Gender Discrimination Against Indigenous Women through the Indian Act – Annotated Bibliography

By Tegwyn Skye Curtis

Written in 2021 for the University of Ottawa course HIS 4135 – The Indian Act, for Prof. Daniel Rück, edited by Daniel Rück and Sam Yee

For those looking to research gender discrimination and the Indian Act, your initial efforts may seem more difficult than you planned. Many of the resources that come up, whether through Google or other search engines, are not set in Canada. Instead, they discuss gender discrimination in the state of India, and different acts that have been put in place there. This annotated bibliography can be both a starting point for those interested in exploring this topic, while also offering a deep dive into the intersection between Indigenous women and the Indian Act. The sources offer both law-based and experience-based resources and analysis, covering everything from introductory topics to more in-depth sources, and including academic articles, books, and magazine and digital articles. I have chosen to focus mostly on recently published sources.

A few of the sources given in this bibliography provide readers with basic information on the topic of women and the Indian Act. Katrina Harry’s primer published through the Battered Women’s Support Services is meant to be a guide for front line workers, but offers researchers a quick breakdown of the different aspects, both current and historical, and much of the terminology along with it. Angela Sterritt’s book gets into further analysis, but has the added benefit of breaking down most of the key terms you will come across when researching women and the Indian Act. The primer from the Assembly of First Nations is the next piece when looking for an introduction, as it breaks down two of the major bills that brought amendments to the Indian Act, and the impacts of those amendments. Once you have read these introductory pieces, you can explore other academic articles, books, and the dissertation that dive further into the issue, and provide more analysis on both a historical context, as well as a modern one.

Bob Joseph’s book 21 Things You May Not Know About The Indian Act is a good starting point for delving deeper. While it covers a variety of the issues and topics relating to the Indian Act, he does highlight how it affects women, and places it within the context of the rest of the Indian Act. It contains both information, as well as annexes with further reading and documents that play major roles in the Indian Act. The second book, Talking Back to the Indian Act by Mary-Ellen Kelm and Keith D. Smith, is a harder read than Joseph’s book, but brings a different, equally important aspect to the conversation. Chapter 4 focuses exclusively on the topic of women and discrimination against women in the Indian Act, but there are also several other points in the book that bring Indigenous women into the conversation.

The Amnesty International article, the book Disinherited Generation, and the testimony from Denise Stonefish and Perry Bellegarde, emphasize the perspectives of Indigenous people themselves. They also focus on how amendments to the original document could cause harm, or that they were empty words that would bring no real change. Many of these sources introduce some of the important legal cases that took place, and the stories they tell are anotherlook at how the Indian Act has discriminated against Indigenous women. There are also articles that offer further analysis of the Indian Act’s discrimination against women. The Barker & McCreary article, the Brodsky article, the Cannon article, and the Narine article introduce some of these cases. Some of the sources, including the Gehl and the Green articles, look specifically at the concept of citizenship and Indian Status, and how this has discriminated against Indigenous women. Some of the resources in this bibliography show how Indian Act gender discrimination allowed for other forms of discrimination and assault. Gwen Brodsky’s article connects the historical discrimination against Indigenous women to the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls today. An important piece of the literature on gender discrimination and its connection to other issues is Karen Stote’s dissertation on the forced sterilization of Indigenous women. Her dissertation also leads to further discussions of Canada’s eugenics movement.

This bibliography will help guide you through the many layers that come with researching gender discrimination against women through the Indian Act. It offers specific experiences through the voices of Indigenous women in Canada through their personal articles and books, while placing the Act in larger contexts of history, politics, and law. The bibliography is meant for those who are simply interested and looking for an introduction to the topic, but also offers you a chance to get further into the analysis, and understand how many of the intersecting issues persist in politics and social life today. Good luck with your research!

Annotated Bibliography

Amnesty International. “End sex discrimination in the Indian Act now! In conversation with Éloïse Décoste from Quebec Native Women.” June 19, 2019.

