Madeleine Parent and Native Women

      Madeleine Parent was a feminist and fought in order to ensure that women’s rights would be respected and upheld. She wanted to protect the rights of all women, no matter which ethnicity or race they were. She was a part of different feminist groups and was one of the founding members of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC). She was involved in many of the NAC’s subcommittees and was a major participant of the Native Women’s committee. The Native Women committee’s main focus was on the women in the native communities however they recognized that in order to help these women they must aid the general native population. The support of Native women must be founded in a support of all of the Native people. Native people have experienced a loss of territory, culture and identity, and women in these communities have the added issue of sexism.(1)

     As a member of the Native women’s committee, Parent worked on several large and controversial issues. One of the biggest projects Parent worked on was the issues surrounding and the amendment of the Indian Act. The Indian Act was created in 1876, it was a constitutional act which gave the Canadian government considerable control over the Aboriginal people. The government implemented things such as the reserve system and defining who is considered an “Indian.” The Indian Act was based on the policy of assimilation and thus had severe repercussions for all aboriginal people. It created the concept of a “registered Indian” or special status for the aboriginal people.(2) One of the greatest problems with the Indian Act is only “status Indians” had rights under the act. One can only become a “status Indian” if they were the descendant of a male status Indian. The Indian Act had sexism woven throughout it and rights of the aboriginal women were not at all protected.(3)

      Status was passed on through the males which meant that a woman’s status and the status of her children was never secure. A woman could easily lose her status, and therefore all of the special rights she is given through the Indian Act. Women would lose status because of marriage.(4) In subsection 12(1)(b) of the act, it states an native women marrying anyone other than another native would lose “their status and treaty rights such that they could no longer own property on the reserve, were prevented from inheriting property on the reserve, were refused participation in band affairs” and they were also denied access to all of the resources their communities had.(5) Not only was a woman’s status not secure but that of her children was also not guaranteed, if a mother lost her status, their children would often lose their status as well. On top of losing their status, they would then be ostracized in their communities, often leading to being expelled from their communities. The native women struggled to change this law and amend the Act and there were great surges of effort beginning in 1970 which lead to the creation of Bill C-31 in 1985.(6)

          When the Bill C-31 was created, it took away much of the discrimination in the Indian Act and allowed many to reclaim the status that they had lost as a result of sexual discrimination. However, the work of the NAC and Madeleine Parent was far from over. Parent wanted help women by ensuring Bill C-31 is enforced and that that all the promises in this bill would be implemented.(7) Parent made several presentations on behalf of the NAC about both the strengths and weaknesses of the bill. She had a few concerns including the fact that there were no legal provisions to give funds to these women which would help to ensure they had adequate housing or to aid them in relocating to the reserves.(8) Parent and the NAC wanted to ensure that they would get the funds for this. The woman were also worried that once they were re-entered into the reserve, they would not be able to vote in their band meetings, meaning they would not be able to vote for a chief. They worried that their bands would not recognize the legitimacy of this new bill and thus would remain ostracized. The woman also wanted the guarantee the transmission of rights to their children.(9) There was a denial of band rights to the children of these women and therefore cannot inherit any of their mother’s land. This doesn’t respect Canada’s constitution and of International covenants, with respect to the rights of the Children. If the mother dies, the child will have no legal right to remain in the reserve even if a family member is willing to take them. Parent and the NAC believed that Bill C-31 did not work to fix this issue and so they pushed for this to be changed as well. Although, Bill C-31 seemingly made women a little bit more equal, the NAC and Parent still worked to create a greater equality. Parent was a strong ally in protesting all discrimination in both the Indian Act and Bill C-31 and she was a great source of inspiration for both native and non-native women.(10)


      Madeleine work with the Native Women did not end with Bill C-31 and the Indian Act. She worked closely with other human rights activists including one woman in particular, Mary Pitawanakwat. Pitawanakwat’s activism began when she, herself, was discriminated against. In 1986, she filled a complaint about being sexually harassed and racially discriminated against at work.(11) After her complaint was made, she was fired. This began her great fight for human rights. The NAC soon began to back her in her quest and remained at Pitawanakwat’s side throughout the whole process. Pitawanakwat’s case was brought to court and there were many ups and downs. Pitawanakwat had many issues with the Human Rights Commission saying “it gives the illusion of rights being protected.” After ten years of fighting, Pitawanakwat finally won her case.(12) Pitawakwat’s case was a very specific but representative of a greater battle being fought by the aboriginal peoples of Canada and Parent was fighting along side.

