Globalization: The Further Oppression of Aboriginal Women

Globalization: The Further Oppression of Aboriginal Women in Canada

Recently a Globe and Mail article dated February 25, 2011 featuring Michael Moore, known for his Academy-award winning documentaries (Michael Moore’s Blog), talks about a Brazilian-owned Mining company in Canada that is known as the “second largest mining company in the world” (Galloway). This is globalization in Canada: large export companies coming in and creating employment for its citizens. In the same article, the mining company’s most recent decision is highlighted. This decision is to remove itself from its mining operations in the small northern community of Thompson, Manitoba, which will reportedly cause its citizens to lose five hundred jobs (Galloway). Upon the company’s exit, Thompson’s citizens will be left without employment and the company will be left with an acquired $17.3 billion (Galloway). Some say globalization is for the betterment of Canada, but what those people fail to see is the exploitation of small towns. Small towns like Thompson, Manitoba are exploited with the promise of opportunity, but when the company leaves the community, the towns are right back where they started: with little to no economic opportunity. What the headlines do not reveal are the town’s hidden citizens, wherein Thompson, Manitoba 36.4% of the population is Aboriginal (Indian and Northern Affairs). Headlines like this, which are concerned with the ways in which globalization helps small towns, take priority over the headlines that are concerned with how globalization is adversely affecting other groups who already lack opportunity within Canada, like Aboriginal women. When people and headlines are more concerned with the general population, one must begin to ask, has globalization benefited women, specifically Aboriginal women?

This essay will argue that Aboriginal women in Canada have not benefited from globalization because of a corporate culture that creates a patriarchy that is adverse to Aboriginal culture, which further oppresses Aboriginal women in Canada. This essay will first demonstrate that globalization oppresses Aboriginal women through its patriarchal corporate culture, which is counter to the values and beliefs of Aboriginal culture. Second, the essay will put forth the idea that Aboriginal women are oppressed because their issues are inadequately addressed in the face of globalization. Finally, this essay will argue that Aboriginal women are oppressed because globalization further limits the few opportunities available to them. Two counter arguments will also be addressed: The argument made by some critics which suggests that globalization does not oppress all Aboriginal women, some of whom are already part of Aboriginal communities that are patriarchal in form; and the argument that globalization helps Aboriginal women because some international organizations use globalization to raise awareness concerning Aboriginal women’s issues. As Aboriginal people fight for their rights and recognition within Canadian society, they must be careful not to further oppress an important group of people key to their own existence: Aboriginal women.

Globalization is an ambiguous term with multiple meanings. When applying ambiguous terms to a specific group of people, caution should be taken because these terms and their concepts may seem to only benefit part of the group, rather than the whole group. A definition of what globalization is and how it pertains to Aboriginal people should be established. In Globalization and Self-Government: Impacts and Implications for First Nations in Canada, Gabrielle A. Slowey points out that globalization is a “common term…with a variety of meanings [and] for some, it is a dangerous euphemism” (266). Globalization as it is relevant to Aboriginal peoples can be defined as the corporate control over resources for profit. Furthermore, Slowely describes globalization as “corporations [assuming] a more dominate role in all spheres of life” (265). This corporate dominated role suggests that globalization is purely profit driven, and in the corporate world, people are unconcerned with the under-privileged, like Aboriginal women. Another question relating to globalization and Aboriginal peoples is what is it exactly that corporations seek to control? As it pertains to Aboriginal peoples, corporations seek to control natural resources. In Globalization as Racialized, Sexualized Violence, Rauna Kuokkanen describes globalization as “a form of oppression that is linked to patriarchy” (218) and “this patriarchal control [is] over those defined as subordinate, whether women, indigenous peoples or the environment (‘natural resources’)” (222). Koukkanen shows that corporations seek to control those who are considered subordinate, which includes women, Aboriginal people, and their natural resources. Aboriginal women are then a unique group to the world of globalization because they are connected to issues relating to women, to race, and to natural resources. Therefore, this essay defines globalization as a purely profit driven, corporate dominating concept that seeks to control the natural resources of Aboriginal people in a top-down fashion.

