Marginalization and Discrimination of Aboriginal Women in Canada

Marginalization and Discrimination of Aboriginal Women in Canada

Aboriginal women in Canada face discrimination and challenges that are not necessarily shared by other women in Canada or by Aboriginal men. Such has led to the view that aboriginal women face a double burden which involves being discriminated as women as facing discrimination as aboriginals. With Aboriginal women facing discrimination and marginalization in Canada, this has been a negative evolution since women had positions of power and leadership in their community prior to modernization. Most of the First Nations were matrilineal and this implies that wealth and power would be passed down through the mother. Despite this, modernization and progress in Canada has brought about discrimination and marginalization of aboriginal women as evident in different social aspects. Much of the challenges faced by these women is as result of the introduction of patriarchal societies during the colonial period.[1] At this time, those in power not only ignored women’s voices but also worked towards silencing the aboriginal women.

With the discrimination and marginalization facing aboriginal women in Canada, they have been subject to low social and economic indicators. As an example, aboriginal women have a lower life expectancy, high HIV/AIDS incidence, high tobacco addiction, higher levels of poverty, and higher rates of suicide than non-aboriginal women. Further, the ingraining of the patriarchal society has led to increased incidence of domestic violence directed towards aboriginal women as compared to non-aboriginal women.  While aboriginal women had better positions in society prior to colonization, colonization and the subsequent power structures have worked towards denying these women their basic human rights and subjecting them to marginalization and increased discrimination.

Colonial influence on marginalization and discrimination

As highlighted, aboriginal women in the First Nations had considerable power and influence in society but colonialism became a period for the suppression of the aboriginal women. Prior to colonization, there was relative respect for aboriginal women while their responsibilities and roles in society were appreciated and acknowledged.[2] The arrival of European settlers in Canada brought with it a period of increased discrimination as aboriginal women faced sexual and physical abuse from the colonizers. Further, aboriginal women were subject to forced sterilization while the Canadian legislation defined them as less than men.[3] Through such acts brought about by the colonizers, there was an exacerbation and the normalization of violence and discrimination against aboriginal women in Canada.

One of the colonial communities that played a significant role in the marginalization and discrimination of aboriginal women is the French. Between the 16th and 18th century, there was establishment of permanent French colonies in Canada who were mainly interested in the fur trade. With the colonies being dependent on the indigenous people for their fur gathering activities, this led to intermarriages that were strongly promoted for the purposes of increasing French influence in Canada.[4] Following the intermarriages, there was a direct attack on the aspects of the life of aboriginal women that showed their independence and autonomy. As an example, there was introduction of patriarchal family structures where female fidelity and male authority were normalized with divorce also being eliminated. Such aspects directly challenged the structures of the aboriginal communities since they were matrifocal and matrilineal.[5] The marginalization and discrimination at this time was brought about by the French’s need to assimilate the aboriginals.

[1] John Ian, “Idle No More- Indigenous activism and feminism.” Theory in Action, 8(2015), 38.


[2]Laura Myers, “When you change the life of a woman, you change a nation”: Analyzing the experiences of indigenous women’s organizations and organizers in Canada. (Ontario: Queens University, 2017), 37

[3] Karen Stote, An act of genocide: Colonialism and the sterilization of Aboriginal women. Black Point: Fernwood Publishing, 2015), 13.

[4] Laura, When you change the life of a women, p39.

[5] Martha Ward, & Edelstein Monica, A world full of women (6th ed.). (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2016), 24.