-Spirit, and Transgender people as sexually disposable which creates a significant degree of proximity to violence.  Aforementioned experiences of social marginalization include, but are not limited to: the mass apprehension of Indigenous children by child and family services, low-income caused by isolation from resources, cultural activities and lifeways, and economic discrimination, housing insecurity, employment insecurity, and limited access to education.  

Annette Sikka, in the conference paper "Trafficking of Aboriginal Women and Girls in Canada," writes:

"..[T]he terms 'control' and 'exploitation' have been interpreted by the justice system in the context of trafficking offences also do not adequately reflect the types of coercion and exploitation that Aboriginal women or girls in street-based sex work face. It has been difficult to have the criminal justice system recognize non-physical forms of coercion in trafficking analyses because the criminal law focuses only on the immediate actions of individuals." (220).  

Actors within the legal system frequently lack a sufficient understanding of the ways in which gender-marginalized Indigenous peoples experience coercion and deception.  This serves to reinforce individualistic narratives which depict participation in the survival sex work as a matter of personal choice to participate in a "high-risk lifestyle." Yet it obscures elements of social and political marginalization which pressure gender-marginalized people into survival sex work. E.g., coercion or deception by others (the promise of money, protection, security, or substances).

This is not to say that sex workers or sex work is inherently violent or deviant, nor should sex workers be criminalized. Rather, that the social, gendered, sexual, and financial inequities established by Canadian settler colonialism have enabled traffickers to take advantage of the precarious social and economic situations many Indigenous women, girls, and other gender marginalized people find themselves in. Trafficking and exploitation is driven by the desire to fulfill settler sexual fantasies and maintain oppressive power structures.


 

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Date
Ongoing

Living Conditions on La Ronge Reserve - 1950s-70s

Summary

In the interview included, participant Liora Salter reports that she observed that the living and social conditions on the reserve in centre of the La Ronge townsite were extremely deteriorated. Ms. Salter describes the lack of infrastructure on the reserve for basic utilities including sewer, electricity and water provisions. She notes that the houses on-reserve were "the oldest generation of Indian Affairs houses" with one room and newspaper serving as wallpaper. Incidentally, Ms. Salter references Metis activist and La Ronge resident Jim Brady's suspicions that the Department of Indian Affairs officials in La Ronge was deeply corrupt, and incapable of enacting the type of change that was needed.

Ms. Salter also references Mr. Brady's concerns that Indigenous girls, as young as thirteen, were being forced into sex trafficking. The interview with La Ronge resident Verna Richards provides first-hand testimony of the occurrence of sex trafficking. While Ms. Richards believes that she observed this as an isolated incident, the reporting of Mr. Brady indicated otherwise - and it is possible that sex trafficking occurred in locales other than Ms. Richard's restaurant. Mr. Brady stated that this was a result of the tourism industry in La Ronge.

Ms. Richards also testifies as to the prevalence of sexual assault of Indigenous girls and women by American tourists who visited the community of La Ronge. She reports that there were a number of pregnancies that resulted from these assaults. She reports that this was met with little response from both the non-Indigenous community and the parents of the girls who were assaulted and/or became pregnant. She does not mention anything about post-assault psychological support/trauma services or other mental health services in the community. Nor does she mention any of the American tourists providing child support.

Implications
There may be many factors contributing to the disparities in living conditions in La Ronge in the time frames referenced in these interviews. The isolation of Northern Saskatchewan results in its invisibility to voters in larger city centres, such as Saskatoon and Regina. As well, the majority of the province is non-Indigenous, and historically, racism has affected the visibility of and concern for Indigenous issues within Saskatchewan. That is, racist colonial attitudes depict Indigenous peoples as resistant to acquiring 'improved' material conditions. Indigenous people who choose to live in remote areas such as Northern Saskatchewan are constructed under this colonial narrative as resistant to processes of integration/assimilation and modernity. Mr. Brady also referenced the presence of corruption within the representation of the Department of Indian Affairs in La Ronge, prohibiting the improvement of living conditions. Insufficient housing and a lack of access to infrastructure services such as electricity, sewer and water (all of which are considered standard services for residents of Canada) can effect psychological and physical well-being, over time the effects of substandard housing and healthcare can negatively impact a person's well-being in all areas of their life.

