«The Solidarity Encounter Between Indigenous Women and White Women in a Contemporary Canadian Context by Carol Lynne D’Arcangelis A thesis submitted ...»
63–64).The discourse of Indigenous women as prostitutes led to the insertion of a series of antiprostitution laws into the Indian Act between 1879 and 1887, after which came the 1886 Supreme Court ruling of Jones v. Fraser that reversed decades of legal precedent whereby the “validity of mixed marriages according to the ‘custom of the country’ had been upheld” (Carter, 1997, p. 191).
At the same time, white settler women also became the targets of surveillance. As Perry (2001) points out in reference to colonial British Columbia, this was not least due to an inevitable “disjuncture between colonial discourse and colonial practice” (p. 167). Colonial social relations and subject categories were much messier and unsavory than allowed for by colonial discourse, which gave rise to the monitoring and regulation of subjects, both settler and Indigenous.
Working-class white women in particular were willing to “test the limits of colonial discourse” (Perry, 2001, p.
184), and were thus more often the target of this regulation:
To be sure, white women rarely overtly or systematically challenged the politics of colonialism or racial separation or hierarchy. Yet their individual divergences were enough of a problem that British Columbia developed a series of institutions designed to manage and regulate white women. Girls’ schools, female charities, campaigns against “immoral” work, and efforts to protect individual white women all suggest the deep ambivalence that lay behind the faith in white women’s colonial prowess. White women were proclaimed a natural imperial force, yet careful regulation and specific intervention were required for them to be so. (Perry, 2001, pp. 184–185) Perry notes that regulatory efforts to keep white women in their place invoked the narratives of the “dangerous Aboriginal women” as well as the “sexually threatening man of colour.” These collective works suggest that white settler femininity in Canada as elsewhere was historically constructed in relation to non-white femininity or the supposed lack thereof (Ware, 1992). Even so, representations of women were malleable depending on the needs of those in power. For example, prior to the mid-1880s before elites began to perceive Canada’s newly confederated nation as imperiled by an Indigenous presence, Indigenous women were often portrayed as passive, abused “squaw” drudges, not dangerous menaces. Notably, racial/colonial difference remained a constant in colonial discourse, as Daniel Francis (1992) explains in relation to the shift from Noble to Ignoble Savage by the mid- to late nineteenth century: “the image of the Other, the Indian, was integral to the process of [Canada’s] self-identification. The Other came to stand in for everything the Euro-Canadian was not” (p. 8). As white women “on the Canadian frontier carried the banner of purity and spirituality as civilizers and reproducers of the [white] race” (Roome, 2005, p. 49), Indigenous women were the Ignoble female Savages responsible for the uncivilized state of their nations. Always in contrast to white women, they were depicted in any number of negative ways, including as “lewd and licentious,” as “squalid and immoral squaws” who spread disease, as “idle and gossipy,” as negligent/indifferent mothers, or as subordinated victims of pagan societies (see Carter, 1997, pp. 160–162).
These negative images of Indigenous women “became deeply embedded in the society of the most powerful socioeconomic groups on the [Canadian] prairies and have proved stubborn to revision” (Carter, 1997, p. 160). Dawn Martin-Hill (2003) concurs that such images have had lasting power up to and including the present. She argues that the colonially-derived Noble/Ignoble binary has taken the form of a She No Speaks/Villainous Woman binary at times wielded by Indigenous peoples. Both are stereotypes “born from the tapestry of our colonial landscape” (p. 108).39 Janice Acoose (1995) also explores the lasting negative impact of stereotypes such as “Indian princess” and “easy squaw,” not least of which is the rationalization of violence against Indigenous women. As anti-violence activists insist, to position these women as dangerous to white eurocanadian-christian-patriarchy/matriarchy is to justify the extreme acts and degrees of violence they still endure under settler colonialism.
Of relevance to this study, Acoose points to the implicatedness of white settler women in this dynamic: “Stereotypic images also function as sentinels that guard and protect the white eurocanadian-christian-patriarchy (and now to a limited extent the same kind of matriarchy) against any threatening disturbances that might upset the status quo” (p. 55). The construction of Indigenous women as threatening to the status quo relies on and upholds its antithesis—the construction of white women as pure, innocent and virtuous victims. In effect, the violence directed against Indigenous women is partially sustained by the idea that white women are innocent, virtuous and in need of protection, a discourse that immensely complicates relations between women. This study considers the implications of these constructions for the contemporary solidarity encounter between Indigenous women and white women, asking, for example, how do white women retain a sense of ourselves as virtuous and innocent subjects?
Towards “self-consciously oppositional” white settler feminism The Canadian colonial project was part of a broader global imperial project. Remarking on that project and its impact on Canadian colonial “Indian” policy, Mary-Ellen Kelm (1998) notes, Canadian government officials, medical practitioners, and elements of settler society never forgot their part in expanding the frontiers of Anglo-European ascendancy. They were imbued with the collective experiences of empire-building and looked for models in Oceania, Asia, and Africa when dealing with their own so-called subject races.
