THE ROLE OF WOMEN

Anishinaabeg Ikwe women occupy a primordial role in their communities: As guardians of values, they see to it that these are passed on to the next generation. They also see to the well-being of the family, the education of the children and the transmission of the Anishinaabeg language and songs through which their culture is kept alive.

During the First World War, First Nations women worked in their communities with organizations such as the Red Cross and set up patriotic organizations, the first of which was the Six Nations Women’s Patriotic League in 1914. These organizations were in charge of sending the soldiers articles that were handmade by the women: socks, sweaters, clothing of all kinds and food products. They also organized bazaars in order to raise funds for the war effort.

An unknown number of nurses from the First Nations also served abroad and at the front. Very little information exists about them. The most famous among them was Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture, a Mohawk nurse who joined the Nurse Corps in the American Expeditionary Force. She practiced her profession in France from 1917 to 1919.

However, as members of the First Nations, women were doubly marginalized. Indeed, by denying them the right to participate in the elections of chiefs for many decades and by revoking the Indian status of women who married non-Natives, thereby depriving them of the right to reside on a reserve, the Wartimes Elections Act considerably weakened Native women’s role within their communities, imposed the western model on the communities and contributed to the decline of the Anishinaabeg culture and language. On the other hand, a non-Native woman who married an Anishinaabe obtained Indian status and was allowed to reside within the community, thus facilitating the spread of non-Native languages. In addition, the fact that residential schools were also an obstacle to the transmission of culture by women must be pointed out, since the young girls placed there were taught western values and customs.

Furthermore, while the Act granted the right to vote to a non-Native woman whose husband or son was serving in the army, as well as to nurses, it denied this right to Native women. Although the Military Voters Act of 1917 granted the right to vote to Natives serving in the military without requiring them to abandon their status, women could not serve in the military. They could, however, during the Second World War, when more than 70 of them participated in combat missions.

 

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