Indigenous Women and Two-Spirited People: Our Work is Decolonization!

Originally posted on Unsettling America:

“Be a Good Girl” (2006 woodcut print, courtesy of the Collection of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada) is a reflection on the gendered work expectations and training of women in the 1950s. I have explored this topic by looking at Indian residential schools, and the ways in which young Native women were trained in an effort to transform them into good working-class wives and workers. The Indian residential school system had a half-day labour program for girls, which was abolished in 1952 out of concern that children were not receiving an education, but were only serving the financial needs of the school. Residential schools forbade Native children from speaking their languages or practicing their culture in an attempt to mold them, for their “salvation,” into productive members of white, capitalist society. The residential schools were part of a dark history of racism and genocide in Canada and continue to have negative effects. This sort of gendered work training, however, was not reserved for the assimilation of Natives; training schools like the Ontario Training School for Girls rehabilitated young women with “loose” morals and other traits that were not tolerated in the ’50s. Both white working class and Native girls attended these training schools. This piece is about the conflicts, spiritual paradoxes, and societal expectations of young women in the ’50s.  Tania Willard, Secwepemc Nation, is an artist and designer based in Vancouver. Through her art and design she hopes to communicate the stories and voices we are unable to hear—the voices that are missing and erased from our histories and realities.

“Be a Good Girl” by Tania Willard

By Chelsea Vowel, GUTS Canadian Feminist Magazine

Indigenous women and two-spirited* people are leading a resurgence movement in iyiniwi-ministik, the People’s Island.* They draw on their traditional roles as protectors of the land and water to inform their work in our communities, and root themselves in their specific socio-political orders to counter colonialism and to revitalize language and culture. Rather than being defined as a struggle against patriarchal gender roles and the division of labour, Indigenous women and two-spirited people’s work combats the imposition of colonial barriers. The goal is not to attain gender equality, but rather to restore Indigenous nationhood, which includes gender equality and respect for gender fluidity.

As I write this I can hear Khelsilem Rivers (Skwxwú7mesh-Kwakwaka‘wakw), a community organizer from Vancouver, pointing out that not all…

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