This article lays out, from the perspective of First Nations woman and analyst with Quebec Native Women, Éloïse Décoste, how the Indian Act discriminates against women. It is also a call to action to end gender-based discrimination in the law, and it explains that the UN has already ruled that it is a discriminatory bill. Décoste offers not only an Indigenous point of view on the issue, but also her expertise as a legal and policy analyst. This article is very easy to read because it is done in an interview style with Décoste, so it is broken into sections with each question as an effective title. Therefore, readers can read the whole thing through, but it also has headers that allow them to find answers to quicker questions they may have. Décoste goes over a range of topics on how the Indian Act affects women and girls, and the types of discrimination that come through in it, connecting that discrimination with the violence against this population. She also explains why the changes that have been made to the Bill were not adequate, and why the government continues to resist making more changes to the Indian Act. She touches on a lot of the major points that are seen throughout other articles, such as the McIvor case and Bill C-31. She ends the article by calling on citizens to pressure the government to make the changes needed to protect Indigenous women and girls.

Assembly of First Nations. “What is Bill C-31 and Bill C-3?”

This is a short primer from the Assembly of First Nations, which breaks down Bill C-31 and Bill C-3, discussing what the bills are, the amendments they made, and the issues that came with them. Bill C-31 and C-3 both aimed to remove the gender-based discrimination mostly targeted at women. This source should be used as a primer and not a main source, as it does not explicitly state its sources besides Bill C-31 and Bill C-3. It breaks down Bill C-31, touching specifically on how it affects band membership. It also explains some of the fallout of Bill C-31, who was affected and who could seek status – and what that meant. The graphic at the end of the source is a useful visual for how status could be regained after Bill C-31 and Bill C-3. It drives home the point that the outcome is unknown after two generations, leaving readers with question marks.

Barker, Barbara & Tyler McCreary. “‘Any Indian Woman Marrying Any Other Than an Indian, Shall Cease to Be Indian.’” Briar Patch 37, no. 2 (2008): 9–11.

This short article lays out the case of Sharon McIvor, an important legal challenge involving her loss of Indian status. It highlights not only historical issues of Indigenous women and their children losing status, but also how the amendments fell short in helping Indigenous women. It does not offer the sources it is based on, but it appears that most of it is based on the proceedings of McIvor’s case. Barker and McCreary show how the Indian Act aimed to assimilate Indigenous Peoples, and they discuss issues concerning assimilated Indigenous people, especially how these affected Sharon McIvor’s case. This is a useful article for looking at both the legal action that was taken, as well as the real impacts of these policies.

Brodsky, Gwen. “Indian Act Sex Discrimination: Enough Inquiry Already, Just Fix It.” Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 28, no. 2 (2016): 314–20.

Brodsky writes this article in the wake of the calls for an inquiry and plan around missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. She starts by reminding readers that the Canadian government had not acknowledged the role of the state in contributing to the violence that Indigenous women experience. The article’s main purpose is shown through connections between the gender-based discrimination in the Indian Act with current violence against Indigenous women in Canada. Brodsky provides evidence on how the Act created vulnerabilities that people were able to exploit, and brings in other documents on human rights in Canada. Brodsky also discusses multiple landmark cases, such as the Lavell and McIvor cases, as well as older documents such as a report from the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada, and Bills C-31 and C-3. She lays things out in point form to both emphasize each issue, as well as making these multiple, complex documents into readable bites. The article encourages us to not simply continue discussing the problem, and instead start bringing in actual changes to better protect Indigenous women now and in the future. Brodsky’s article documents and contextualizes the violence against Indigenous women and girls we see today. It is also a call to action for the government. Having laid out all the evidence as to why action is needed, Brodsky argues that action is not as difficult and complicated as it is sometimes said to be. This is an important piece of the literature on Indigenous Women and the Indian Act because it not only places it in a modern context, and calls for changes to be made.

Cannon, Martin John. “Race Matters: Sexism, Indigenous Sovereignty, and McIvor.” Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 26, no. 1 (2014): 23–50.

Cannon argues that law, and the Indian Act in particular, is at the heart of continued colonial and assimilative efforts. He uses works from Mohawk writer Patricia Monture to help illustrate how these laws were not made for Indigenous people, and were instead wielded against them – for control and assimilation. He also delves into the McIvor case to show how the Indian Act and sexism are inseparable. This is a strong article because of the case and evidence Cannon bases his article on, and gives readers a greater understanding of how the McIvor case highlights the true issues with the Indian Act as well as its amendments. Cannon looks at in in terms of how the government has limited the definition of what it means to be “Indian”. He then discusses how this limited definition allowed the government to both control women and to reduce the number of people with Indian status by taking it away from their mothers.

Carter, Sarah A. The Importance of Being Monogamous: Marriage and Nation Building in Wester Canada in 1915. Edmonton: The University of Alberta Press, 2008.

