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Aboriginal and Ethnic Minority Women


First Nation's woman at St. Albert.  Glenbow Archives.As discussed in the section entitled Fur Trade Society, Aboriginal and mixed blood women had occupied an important position in the fur trade as wives of the traders. Marriage with an Aboriginal woman created an important economic link with her tribe and she possessed labor skills that were essential to the survival of the traders in the Canadian wilderness. However, with the arrival of white women during the settlement period, racism towards women of native descent grew and they were increasingly relegated to the outskirts of society. Traders were discouraged from marrying them, native women who had achieved high status through their marriage to high-ranking officials increasingly faced hostility and alienation from social circles, and Aboriginal women along with their tribes were moved to reserves, their mobility controlled and reduced. Many of the stereotypes generated regarding Aboriginal and mixed blood women during this period focused on them being bad mothers and wives. For instance, the inability to stay chaste or monogamous, to keep a clean household and to properly nurture children were all characteristics attributed to these women. They are also all characteristics in direct opposition to the qualities of the ideal white women.

Not only non-white women experienced this process of stereotyping and social alienation, but any woman who did not fit into the mould of white, English, Protestant and middle class could be seen as living outside the bounds of ideal womanhood. For instance, Ukrainians settled in Alberta in large numbers throughout the early 20th century and they tended to settle en bloc, retain their language and practise many of their traditional customs. Just as Aboriginal women were attacked for being bad mothers and wives, Ukrainian women were perceived as possessing attributes contrary to the ideals of womanhood.  Also, both Aboriginal and Ukrainian settlements were the focus of missionary activity. The goal of missions was generally to "Canadianize, civilize and Christianize" ethnic minorities or, in other words, to assimilate them to the dominant culture. As will be discussed in the section entitled Religion, missionary activity often focused on the women in these Aboriginal and Ukrainian communities, since it was believed that if women learned the values and morals of the dominant society they would in turn pass them on to the rest of their community. Women as mothers and wives were seen as the centres of communities, they also had the greatest effect on the next generation. Therefore, they were targeted as being the prime subjects of conversion - the most easy and important subjects to bring back within the bounds of ideal society.


Sources and Suggested Readings:

  • Famous Five Website

  • Millar, Nancy.  Once Upon a Wedding.  Calgary: Bayeux Arts, 2000.

  • Swyripa, Frances.  "Negotiating Sex and Gender in the Ukrainian Bloc Settlement: East Central Alberta between the Wars."  Telling Tales.  Eds. Catherine Cavanaugh and Randi Warne.  Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2000.

  • Van Kirk, Sylvia.  Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670-1870.  Winnipeg: Watson & Dwyer Publishing, 1980.



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