The lack of response amongst non-Indigenous residents of La Ronge demonstrates the normalization of sexual violence inflicted upon Indigenous women, stemming from stereotypical patriarchal colonial narratives which construct Indigenous women as being highly sexual and thus always sexually available to the colonist. As well, it is possible that the economic stimulus provided by the presence of American tourists was perceived as more valuable than preserving and protecting the well-being of Indigenous women and girl as community members. The profound sense of violation and trauma that result from assault and rape can severely impact one's ability to function, particularly if mental health supports or social/community supports are unavailable. For example, long-term impacts can include post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, difficulty relating to others, low self-esteem, alcohol/drug misuse, etc. (please see the entry by the Native Women's Association of Canada below in attached resources titled "Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Aboriginal Women and Girls: Literature Review and Key Informant Interviews: Final Report"). In areas where mental health services are non-existence or rare, other coping mechanisms that pose a danger to health may be utilized.

For further information on the impact of colonialism as it relates to construction of gendered stereotypes of Indigenous women and girls and how this contributes to sexualization and exploitation, please see the entry on sexualization of Indigenous girls in foster care. Please also see the general entry titled "Sexual exploitation and trafficking of Indigenous women and girls" for further information for a more detailed discussion on the impacts of sexual exploitation and trafficking.
Sources

Please also see the general entry titled "Sexual exploitation and trafficking of Indigenous women and girls" for further information for a more detailed discussion on the impacts of sexual exploitation and trafficking.  

Sub Event
Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Indigenous Girls in La Ronge following the introduction of American Tourism
Date
1950-00-00

Metis Community at Batoche

Summary

The settlement at Batoche was a manifestation of the impact of the 1870 Red River Resistance - not only were Metis families being crowded out by the influx of white settlers in Manitoba, but they were also experiencing repeated government delays in procuring their land following ongoing amendments to the Manitoba Act. As a result, many traveled further west. There was continued unrest in the Batoche area as the Metis were not assured that their land rights or long and narrow river lots would be recognized in deeds of fee simple ownership. Although the majority of Metis in Batoche were hunters, traders, trappers, fur traders, freighters and stock raisers, they also engaged in small-scale, garden-type farming for their own sustenance. With the near-extinction of the buffalo by incoming settlers and significant reductions in the fur-bearing animal population, as well as concerns that their seasonal work would render their land cultivation illegitimate, the Metis were forced to transition to large-scale agriculture. Eventually, the government did fail to recognize Metis land claims, leading to the Riel Resistance of 1885, and the Battle of Batoche. All community members participated in preparation for the battle - while men were engaged on the front lines, women provided the supplies of ammunition and food which ensured that combat strategies could be administered, and, on occasion, even challenged and convinced Riel to change his plan of action. When the Metis army was defeated, the settlement members were forced to flee, and were not able to take their personal items with them. Although General Middleton had promised the Metis security and protection, the members of the Canadian army pillaged the Metis farms and stole or slaughtered livestock, leaving community members destitute. Although twelve men died as a result of the battle, nine women died of causes linked to or aggravated by the suffering and deprivation of the war.