Sarah A. Carter’s book The Importance of Being Monogamous explores how laws affected Indigenous communities in a specific way. Her book explores how monogamy was required and enforced in Canada. Chapter six, “Creating ‘Semi-Widows’ and ‘Supernumerary Wives’: Prohibiting Polygamy in Prairie Canada’s Aboriginal Communities” looks at how the government outlawed polygamy, and tried to figure out how to do this in the context of aboriginal communities. It highlights many of the patriarchal aspects of the Canadian Government, such as how they used their power over Indigenous communities. The chapter highlights the different ways dismantling polygamy happened, but more importantly, it highlights one of the ways that Indigenous women lost their autonomy. Other chapters in the book look at marriages in Western Indigenous communities, how many Indigenous women were married to settlers, and other topics that explore how women were discriminated against and their autonomy was violated.

Carlson, Nellie, Kathleen Steinhauer, Linda Goyette, & Maria Campbell. Disinherited Generations: Our Struggle to Reclaim Treaty Rights for First Nations Women and Their Descendants. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2013.

This book is an autobiography of Nellie Carlson and Kathleen Steinhauer, two women from Saddle Lake Cree Nation in Alberta. It goes through their story, including surviving a residential school that was also brought in by the Indian Act. The book also highlights a few other First Nations women who were important activists, placing Carlson and Steinhauer’s stories into a larger narrative of a fight and struggle for their rights. While the book tells the story of Carlson and Steinhauer’s lives, it is meant to show how two women navigated life under the Indian Act, and how both lost their Indian Status when they married non-Status Indian men. The book explains the struggles the two women faced, how the Indian Act impacted their lives, and how they became activists during their fight for the rights through organizing the Indian Rights for Indian Women movement. This book relies mainly on the personal experiences of Carlson and Steinhauer, with each chapter divided into background information, and then their personal stories to create a narrative on the topic. They also bring in the Indian Act, and how it created the conditions that led to their stories being what they are.

Day, Shelagh. “Equal Status for Indigenous Women–Sometime, Not Now: The Indian Act and Bill S-3.” Canadian Woman Studies 33, no. 1-2 (2018): 174–85.

Day utilizes the evidence in the 2015 report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in British Columbia, Canada from the Inter-American Commission on Human rights, to show that the current violence against Indigenous women has deep roots in the Indian Act. Day demonstrates that the Canadian Government has not acted to protect Indigenous women and their rights. Day also discusses the way the 2017 Senate Bill S-3 was changed by the Government of Canada to not allow women and their descendants to reclaim their Indian status. Day lays out both timelines to better understand the work going into dismantling the sexism in the Indian Act, as well as the decisions that were made and how they still continue to negatively impact women. In some ways, this feels like a response to Brodsky’s article, which called for the need to act now, and how two years later relatively little had changed.

Gehl, Lynn. “The Queen and I: Discrimination Against Women in the Indian Act Continues.” Canadian Woman Studies 20, no. 2 (2000): 64–69.

Gehl’s article is an important piece of the literature on Indigenous women and the Indian Act. It lays out the different movements over the 20th century to end gender-based discrimination in the Indian Act, and introduces some of the important activists from those movements. One of the people highlighted is Mary Two Axe Early, a well-known activist who started speaking out against discrimination against Indigenous women in the 1950s. The article looks mainly at the effects of the Indian Act’s section 12 (1) (b), which is the section that removes status from a woman who marries a non-Status man, and thereby taking away status from their descendants. Gehl breaks down the different aspects of the amendments brought to the Indian Act, what they mean for Indigenous women, and the struggle to getting to the legal Indian status. This article is especially impactful because it goes beyond using literary sources such as articles and books, or primary sources such as the Indian Act. It brings in a personal story – that of Gehl’s experience. In her article, she discusses the impact of discrimination she has personally experienced, as well as working towards understanding her identity as an Indigenous woman who did not have status.

Green, Joyce. “Canaries in the Mines of Citizenship: Indian Women in Canada.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 34, no. 4 (2001): 715–38.

