It was Hailed as the end of the patriarchy and sexism inherent in the Indian Act. Women who had the audacity to marry any man other than an Indian would regain their Indian status. In the past any Indian man who married any woman he wanted kept his status, while the Indian woman who dared to love and marry a non-Indian man lost hers. After years of fighting and a United Nations committee saying Canada was in violation of UN convention, Canada cleaned house.
As usual when Canada cleans house with the Indian in mind, all is not is as it seems. Indian women are still being discriminated against based on their gender. It still remains OK for the Indian male to love and marry outside his race but women still face penalties. Yes, the ugly head of patriarchal (male-dominated) society remains a very real and scary part of the Canadian reality. Merely looking at the lineage chart above shows how Bill C-31 treats a brother and sister from the same family different. When the brother marries a non-Indian woman, his children have status and are able to pass that status on even if they in turn marry non-Indians. His sister is a different story. If she marries a non-Indian her children are status but can’t pass on that status if they marry a non-Indian.
I don’t know about all of you, but I think in Cree society the woman has always been very much an equal and respected partner in the game of life and survival. Or is this one of the Cree traditions we are supposed to throw behind us as being old-fashioned and out of date? I don’t know, as that is a decision that should be decided by Crees, but I for one do not think my grandmother was less then my grandfather in anyway. I do not think my mother is less than my father. If I had a sister I would not consider her less than my equal.
This is what Canadian law pretends is the truth but the reality is there are two truths. One is that the law says we are all equal, male and female. Secondly, there is another law and the reality that Indian women are not as equal as the men. This is the flaw we all seem to accept—the law of patriarchy—when traditional Cree and indeed most Aboriginal Peoples followed either bilateral or matriarchal lineages of descent.
With this in mind it seemed funny when I read some Indian Chiefs fought to have Bill C-31 in its present form. All the arguments of adding to the reserve population aside because ultimately those Chiefs forgot their roots. Assimilation is alive and well when Indian leaders think patriarchy is the accepted Indian norm and way of life.
Those voices make me feel ashamed to count myself male at times. I think these things have to change. Happy Mother’s Day mom and all my love as one equal to another.
Your son, Will