Implications
Following the Battle of Batoche, it was Metis women, upheld as the transmitters and preservers of Metis culture, who would rebuild the community. Although they made application to the Rebellion Losses Commission for financial compensation, patronage and nepotism, as well as class prejudice, negatively influenced the final dispensation of funds. In many cases, women whose claims of loss or non-participation were denounced by others were dismissed - demonstrating gendered and racialized differentials of credibility and power accorded to different colonial actors. Many families found it difficult to financially recover. The financial loss compounded the adversities women experienced from widowhood and separation from husbands imprisoned for their participation in the resistance, emigration, and exile. Please see the excerpts below in "relevant resources" for further information.
Sub Event
Battle of Batoche (1885)
Date
1870-00-00
Community

Government Attempts to Assimilate Indigenous Women

Summary

According to many DIA publications, Indigenous women were believed to be at fault for the conditions and poor health on reserves. This led the agents to believe that Indigenous women needed to be 'domesticated' in ways that served the colonial government and motives. Girls were not taught any skills that would be of value to them outside of the home. Schools focused on teaching Indigenous girls how to be successful housewives. They were not allowed to be trained as nurses, teachers or clerks, all of which were needed on reserves Please see related entry titled "History of Racist and Gendered Perceptions of Indigenous Women."

Implications
This was a departure from many Indigenous cultures in which women held important roles within their communities. Often women were responsible for gathering and trapping, as well as many other duties within the community. By changing the nature of the relationship between Indigenous men and women, DIA agents created a new gender dynamic in which women were seen as lesser individuals because they had less educational skills and did not carry as much responsibility as they traditionally had before. This newly imposed gender hierarchy on Indigenous societies would have lasting implications for Indigenous women, such as raising the rates of domestic violence, a high percentage of Indigenous women being forced into work that endangered them, as well as high rates of Indigenous women living as single mothers in poverty. It’s important to note that the disparities and conditions Indigenous women were/are subjected to did not exist prior to the colonial government.
Sources

Carter, Sarah. "First Nations women of prairie Canada in the early reserve years, the 1870s to the 1920s: A preliminary inquiry." Women of the First Nations: Power, Wisdom and Strength (1996): 51-75

Sub Event
Using Education to Impose Patriarchal Values
Date
1800

Government Control of Indigenous women

Summary

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."

Implications
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
Date
1915

Anti-Polygamy Laws Imposed by the Federal Government

Summary

With the emergence of settler society, many of the social norms of Indigenous groups became seen as morally corrupt, or deviant. The idea of polygamous marriages was foreign to European settlers, was a stark contrast to the Christian marital norms and common law monogamy. Government actors took it upon themselves to discourage the practice of polygamy and eventually entrenched it in law by 1890. It was important for settlers to reinforce the idea of traditional, European, monogamous marriage because they feared it was being disintegrated by the industrial revolution and was a marker for 'de-civilization.' The arrival of the Mormons in the late 1800s further escalated fears held by the state, triggering them to take action against the practice of polygamous marriages.


 

Result

By passing an anti-polygamy law, it left many Indigenous women in vulnerable positions. It was determined by most ministers which wife was allowed to remain married to her husband. To ensure that the system was fair, they almost always chose the first wife to remain legally married to her Indigenous husband. This was problematic because often times the first wife was the oldest, and any children she may have had would also be older. This resulted in many young Indigenous women being left in dangerous situations because of their young ages and inability to care for their young children on their own. It also interfered with the traditional way of life in many Indigenous communities. Taking multiple wives was seen by the settler colonists as a form of abuse, but in some Indigenous communities it was done out of necessity and with the approval of the other wives. A household with multiple wives in the family meant that there were more people to help with the daily chores, care for children, direct labour, and offered a strong support system. It was  assumed by settler colonists that polygamous marriages was based on sexual desire and subjugated wives, when in fact the wives almost always consented prior to a new wife being married into the household. By newly isolation Indigenous women from these arrangements, many of them lost their shared families, support systems, and partners.


 

Sources
  • Beaman, Lori G. "Church, State and the Legal Interpretation of Polygamy in Canada." Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 8, no. 1 (2004): 20-38. 
  • Rutherdale, Myra, and Katie Pickles. Contact Zones: Aboriginal and Settler Women in Canada's Colonial past. 2005. 

 

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Date
1890-02-04

The Coerced Sterilization of Indigenous Women

Summary

Unlike in the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, Saskatchewan did not have an official government policy of sterilization.

