Women of Strength: Indigenous Peoples’ Resistance to Colonialism Essay

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Women of Strength: Indigenous Peoples’ Resistance to Colonialism


Women of Strength: Indigenous Peoples’ Resistance to Colonialism

From their very first encounters with colonists, the indigenous women of Canada have been discriminated against, and disempowered by, the patriarchal society of Europeans and, later, Canadian society itself. Colonialism brought about an era of oppression that has irrevocably altered years of cultural and spiritual tradition. The implementation of foreign methods of government has resulted in social, physical and spiritual losses for indigenous peoples. Indigenous women have in some ways been doubly discriminated against. Indigenous peoples have struggled to achieve or retain a legitimised place in Canadian society, and indigenous women have been further disempowered by sexism. One might expect that under these concerted and relentless attacks on their culture indigenous women will have been unable to retain their strength of identity. This is not the case. Over the course of their history Indigenous women have certainly proved their strength and resilience.
This paper aims to highlight and explain the ways in which indigenous women have suffered discrimination, but also to showcase the ways in which they have resisted colonialism and reclaimed their culture.

Firstly, it is important to explain the use of certain key terminology. Thus far I have referred to indigenous peoples. This is a broad term, under which fall First Nations peoples, Métis, and Inuit. The latter are specific groups of people, who generally live in the far north of Canada and are not considered ‘Indian’ under Canadian law. Métis refers to a collection of identities and cultures which were formed from unions between European and Aboriginal people. This term has a very specific legal meaning but more general cultural meanings. In this paper, any reference to Métis people will be a cultural as opposed to legal reference. The final term, First Nations, refers to Aboriginal peoples of Canada who are neither Métis nor Inuit. This is an ethnic and cultural definition but, like Métis, not a legal definition. Only the term ‘Indian’ has a legal definition.1 The majority of this paper will refer to First Nations peoples, as these are the majority of Aboriginal peoples, but there will also be reference to Métis and Inuit.

It is important to try and explain the thinking behind European colonialism in North America. Two of the most influential theories in colonialism are ‘terra nullius’ and the doctrine of discovery. ‘Terra nullius’ was a concept central to the justification of European colonisation. It is the Latin for ‘empty land’ or ‘land of no-one’. The latter phrasing is probably the most useful in understanding how this legal fiction was invented and used by Europeans to justify their assertion that land in North America could be claimed by them. Their reasoning was that land could be claimed by Europeans if they believed no other recognised sovereignty had previously owned it. As the indigenous peoples of Canada were not a recognised sovereignty, colonists thus had legal ‘right’ to claim their land. Rather unpleasantly, indigenous people were often seen as part of the flora and fauna of the land, and thus could be subjected to ownership.
The philosophy of the doctrine of discovery was also very important to the justification of settler colonialism. This doctrine had a religious, as well as legal, slant in that it allowed authority over lands not previously inhabited by Christians. Settlers were required, or felt compelled, to attempt the conversion of previous inhabitants to Christianity. However, as this would lead indigenous peoples to become legitimate inhabitants and therefore oust settlers, most conversion attempts were short-lived. Despite this, throughout history many colonial countries have tried to argue that they brought improvements to indigenous peoples’ lives