Globalization’s corporate culture seeks to control subordinate subjects in the corporate-driven world. In the corporate world, Canadian women in general are already underrepresented and rarely reach top-management positions (Catalyst). This may suggest a patriarchal structure, and it is this patriarchy that has oppressed Aboriginal women in the past and will continue to oppress them in the future. In Sisters in Spirit, Anita Olsen Harper states that “many pre-contact Aboriginal societies were both matriarchal and matrilineal [which] ensured women’s authority and legitimate place” (175). Globalization may then further oppress Aboriginal women because it is this corporate dominating world associated with globalization that may cause Aboriginal women to further lose their place in society. If globalization may further oppress Aboriginal women, it does so in a historical context of this type of oppression. The oppression of Aboriginal women occurred when Europeans first came to Canada. In Trauma to Resilience: Notes on Decolonization, Cynthia C. Wesley-Esquimaux highlights that “Native women came under the gaze of missionaries, men who could not see women as equals…Native women were removed from their traditional roles and responsibilities and pushed to the margins of their own society” (16). This shows that Aboriginal women’s oppression began well before globalization, and that if globalization’s corporate dominating world and its suggestive patriarchy were to continue into the future, so will the oppression of Aboriginal women.

One might argue that globalization would not oppress all Aboriginal women because some of their own communities are patriarchal in form. To compare globalization’s patriarchy and an Aboriginal society’s patriarchy is a false analogy. This is because even if some Aboriginal societies are patriarchal in form, Aboriginal women still have a place in society. Harper further states that “other First Nation societies, even if they were patriarchal in structure, were similar to the Iroquoian in their recognition and placing women in high standing” (175). Aboriginal women’s status, since the Europeans colonization, has been oppressed because Europeans did not see them as equals. Globalization is profit-driven, not equality-driven. Furthermore, this comparison is a false analogy because an Aboriginal women’s position was central to Aboriginal people’s existence, even in a patriarchal structure. As Harper further states:


[These societies] considered their women essential and valued economic partners….women took on domestic roles…as well as significant roles in essential livelihood activities….women were personally autonomous, appreciated, and treated as valued members in all aspects of community life. (175-176)

This demonstrates that Aboriginal women have a rightful and equal place essential to Aboriginal people’s existence in their society, whether patriarchal or not. Globalization will further oppress Aboriginal women because corporations are unconcerned with giving status to the subordinates they seek to control or with treating their subordinates as equal and essential to the corporation’s existence.

Aboriginal women are a unique group to globalization. They are unique because they are connected to all three groups: women, Aboriginal people, and natural resources (land). When corporations seek to control Aboriginal people’s natural resources, the issues Aboriginal people are concerned with no longer include gender specific issues, but rather they are concerned with land (natural resources) issues. Aboriginal women are then oppressed because Aboriginal women’s issues are no longer given the attention they deserve. Andrea Smith in Native American Feminism, Sovereignty and Social Change insists that “Native struggles for land and survival continue to take precedence over these other issues” (118) and that “gender justice is often articulated as being a separate issue from issues of survival” (121). Smith shows that the struggle for land (natural resources) and survival is prioritized above Aboriginal women’s issues and that the latter are seen as separate issues all together. If globalization is profit driven and seeks to control the natural resources of Aboriginal people, and if Aboriginal people prioritize their struggle for land (natural resources) over Aboriginal women’s issues, these gender-specific issues may never be recognized and realized, thereby further oppressing Aboriginal women.

Having said this, one might argue that globalization does not oppress Aboriginal women because international organizations are using globalization to bring awareness to Aboriginal women’s issues. Even though other organizations like Amnesty International are helping free Aboriginal women from their struggles, any real change has yet to happen. Amnesty International has been dedicated to helping Aboriginal women and their issues, and its Stolen Sisters campaign speaks out about gender violence against Aboriginal women (Amnesty International 2). It must be highlighted that this is only a recent campaign, and a report subsequent to the campaign highlights the fact that even though inquiries have been conducted, and recommendations put forth, most of these recommendations have yet to be implemented. Work into the Stolen Sisters campaign began in October 2004 (Amnesty International 1), and Amnesty International’s most recent report, dated September 2009, further states that provincial and federal inquiries have “put forth a body of recommendations most of which have yet to be implemented” (Amnesty International 25). The same issues, the Aboriginal peoples and their natural resources, that continue to take priority over Aboriginal women’s issues are the same ones central to globalization, further excluding and oppressing Aboriginal women from the global economy. Therefore, even though other organizations are raising awareness about Aboriginal women’s issues to help relieve them from oppression, this work is still recent, and some of its recommendations have yet to be implemented. It could take years for any real changes to happen, and globalization may make these changes even more difficult to attain.