Forced and coerced sterilization of Indigenous women is not well documented in Saskatchewan except into recent years, however, there is substantive evidence that it did/does occur. The justification used to normalize the use of coercive sterilization was that it was a preventative measure to ensure that women who were incapable of raising a dependent child, or women who had severe “mental or physical defects” could not give birth. It was argued that this would not only help to eradicate poverty, but it would also lessen the “financial burden” on the federal government because less Indigenous children would be born. Indigenous women were often not consulted before the operation was performed, and/or it was often completed when she was having a different operation done - once it was completed there was no way to reverse it. This took away agency from many Indigenous women because they were no longer in control of their reproductive decisions once this operation was completed.

There were two hospitals in Saskatchewan with documentation of sterilizations performed, one in Fort Qu’Appelle and the other in North Battleford. The documented sterilizations, however, do not account for all of the sterilizations performed in the province. There is evidence that suggests that the government was aware that unsanctioned and undocumented sterilizations of Indigenous women were taking place in Saskatchewan, meaning that the true number of coerced sterilizations will never be completely accurate.

Implications
Coerced and involuntary sterilizations continue to happen today in Saskatchewan, whether they are reported or not. The most recently known forced sterilization occurred in 2018 but many go unreported publicly, and hospital behaviour remains largely unchecked as the problem stems from an undervaluing of Indigenous life and a lack of respect for bodily autonomy. The sterilization of Indigenous women has been used as a tool of the state to carry out widescale eradication procedures that aimed to benefit European settlers as Indigenous land would become ‘available.’ These acts have been formally recognized as an act of Genocide in the report on MMIWG, but little has been done to address the continual harm.
Date
1900-00-00

Indian Act

Summary

Bill C-3, also known as the Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act, developed as a response to the McIvor v. Canada decision in British Columbia which found that some of the current registration provisions of the Indian Act were in violation of section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms based on gender. The purpose of Bill C-3 was to expand registration to the grandchildren of women who had lost their status as a result of marriage to a non-Indian. To be eligible for status under Bill C-3, three criteria need to be met: ------------------------- "1. The individual’s grandmother had lost status due to marriage to a non-Indian 2. The individual has a parent who is registered, or entitled to be registered as an Indian under section 6 (2) 3. The individual was born on or after September 4, 1951 Should all of these criteria be met, an individual would be eligible for status under this new bill. Bill C-3 aimed to correct the gender discrimination from the 1985 amendments, commonly known as Bill C-31."

Implications
Though the intent of Bill C-3 was to eliminate discrimination towards the grandchildren of women who had previously had their status revoked due to marriage to a non-Indian, it did not completely eradicate the gendered implications of the 1985 amendments. Bill C-3 continues to perpetuate the paternalistic nature of the Indian Act by limiting the scope of individuals who can qualify under the provisions outlined. If an individual was born prior to September 4, 1951, they are still denied status unless their lineage is traced through paternal lines. This type of blatant gender discrimination still exists within the Indian Act today and has yet to be corrected. Bill C-3 also created a new form of discrimination by requiring women to have non-status children in order to have their status upgraded from 6 (2) to 6 (1). Women who have status children, or no children at all are ineligible for the status change. This has created even further divisions within communities and creates a situation in which an already vulnerable population is being further marginalized by colonial adjudication.
Sub Event
Bill C-3: Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act
Date
2010-12-15

