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The role of northern Canadian Indian women in social change Cruikshank, Julia M.

Abstract

This thesis examines the changing role of Indian women, particularly in northern Canadian communities where the pace of directed change has been compressed during the past twenty-five years. In the area now designated 'Yukon Territory' live descendents of Athapaskan, Inland Tlingit and Tagish speaking peoples. It is suggested here that the woman's role is potentially very important in determining the direction of change within Indian communities. Despite radical alterations in the Indian way of life, discontinuity is less abrupt for the women because the role of mother links them both with the past and with the future. In a situation of change, links are necessary to bridge the gap between the past and the future if cultural identity is to be maintained. Cross-cultural data suggests that women's potential in this role is being recognized in many areas of the world. In Canada, this is frequently ignored. Indian men and women are often lumped as an undifferentiated group without recognition of individual needs and capabilities. Since the building of the Alaska highway and the opening up of mines, an industrial economy has displaced the former hunting and trapping economy in the Yukon. Many Indian men are abandoning traditional economic pursuits and are expected to compete with non-Indians in activities for which they are often not technically or psychologically prepared. In the new cultural environment Indian women are presented with opportunities for independent activity which were traditionally not available to them. With new opportunities come new and often conflicting expectations, held both by Indians and by non-Indians, about ways in which an Indian woman should behave. A variety of government agencies claim a vested interest in, and a responsibility for, an Indian family. Each agency places independent demands on the mother, often with very little comprehension of her aims, goals and values. Indian women have access to sources of information which are less available to Indian men. They use this information to reformulate their own ideas about their place in the changing environment. Practical possibilities for greater involvement of women in change do exist; however, this involvement trust occur on the women's own terms rather than solely on the terms of individuals who deal with women in an administrative capacity.

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