Green’s 2001 article looks at the idea of citizenship, and adds to the early 21st century conversations about what citizenship means, and how it affects Indigenous women in Canada. She explains the difficulty of citizenship in Canada, where the state has been – and in most ways, continues to be – the oppressor of Indigenous peoples. She gives a strong look at how women navigate citizenship and identity, especially when many have lost their citizenship to their bands through the loss of their Indian status, and how it goes on to affect their children. Green highlights the ways sexism, racism, and colonialism play roles in this conversation. She also explains how differing concepts of citizenship have affected Indigenous people and Indigenous women. Green utilizes a lot of sources, pulling from literature on both citizenship, and the Indian Act, to further explain the differences and dichotomies of how it has affected women. The article highlights how citizenship, and the loss of it, can affect traditional life. Green concludes that the state continues to fail Indigenous women by taking away their rights and that discrimination against them continues. This is a multi-faceted article, that explores many different ways that Indigenous women who are not Status Indians try to navigate the world, and the larger human-rights effects of these policies.

Harry, Katrina. “The Indian Act & Aboriginal Women’s Empowerment: What Front Line Workers Need to Know.” Battered Women’s Support Services. January 2009.

This is a useful primer meant for people working with Indigenous women. It lays out many different parts of the Indian Act, the amendments, and its impacts. It has a useful, fully cited glossary of many of the terms that come up when discussing women and the Indian Act. It lays out some of the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada, with a focus on Indigenous women, and traces them through early contact, before the Indian Act, and after the Indian Act. It also discusses other legislation, and the ways that Indigenous women are still affected by all these different policies. This would be a really great starting point for anyone looking to learn more about the Indian Act and its effects on women, and the different things that can affect them. It also touches on topics such as what it means to be a Status Indian and part of a band.

Hurley, Mary C, and Tonina Simeone. “Bill C-3: Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act.” Aboriginal Policy Studies (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) 3, no. 3 (2014): 153-172.

Mary C. Hurley and Tonina Simeone’s article, originally published in 2010 and republished in 2014, looks at Bill C-3, and how it was put forth to respond to the Court of Appeals’ decision in the McIvor v. Canada case. It was an amendment to the Indian Act that was trying to reduce gender-based discrimination. Hurley and Simeone dive into the history of sexism in the Indian Act. The article is easy to read, as it is broken down into the different eras. The 1970s saw an increase of opposition to the Indian Act, and more organized efforts by First Nations people and particularly First Nations women to fight against the discrimination within it. The next section is 1982-1984, which explains the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and its relationship to the Indian Act. From there, Hurley and Simeone move to 1985, explaining Bill C-31, and examining the literature to explain the responses to this Bill. They move into the 21st century with a jump to 2007, using the McIvor Case as a starting point. Hurley and Simeone then go in to explaining Bill C-3, describing that the Bill has ten clauses and is meant to start making amends, and that it was started in response to the McIvor case. They break down each of the ten clauses, and some of the responses of First Nations people and the government. This is a strong article on the policy surrounding women and the Indian Act, how it has both been changed over the years, yet continues to discriminate.

Joseph, Bob. 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act : Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality. Port Coquitlam, BC: Indigenous Relations Press, 2018.

Though not very long, this book is very effective. The first part of the book echoes the title and breaks down 21 aspects of the Indian Act. The second part of the book moves away from the history of the act, looks to the future. The book touches on different ways that the Act affected women. In one of the first of his 21 points, Joseph explains that the Act removed status from women, and touches on how Bill C-31 and Bill C-3 impacted this situation. At the end of the book, Joseph also includes several appendices. Among these are the 94 calls to action in the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Report, which includes call 41. Call 41 is meant to highlight the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and calls for an investigation into this and its link to the history of residential schools. This book is both a resource and a starting point for anyone looking to learn about women and the Indian Act. It also includes many Indigenous women’s voices as resources to underline some of the information and thoughts presented throughout the book.

Kelm, Mary-Ellen, and Keith D. Smith. Talking Back to the Indian Act : Critical Reading in Settler Colonial Histories. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press, 2018.

Mary-Ellen Kelm and Keith D. Smith’s book Talking Back to the Indian Act is a strong addition to the literature surrounding the Indian Act. The book, broken in to six chapters to cover a variety of topics, focuses on sharing primary sources to convey a political view of the Indian Act. Among the documents they share are memos, political speeches, and responses from different Indigenous populations. Chapter 4 focuses specifically on the Act’s impact on women and how many of them lost their Indigenous status, but readers would be well to read the whole book, as multiple issues are interwoven and are brought up multiple times throughout the book. The book also offers a level of guidance for people researching Indigenous topics, setting out several steps from both a colonial historical research point of view, as well as working in Indigenous research perspectives, such as the ideas of respect and reciprocity. Kelm and Smith help guide their readers through the documents presented by starting each chapter placing them in a historical context and political context, offering guiding questions in each chapter.