Parent’s delivered many speeches and inspired many to continue the fight for both aboriginal and women’s rights. Parent was relentless in this pursuit became a great ally for the aboriginal woman. She helped amend different Canadian laws which were racist and sexist, she also aided in ensure the new laws were upheld and implemented properly. Parent helped many different woman in their fight for rights and freedom. Madeleine Parent worked in solidarity with the aboriginal woman and was both a friend and hero for many. Thus, she would not be in agreement with the PQ’s Charter of Values. This charter goes against what Parent believes in when it comes to women and especially minority women. 

__________

Footnotes:

  1. Which Child will be on the government’s list of Indians by Linda Kaye”, 1979, 2009-0074.01.670, Madeleine Parent post-union, McGill University Archives.
  2. Lawrence, Bonita, “Gender, Race and the Regulation of Native Identity in Canada and the United States: An Overview.” Indigenous Woman in the Americas, Vol. 18 No. 2 (Spring 2003): 11.

  3. Ibid.
  4. To all Media” presentation by the NAC, July 2nd 1985, 2009-0074.01.670, Madeleine Parent post-union, McGill University Archives.

  5. Code, Lorraine. First Nations and women. In Encyclopedia of Feminist Theories. Routledge (2002): 292.

  6. An Act to amend the Indian Act” presentation by Louise Dulude and Madeleine Parent, 2009-0074.01.670, Madeleine Parent post-union, McGill University Archives.

  7. Andree, Levesque, Madeleine Parent: Activist. Toronto: Sumach Press, 2005. Accessed through WorldCat Database. 02/04/2014.

  8. An Act to amend the Indian Act” presentation by Louise Dulude and Madeleine Parent, 2009-0074.01.670, Madeleine Parent post-union, McGill University Archives.

  9. Ibid.

  10. Ibid.

  11. Sandy Nelson, “Canada Fire Ojibway Woman For Harassment Protest.” Off Our Backs Vol. 21, No. 11 (December 1991), 5.

  12. Andree, Levesque, Madeleine Parent: Activist. Toronto: Sumach Press, 2005. Accessed through WorldCat Database. 02/04/2014.

Works Cited:

Nelson, Sandy. “Canada Fire Ojibway Woman For Harassment Protest.” Off Our Backs Vol. 21, No. 11 (December 1991), 5.

Lawrence, Bonita. “Gender, Race and the Regulation of Native Identity in Canada and the United States: An Overview.” Indigenous Woman in the Americas, Vol. 18 No. 2 (Spring 2003), 3-31.

Code, Lorraine. First Nations and women. In Encyclopedia of Feminist Theories. Routledge (pp. 291-293).

Levesque, Andree, ed. Madeleine Parent: Activist. Toronto: Sumach Press, 2005. Accessed through WorldCat Database. 02/04/2014.

Which Child will be on the government’s list of Indians by Linda Kaye, 1979, 2009-0074.01.670, Madeleine Parent post-union, McGill University Archives.

Ottawa to end bias against Indian Women, article from Toronto Star, December 5th 1979, 2009-0074.01.670, Madeleine Parent post-union, McGill University Archives.

To all Media presentation by the NAC, July 2nd 1985, 2009-0074.01.670, Madeleine Parent post-union, McGill University Archives.

An Act to amend the Indian Act presentation by Louise Dulude and Madeleine Parent, 2009-0074.01.670, Madeleine Parent post-union, McGill University Archives.

Constitution of the Native Women’s Association of Canada , November 17th 1984, 2009-0074.01.630, Madeleine Parent post-union, McGill University Archives.

Biography of Mary Pitawanakwat edited by Madeleine Parent, 2009-0074.01.608, Madeleine Parent post-union, McGill University Archives.

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