Indian Act discrimination marginalized traditional women’s leadership, say Manitoba chiefs

Manitoba chiefs discussed the Indian Act and how it reduced the traditional leadership role of indigenous women at a special chiefs assembly June 9.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, many First Nations were matriarchal societies in which women were respected leaders. The establishment of the Indian Act in 1867 defined status Indians based solely on paternal lineage by specifying that women who married non-status men lost their own status while non-status women who married status men gained Indian status.

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“As First Nation women, we were the first to be abolished from the Indian Act,” said Norway House Cree Nation Coun. Samantha Folster in a press release. “Women play an important role in our communities. It is the women that need to stand up. We are the home fires of our communities and are the life-givers. We need to be healthy so our communities our healthy.”

Chiefs at the assembly agreed to continue educating people about the Indian Act through the Road to Niagara campaign.

“When we talk about getting rid of the Indian Act, we need to revitalize the role of women in leadership positions,” said Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak. “Today, we have a large number of women chiefs sitting at this table. It is encouraging to see that times are changing. Women hold the power in our nations. This is where we get our direction from in the most humble and kind way.”

Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation elder Darcy Linklater said indigenous people never asked for much and did not ask to have the Indian Act imposed on themselves.

“We were put in prisoner of war camps called reserves, stuck on the bottom of the economic ladder,” said Linklater. “We need to disengage from the Indian Act.”

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