Indigenous Peoples of Canada, Women’s Roles in Customary Governance

Indigenous Peoples of Canada, Women’s Roles in Customary Governance

I am a woman of Kichesipirini Algonquin First Nation descent, an Indigenous Peoples of Canada. My homeland is located within the watershed of the Ottawa River, under the administration of the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. This is unceded Algonquin Nation territory, and the Kichesipirini hold existing specific and contextual jurisdiction as customary government within the broader cultural complex. Positive social character influences the security of the society and its genuine economy. Traditional women significantly influence customary values because their health and quality of life experience directly influences the health and life experience of future generations. Women’s health is directly affected by the health of the environment. Local food integrity directly affects the security of the people of the nation.

To us, a sense of home includes a sense of productive homeland. For traditional Kichesipirini women home and homeland meant an attachment to local and healthy real world productive life cycles and systems, which provided a concrete backdrop for a particular socialization and economic system that relied upon responsible stewardship and well-being. We greatly valued our independent lifestyle; our food sovereignty and security. The hub of the entire system was close and caring social supports, most efficiently developed through empowering the capacity of families. Traditional families directly integrated pro-social principles and priorities with childrearing that established strong emotional bonds, to each other, home, and land.

Women, because of their direct intergenerational influence, primarily held this extremely important governance role. This social role was highly respected.

Women kept an intergenerational watch on the health of the families. This loving, caring and sharing culture, with increasing external restrictive economic pressures, has become progressively difficult to maintain. Because of complexities directly associated with continuing colonial assertions I become homeless in unceded aboriginal territory trying to preserve it.

As the original organic grassroots society attached to this particular eco-region, my family holds a documented record of 400 years attachment to this area captured in the records compiled since earliest colonial contact. Despite this, through “official” State administration, we are considered to not exist. Colonial administration removed us from the “Indian” list when we refused to relocate from our traditional territory to the incorporated reserves. Academic records claimed that we were extinct. As an invisible and “unrecognized” Indigenous Peoples we were, paradoxically, still able to live largely undisturbed in our territory. Utilizing diverse land tenure, distribution, and traditional social supports systems, with a continuing belief that local natural resources are first for the provision of the local community, we continued to harvest directly from the land to provide for our families.

Under international secrecy during World War II, nuclear industry experiments associated with the Manhattan Project were set up within our unceded territory and family homelands. The Chalk River nuclear site was established and we became an invisible vulnerable population, along with our neighbours, exposed to a long legacy of terrible contamination and health risks before any policies regarding appropriate civil participation, adequate health or environmental monitoring, or international standards. In complete ignorance, we continued much of our traditional lifestyle of hunting, fishing, gathering, farming, and nursing our children, in one of the most contaminated regions known to the world. The subsequent “clean-up” may have been even more dangerous.

As long as we remain “unrecognized,” the world will never fully know the long-term intergenerational effects of the nuclear industry. Soon we will be gone. Many concerned persons feel that there have been high numbers of health problems in the area. My own health experience, with the loss of five pregnancies, and unusual neurological and autoimmune problems, seems to support this.

For many, in an economically dependent area, a well paying job buys compliance. Complexities in State administrative policies put those vocal about concerns at risk in a number of ways.

From a traditional Anishnabe cultural perspective when human families are not respected all of our positive concepts of nationhood, sovereignty, security, sustainability, economy, development and international peace and cooperation are compromised.

In a large country like Canada, it is difficult to understand why anyone experiences homelessness or insecurity regarding access to adequate food, including the assurance of the complete safety of local foods, especially within unceded Algonquin territory.

I recommend that the current Algonquin Land Claim process be modified, preserving cultural integrity, as an international pilot project that integrates the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as an opportunity for the development of a new model of International Treaty committed to socially responsible sustainable development. This new Treaty model, in accordance to the rule of law, should protect all natural persons against encroachments that negatively affect human rights, intergenerational responsibilities, environmental integrity, and social justice principles.

~ Paula LaPierre, Principal Sachem Kichesipirini Algonquin Canada 2012


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