Indian Act

Summary

Bill C-31, otherwise known as An Act to Amend the Indian Act, resulted because of persistent activism on the part of Indigenous women who recognized and opposed the inherent gender bias within the Indian Act. This amendment reinstated status to Indigenous women, and their children, who had previously had their status revoked by the pre-1985 Indian Act due to marriage to a non-Indian. Losing status meant much more than no longer being viewed as an ‘Indian’, it resulted in a loss of access to rights, programs, and on reserve housing, ultimately isolating Indigenous women from their friends and family. This bill also shifted more responsibility on to band councils and away from the federal government in regards to band membership by allowing bands to create their own membership codes and make decisions on whether or not to allow reinstated women and their children into their bands. Bill C-31 created a more complicated formula when determining Indian status by creating what is known as the ‘second generation cut-off rule’. This rule states that status is revoked from individuals who have fewer than two grandparents with Indian status. This rule applies only to Indigenous women who married non-Indians prior to April 17, 1985 and their subsequent children. The new formula for status was also discriminatory towards the children of Indigenous women who had married non-Indians because they were placed in a category that essentially labelled them as ‘less Indian’. This lesser level of status is gender discriminatory because it applies only to the grandchildren of Indigenous women who married non-Indians, and not to Indigenous men who married non-Indians. Although Bill C-31 was created as a means to eliminate gender discrimination within the Indian Act, it resulted in the creation of residual gender bias towards Indigenous women and their children.

Implications
Bill C-31 was aimed at correcting the gender bias from the Indian Act in which women were stripped of their status if they married a non-Indian man. However, the amendment resulted in residual gender bias that still affects Indigenous women today. Women and their children did not automatically have their status reinstated, in fact, they had to apply for it. The federal government shifted responsibility for membership to band councils within this amendment which has left many Indigenous women marginalized. This left bands in a conflicting position because if they accepted these women it would result in further taxation of their already limited resources, which are often already inadequate when providing for their members. The amendment created further tensions within the Indigenous community because many bands vehemently opposed the amendments, some even taking their concerns to court claiming that the amendments were unconstitutional and violated their Section 35 rights. The ‘second generation cut-off rule’ has also had lasting implications for Indigenous women. Because this rule only applies to women who married non-Indians prior to the 1985 amendment, it further discriminates against Indigenous women and their children. The residual gender bias that still exists today as a result of Bill C-31 has contributed to the marginalization of Indigenous women within Canadian society. Indigenous women are overrepresented in the justice system, the sex trade, and also in situations of domestic violence as a result of colonial policies such as the Indian Act.
Sub Event
Bill C-31: An Act to Amend the Indian Act
Date
1985-04-17

Discrimination Against Metis Women in Northern Saskatchewan

Summary

Metis women from La Ronge and area in Northern Saskatchewan were respondents interviewed by Doris and Irene Poelzer for their study on Metis women's experiences in their home-communities. Numerous respondents reported discrepancies in the types of work available for men and women. They also reported discrepancies in the wages of men and women, with men being paid more for the same work. For example, these respondents stated that the types of jobs available for women were those that restricted them to traditionally feminized work, such as caregiving/nurturing, feeding, serving or providing instruction. That is, although job opportunities are scarce in the northern part of the province, those that were available for women were typically concession work, cleaning, health-related, teaching and clerical. These women believed that they had the same intellectual capacities as men, and that they should not be restricted (Poelzer 1985, 21-22).

One stated, “Women need training for jobs...I don’t want women to have the kind of life I had before” (Poelzer 1985, 23).

There was also a need expressed for support from one’s community and romantic partner. For example, women who ran for public office positions such as the school board believed that they were discriminated against because of their gender, and thus received few votes. In another example, women found that men refused to take instruction from them because of their gender. Overall, some respondents felt that men ignored, underestimate or exploited their Metis female co-workers (Poelzer 1985, 24-26).-

Metis women in Poelzer’s study also spoke extensively on the impact of religion in their life and the community. This impact was construed as both positive and negative. One respondent noted, “The church has been so much a part of exploitation”, as it provided a variety of services including education, health, employment and welfare. However, this also provided church officials with a great degree of control over the community, in which they took advantage of their privileged position by humiliating some individuals and also keeping community members dependent and indebted to their services. For example, individuals in the community must be church members in order to access services (Poelzer 1985, 27-36).

