Race, Gender and Colonialism: Public Life among the Six Nations of Grand River, 1899--1939

Alison Elizabeth Norman
Theory and Policy Studies, University of Toronto
December, 2010
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Six Nations women transformed and maintained power in the Grand River community in the early twentieth century. While no longer matrilineal or matrilocal, and while women no longer had effective political power neither as clan mothers, nor as voters or councillors in the post-1924 elective Council system, women did have authority in the community. During this period, women effected change through various methods that were both new and traditional for Six Nations women. Their work was also similar to non-Native women in Ontario. Education was key to women's authority at Grand River. Six Nations women became teachers in great numbers during this period, and had some control over the education of children in their community. Children were taught Anglo-Canadian gender roles; girls were educated to be mothers and homemakers, and boys to be farmers and breadwinners. Children were also taught to be loyal British subjects and to maintain the tradition of alliance with Britain that had been established between the Iroquois and the English in the seventeenth century. With the onset of the Great War in 1914, Six Nations men and women responded with gendered patriotism, again, in ways that were both similar to Anglo-Canadians, and in ways that were similar to traditional Iroquois responses to war; men fought and women provided support on the home- front. Women's patriotic work at home led to increased activity in the post-war period on the reserve. Six Nations women made use of social reform organizations and voluntary associations to make improvements in their community, particularly after the War. The Women's Institutes were especially popular because they were malleable, practical, and useful for rural women's needs. Women exerted power through these organizations, and effected positive change on the reserve.