Globalization further oppresses Aboriginal women because it makes the few opportunities that are available to them even more difficult to obtain. In Sisters in Spirit, Harper highlights that Aboriginal women face “high-unemployment rates and lack of economic opportunity,” in particular on their First Nation (180). The jobs created for Aboriginals living on their First Nation continue to exclude Aboriginal women when corporations introduce male-dominated natural resource industries. Furthermore, globalization and its corporate dominating world are not concerned with Aboriginal women and their opportunities. Slowey highlights that “globalization has provided the government with incentives to make Canada more competitive within the global economy” (270). This shows that globalization is not concerned with Aboriginal women and their opportunities, but rather with where Canada stands in the global economy. This increased competition may lead to the migration of people into Canada and thus to the further displacement Aboriginal women, especially those living off their First Nation and in Canadian cities. Fariyal Ross-Sheriff in Globalization as a Women’s Issue Revisited highlights that “global changes are resulting in greater mobility…and global migration” (133). It must be noted that migration of individuals to Canada is not opposed of or should be rejected. However, globalization and heightened migration into Canada may then lead to Aboriginal women’s competitive advantage to be diminished as people with more skills, education, and experience fight for the same opportunities that Aboriginal women fight for. With increased migration and a focus on making Canada more competitive in the global economy, Aboriginal women are oppressed when their struggles to acquire the few opportunities available to them are more difficult to attain in the face of globalization.

Globalization is, above all else, profit-drive. This essay defined globalization as corporations seeking to control the natural resources of Aboriginal people in a top-down fashion. This essay asked the question: has globalization benefited women, specifically Aboriginal women? The answer is that Aboriginal women in Canada have not benefited from globalization because it is this corporate culture that creates a patriarchal society and control over Aboriginal people and their resources. It is this type of control that is adverse to Aboriginal culture and that further oppresses Aboriginal women. Furthermore, Aboriginal women’s oppression began well before globalization and if globalization’s tendency to dominate and exercise patriarchal control over subordinate subjects were to continue into the future, so will the oppression of Aboriginal women. The counter-argument that some Aboriginal societies are patriarchal in form fails to acknowledge the place that Aboriginal women continue to hold in these societies. Even if some Aboriginal societies are patriarchal, these societies still recognize Aboriginal women and placed women in high standing. As corporations seek to control Aboriginal peoples and their resources, the issues Aboriginal women struggle with may never be fully recognized in the face of globalization. Other organizations are helping to bring attention to Aboriginal women’s issues, but this work is only recent and some of it has yet to be implemented. Globalization focuses on making Canada more competitive in the global economy, and in doing so, it makes the few opportunities available to Aboriginal women more difficult to reach as people with more skills, education, and experience seek out global opportunity in Canada. Therefore, as Aboriginal people fight for their rights and recognition as a group within Canadian society, they must be careful not to further oppress an important group of people key to their existence: Aboriginal women.

If Canada wants to remain competitive in a globalized Canadian economy, they must begin to recognize the implications of globalization on Aboriginal people and Aboriginal women specifically. Aboriginal people must also be aware of these implications and their effects on Aboriginal women, a group that is central to their existence. Aboriginal people should be careful not to fight just for land rights or Aboriginal people’s rights, but also to fight for Aboriginal women’s rights. Amnesty International’s work on Aboriginal women’s issues and gender violence is a start, but the work should not stop there. Aboriginal people should be weary about globalization. They should be weary about allowing corporations to access their natural resources merely for profit. In the past, prior to the onset of globalization, Aboriginal people’s land was taken away from them and their women were controlled in a patriarchal fashion. With globalization and corporate greed, Aboriginal people may no longer have a place to call home. That is, as more people come to Canada for opportunity and a new place to call home, the question we must ask is: where will Aboriginal peoples go? The real and long-term implications of globalization needs to be addressed before allowing corporations, like the one mentioned in The Globe and Mail article, on Aboriginal land. Furthermore, a corporation entering Aboriginal land to access its resources needs to be transparent about what it plans to do with the land and it needs to be transparent with the land’s rightful owners: the Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people need to realize that they cannot leave the most important group of people–Aboriginal women–out of their struggle for existence, because if it were not for Aboriginal women, Aboriginal people would not exist.

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