Narine, Shari. “Canada Continues to Fail Indigenous Women Under the Indian Act.” Windspeaker, Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA), 34, no. 16 (2016): 7.

This short article is in response to Bill S-3, and highlights the voices of Indigenous women, such as legal scholar Pam Palmater. It provides a very brief descriptor of the history, but looks more at why the efforts being made are not truly effective efforts on the part of the Canadian Government. In it, Shari Narine brings in important legal case sources including McIvor v. Canada and Deschenaux v. Canada. It highlights as well that the Indian Act is not the only piece of legislation that is misogynistic towards Indigenous women, and ends with a call to further the efforts towards protecting and supporting Indigenous women. This short article is an important piece of the literature on women and the Indian Act for the sources it utilizes and the discussion around the issue, but also because it is presented in a way that is easy to read. It gives readers a strong starting point, especially with the use of legal cases.

Sterritt, Angela. Racialization of Poverty: Indigenous Women, the Indian Act and Systemic Oppression: Reasons for Resistance. Vancouver: Vancouver Status of Women, 2012.

This book highlights several different aspects of the lives of Indigenous women, starting with their traditional roles, the effects of church and state policies, and the continuing oppression through the removal of their status and the subsequent loss of status for all their future generations. In many ways this book is a primer for those looking to learn more in an in-depth way about the ways the Indian Act has affected Indigenous women, as well as the historical roots for much of the discrimination against Indigenous women we can still see today. The work is based archival sources and published articles to create a narrative take on gender discrimination in the Indian Act and its effects today.

Stonefish, Denise and Perry Bellegarde. “Gender Discrimination and the Indian Act.” Policy Options (Online), Nov 25, 2016.

This is a transcript of a testimony that was given to a Senate committee by Denise Stonefish and Perry Bellegrade during the discussions around Bill S-3. Denise Stonefish is the Chief for Delaware Nation in Ontario, and Perry Bellegrade was the Chief of the Assembly of First Nations at the time. This is the third attempt to amend the Indian Act to stop its gender-based discrimination. The testimony lays out the former attempts, and how they failed to end gender-based discrimination. It also raises issues with Bill S-3, specifically how it was not addressing other types of discrimination. Stonefish and Bellegarde discuss how children of women who lost and regained their status cannot pass status on to their children, by using the McIvor and Lovelace cases. They bring recommendations from the Assembly of First Nations, which include recommendations to work more directly with First Nations, and to start moving away from the colonial basis and bring important voices into the conversations. Stonefish and Bellgarde point out that doing this would allow for the right to self-determination, something they are being denied in the current legislation, which is also a direct violation of international human rights law.

Stote, Karen. “An Act of Genocide: Eugenics, Indian Policy, and the Sterilization of Aboriginal Women in Canada.” PhD Dissertation, University of New Brunswick, 2012.

Stote’s dissertation has since been turned into a book, though it is not available online. It looks at both the government’s abuse of Indigenous peoples, in the context of the eugenics movement. It examines the ways in which policy was used to justify the forced sterilization of Indigenous women in Canada, while also noting some of the non-legislated ways it took place. Stote argues that this comes down to being a part of genocide, as much as it is a misogynistic practice that was, at times, allowed to happen in legal ways. Early in Stote’s piece, she also explores some of the current reactions to this work, which brings in a social aspect of its importance. Stote starts by explaining what eugenics is and the dark history of eugenics in Canada, before presenting its correlation with the Indian Act in Chapter 3, and going beyond the Indian Act to look at other policies surrounding Indigenous lives that made it possible. Stote argues that the Indian Act gave the basis for control that allowed governments to coercively sterilize many Indigenous women, and discusses the impact this had on communities. She also explores how this forced sterilization was a direct act of genocide, which coupled with other policies, such as those of residential schools, were meant to eliminate Indigenous populations in Canada. Stote’s work also goes beyond the Indian Act to look at the lasting impacts of these policies, the settlements that came from it, and the current coercive birth control methods imposed on some Indigenous women. This is a very important text concerning women and the Indian Act, bringing in an aspect beyond the patrilineal system that many other works focus on.

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