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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Gender and politics in a Carrier Indian community Fiske, Jo-Anne


This thesis presents a study of the political processes of Stoney Creek, Saik'uz, a Carrier Indian community in British Columbia. The primary goal is to account for the central role of women in public decision making. The focus is on the political significance of women's domestic authority, of their influence in kinship groups, of their social rank in the clan/potlatch complex, and of their roles in the elected council and the administrative structure, and of their voluntary associations. The study is approached from three directions. First, women's changing socio-economic position is described and analyzed. Second, the influence of traditional culture on modern life is considered. Third, the current socio-political organization of the community is examined in relation to prevailing conditions of economic dependency. Here the focus is on the management of scarce social and economic resources and on the competition for decision-making positions. This study argues that women's public presence is the result of three tightly interwoven factors: women's economic autonomy (which includes control over critical domestic resources); the prevailing ideology of respect for older women's knowledge and wisdom; and the socio-economic structure, in which public and private interests are essentially undifferentiated. These factors coalesce to provide economic and cultural foundations for women's unique political strategy: the formation of voluntary associations that interact successfully with the formal political structure to influence public decisions and to advance family and community interests. Women's voluntary associations compete successfully with the elected council in obtaining limited economic and political resources and provide a special forum in which women can retain and advance family honour and political fortunes. The study also examines a number of approaches to the impact of colonization and capitalism on indigenous women. The findings refute the argument the capitalism automatically erodes the position of women in indigenous communities. They support the contrary view that in conditions of political-economic marginality, a domestic sector of production exists along side capitalist production. Because the domestic sector is organized around kinship and the creation of use-values, this mode of production protects or even enhances women's personal autonomy and social influence. The analysis of political processes in which women are equal participants requires moving away from common assumptions of female subordination to analytical models that reveal the complex, and often contradictory, structural relations that develop between women and men as women come to occupy a variety of social positions. In seeking to understand women's central position in this community, this study points to the need for theoretical models grounded in the routines of social relations. Theoretical formulations are needed that will take into account the simple fact that women and men are visible and active in the public domain. In conclusion, it is argued that approaching women's political participation through theoretical perspectives that stress female subordination obscures the relative power available to indigenous women as a consequence of ascribed rank and personal competence.

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