As well, women as a demographic are more likely to live in poverty and are often perceived to be primarily responsible for child-rearing. The financial burden resulting from poverty and raising children often results in a greater degree of reliance on these services. Metis women in the communities surveyed noted that church control was exerted by shaming women who practiced family planning or separated from a violent spouse. They also noted that they would be shamed for living common-law, even though some women declared that cohabitation gave them a greater degree of control, equality and autonomy than marriage.

One woman described the social pressure (resulting from the internalization of Christian moral norms) this way:

“You don’t feel right when you stay with the man without marrying him. It is just that when you go to some places, somebody asks if he is your husband, and you have to lie most of the time. You say ‘yes’ and you are lying. So it hurts you that way...And when you get kids, somebody is going to tell (them) that ‘he is not your dad. That is not your mother’s husband.’ It is not very nice very much” (Poelzer 1985, 49).

Another woman reported a more direct form of religious pressure: “...The church feels that if you are living common-law, you are not following the religion...marriage is quite a big thing” (Poelzer 1985, 49).

In contrast, Metis women respondents reported that common-law arrangements allowed for an easier separation if men were discovered to be immature or abusive. They also reported that such an arrangement prevented male romantic partners from perceiving his wife as property, that is, of possessing rights of ownership over her body or labour. An arrangement of cohabitation, therefore, was perceived to prevent domestic violence as well as prevent men from becoming jealous or of forgetting their household responsibilities.

Overall, women who received social services through the church were made to feel obligated to meet the expectations of religious officials by adhering to their moral and purity ideals (Poelzer 1985, 31-49). 


 

Result

Prior to provincial government intervention and rapid economic shifts in Northern Saskatchewan, women relied on traditional means of survival, and their livelihoods were not threatened.  It should also be noted that the high rate of susceptibility of Indigenous women to physical and sexual violence did not exist prior to colonization.  Rather, its dramatic increase since the establishment of the settler state is indicative of implementation of systems of male dominance, inherent in western philosophy, politics and social organization, as well as in Christian institutions.  As it relates to the experiences of Metis women in Northern Saskatchewan, the majority of respondents referred to the power and influence of the Catholic church in their Metis communities as problematic. 

Poelzer observed that internalized attitudes of male dominance and women’s submission to male leadership permeated the areas in which she conducted her research (1985, 58-59).  This researcher surmises that such widespread acceptance of these attitudes may be related to the influence of religious institutions in these areas.  In terms of the implications of these social problems, physical injuries inflicted by domestic violence can make it difficult and even impossible for women to search for work, complete work-related duties or attend their jobs, while also impacting their wellbeing greatly.  Psychological distress caused by domestic violence such as trauma, depression or anxiety can also severely impair an individual’s ability to function on a day-to-day level. Transportation to leave such situations may, and it very often, inaccessible to women - especially in rural or isolated communities in the North where bus services were and remain few and far between.  

In addition, women who leave environments of domestic violence may find themselves and/or their children houseless of facing housing insecurity. The Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan notes that women living in Northern Saskatchewan face extreme housing shortages.  The Metis women surveyed in Poelzer’s study confirmed this - they stated that the lack of availability of homes, in addition to the unacceptable quality of government-constructed residences have an effect on family living in terms of the moods, attitudes and relationships of individuals, and these dynamics compound the pre-existing stress arising from housing difficulties (Poelzer 1985, 74-81).  

This association also notes that women living on-reserve experience heightened isolation from domestic and sexualized violence crisis services.  Individuals who cannot access support services may resort to substance abuse in order to manage symptoms of psychological distress.  Moreover, women are prevented from advocating for improvement of these issues because of attitudes of male dominance in community development and public office.  Women can't advocate for change if they are not at the decision-making table - and those in power (men) rarely see these issues as important enough to warrant change.

As one Metis woman stated, "if a woman attends a community meeting, men say, ‘What is she doing here?’ or ‘This is for guys only’” (Poelzer 1985, 111).  These factors of political, social and economic exclusion and vulnerability can increase the likelihood of participation in criminal activity.  


 

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