Expanding Family Ties
The Role of Native Women in Canadian History
I do not ask that flowers should always spring beneath my feet;  I know too well the poison and the sting of things too sweet.       Adelaide Ann Proctor
Over the past several decades there has been a rebirth of native unity, and a renewed interest in the past of the aboriginal peoples.  My work, rather than separating the cultures, is to present them as a more cohesive unit of Canadians, who all had an influence in the growth of our country.  We all began as a single species, developed into a multitude of cultures and were all, at one time  immigrants.  But more importantly, WE ARE NOW ALL CANADIANS!

The biggest separation probably occured at about the time of Confederation, but began several years before, when the British took possession of Canada.  Unlike the French, who promoted intermarriage,  the British had no desire to join them, but preferred to beat them, and forced many off their original homelands to make way for the Loyalists, fleeing from persecutuion after the American Revolution.  Before that time they only drove themselves off, with the joy of victory or resignation of defeat.

But since my own study centers around the role of women in Canadian history, this portion of the website will  present our history from the perspective of the native women, who had a much more active role than you might think, in the development of our nation.

Canada was founded on trade, and no one was more important to that trade, than the women.  At first, the trade goods were mostly agriculture products, cultivated by the women, but with the arrival of the Europeans, the emphasis shifted to fur.  Fur, fur and more fur.  They couldn't get enough, and the female role shifted from provider of the goods to facilitator of the operation.  The men did the hunting and trapping, but the women played a key role in establishing and maintaining the best market for their product.  By entering into marriage with, mostly French, traders; they were able to integrate them into their own society.  They were now kinfolk, and as such, new loyalties were gained for their communities.  Monogamy wasn't important, but clan membership was. 

If you question this intent, than why did so many men go to live with his wife's native family, even if only for a few years; yet few, if any; native women, joined their French husbands in their settlement?  No doubt some of these relationships were romantic, but stories of lost hunters espying beautiful Indian maidens in the woods, and carrying them off, are just that.  Stories.

The fact is, matchmakers or "procurers", sought the best deal possible for their community, clan or tribe, and matches were formed based on the best economic opportuniies.  More precise cultural views on marriage and sexual relations, can be found with the links below, but generally speaking, the women had a lot of power, and they knew it.

On the other side of the coin,
a French trader's success was largely determined by his willingness to respect this kinship shaped by native women; as later British traders found out when they were never really able to enjoy the success of their French counterparts. 

It is also a popular theory, that with conversion to Chritianity, native women were forced to play a more docile role.  However, while in theory this should have been the case, in practice, her power was actually increased.  The Jesuits soon realized that rather than try to impose strict adherence to their Christian principles, they would have  more success if they altered those principles to better tie in with Native beliefs.  This resulted in kind of a frontier Catholocism, that enhanced women's power.  She led the family in prayer and employed oral traditions to illuminate Christian truths, a role that formerly fell to her male elders. The Great Spirit was now Manitou and he was brought to life by the women.
Women of the Algonkin
Women of the Melecete
Women of the Assiniboine
Women of the MicMac
Women of the Mississaga
Women of the Beaver
Women of the Mohawk
Women of the Bella Coola
Women of the Montagnais
Women of the Blackfoot
Women of the Nahani
Women of the Blood
Women of the Naspaki
Women of the Boethuk
Women of the Nootka
Women of the Chilcotin
Women of the Ojibway
Women of the Chipewyan
Women of the Onandaga
Women of the Cree
Women of the Piegan
Women of the Carrier
Women of the Salish
Women of the Dogrib
Women of the Sarcee
Women of the Eskimo
Women of the Sekani
Women of the Gros Ventra
Women of the Slave
Women of the Haida
Women of the Tagish
Women of the Hare
Women of the Hurons
Women of the Tahltan
Women of the Iroquois
Women of the Tobacco
Women of the Kutchin
Women of the Tsetsaut
Women of the Kwakiutl
Women of the Tsimshian
Women of the Yellow Knives
Native Home Page
Through the Eyes of Canadian Women Home Page
Uniquely Canadian Site Map
Victorian Canada Home Page