Canadian Indian policy did not develop in a vacuum, and the intellectual air of Canadian colonization was infused with the fragrance (or stench) of imperial relations around the world. (p. xix) In this light, Sarah Carter, Lesley Erickson, Patricia Roome and Char Smith (2005) describe white women in Canada’s west after Confederation (1867) as “diverse, yet unexceptional in a global, comparative perspective” (p. 8). As Valverde (1992) suggests, European and EuroCanadian women involved in (proto-) feminist movement at the time would have influenced one another. She locates Canadian feminism within what was, from its inception, an international women’s movement, and claims that “the vast majority of English-speaking first-wave feminists were not only ethnocentric but often racist” in a way that was “integral to the movement as a whole” (p. 3). They too would have advanced the prevailing racially-tinged discourses of hegemonic “imperial feminism... so characteristic of the later nineteenth century” (Midgley, 2007, p. 6).
Therefore, Canadian “first-wave” (maternal) feminists40 were likely among those who saw themselves as “expanding the frontiers of Anglo-European ascendancy” (Kelm, 1998, p. xix).
They would have both endorsed the idea of an imperilled white “race” and also their ameliorative role in stemming the so-called “degeneration” process as discussed above (Valverde, 1992, p. 8). In short, as Pickles and Rutherdale (2005) suggest, over time most Canadian settler feminists (and missionaries) took up, albeit in variedly complex ways, the subject positions of “mother of the race” and/or Christian evangelizer; they attribute this to the consolidation of the project of white settler colonialism, or “the way in which spaces for negotiating sexuality, race, gender, and class were gradually circumscribed by an increasingly harsh and pervasive white, elite colonial system” (p. 11). Likewise, in studying Canadian nation building, Thobani (2007) asserts that Canadian women’s groups, including those of the “first wave” feminists, “largely shared the goal of Canadian men to ‘Keep Canada White’” (p. 84).
For Henderson (2003), as touched upon above, settler feminism in Canada was ultimately about the incorporation of white women into the broadly liberalist (and racist) terms of empire.
The gendered and racialized interventions of middle-class white women into Canadian nation building is evident in the numerous religious, reform and/or feminist organizations they founded such as the National Council of Women (NCW), the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), the Young Women’s Christian Association (YMCA), the Girls Friendly Society, the Dominion Order of King’s Daughters and the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE) (Thobani, 2007, p. 307 note 40; see also Pickles, 2002; and Woollacott, 2006). Citing Veronica Strong-Boag (1977), Thobani (2007) identifies a self-conscious embrace by Euro-Canadian
maternal feminists in the late nineteenth century of their duty to protect family and nation:
That maternal feminists valorized women’s role as mothers is well recognized in the historical record, as is the recognition that they did this in an overtly racialized manner.
Most of them participated in the colonial and anti-immigration campaigns of the day....
The growth of organizations such as the National Council of Women [of Canada] demonstrated the “growing national self-confidence” of the women who participated in its activities, and the association of “homes and nations,” of “family and state,” was the “leitmotif” of these “feminist-nationalists.” (pp. 306–307, note 40) If the life of Henrietta Muir Edwards, one of the “Famous 5,”41 is any indication—Edwards was in the WCTU and the Ottawa YWCA, and a co-founder of the NCW in 1893 (Heritage Community Foundation, 2004)—“feminist nationalists” were involved in any number of overlapping causes and organizations. Thobani (2007) cites the NCW and the WCTU as specific examples of women’s groups that employed discourses of racial supremacy to further their own agendas.
There were arguably also “self-consciously oppositional” (Lewis, 1996, p. 3) settler women in Canada, among them Amelia McLean Paget (1867-1922), the daughter of an elite Hudson’s Bay Company fur-trader in Fort Simpson (present-day North West Territories). While Paget “defied and complicated [Canadian] colonial categories and divides” in part because of her distant Aboriginal ancestry, Sarah Carter (2006) ascribes to Paget a racial thinking of sorts, exemplified not least by an unwillingness or inability to take a direct stand against colonial designs (p. 199).
To her credit, Paget challenged many of the derogatory stereotypes about Indigenous peoples in mid- to late nineteenth-century Canada. In particular, she decried many misperceptions about Indigenous women, describing them as gifted healers, industrious workers and attentive mothers rather than as oppressed drudges—and never used the term “squaw” (Carter, 2006, pp. 216– 217). Nonetheless, as Carter (2006) notes, “Paget’s understanding of Plains people was filtered through prevailing ideas about the ‘vanishing race’” (p. 218). Paget also employed the rhetoric of tolerance42 in her opaque “critique of government policy and parsimony” vis-à-vis Indigenous peoples (p. 219).
The members of the Famous 5, whose activism resulted in the 1929 British Privy Council
decision to declare women persons before the law, were among the most well-known selfconsciously oppositional “feminist-nationalists” in Canada. Based on an assessment of “firstwave” Euro-Canadian feminism protagonists such as Emily Murphy, Thobani (2007) concludes:
These women’s concerns about the quality of the race and the nation shaped their advocacy for the extension of citizenship rights to white women, such that even as they confronted their gendered inequalities, most did so in the name of furthering the national interest by stressing the importance of [white] women to family and nation. (p. 85; see p.
289 n51) Likewise, Henderson (2003) explores Emily Murphy’s (1868–1933) racist ideology and role in the Canadian race-making project, while noting “the paradoxical combination of the settler woman’s functions as an emblem of sexual vulnerability and an agent of the government” (p. 6).