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Lecture 2

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Brock University
Rebecca Beausaert

Sept 17 HIST 2Q93 Lecture 2: Pre- and Post-Contact Indigenous Societies Outline: • Background • Women’s Roles in Creation Myths • Women’s Work and Gendered Divisions of Labour • Women’s Authority in Aborignal Societies • Post-Contact Changes to Power and Authority among Aboriginal Women • Profile: Pocahontas Background - Prior to European contact when groups of colonies came to North America - Cultures developed over time based on land, climate, water ways - 12 separate language families in Canada prior to European contact - Amongst these families there were individual languages spoken - In US 200,000 languages in use prior to contact - East coast abundant fish - Central game – buffalo, moose th th - By the 15 and 16 century European travellors stumbled upon North America - They claimed it was uninhabited, when really aboriginal people were living there for thousands of years - They saw an economy in North America off timber, fur, fish - As word spread in Europe and the Land of Possibilities, groups of wannabe colonies left on ships to head to North America - In Europe there was disease, poor agriculture, poor housing, lots of reasons pushing Europeans into the New World Women’s Roles in Creation Myths - Whether it was the supernatural world or their own family to create the world, women were held in high regard - We do not have much information on aboriginals because they left few sources Sept 17 - Their history was passed down orally as they did not write things down and preserve things - A lot of what we do know comes from firsthand accounts from male European explorers and settlers. - Viewed aboriginal women through European eyes and judged them in relation to European customs; political systems, religious values, gender divisions, ways of living, etc. - Women were thought to have a greater connection with the undead (the world that couldn’t be touched) - They were believed to have greater connection with the land - Their bodily functions were seen as a greater power - Menstruating women were believed to have strong powers – could harm crops, animals and men - Menstruating women spent their cycle in hunts with other menstruating women - During this time it was believed that menstruating women had visions and speaks most of their time in prayer and reflection - Huron (Wendat) from central and eastern Ontario o Neutral speaking people o Female creator: Aataentsic (‘Great Mother’) o One day a young woman cut down corn stalks instead of picking it. The corn could no longer grow. The people were angry at her and thorugh her down ahole in the sky. As she fell she brought with her corn, beans, tobacco, etc. As she fell the animals watched her. When she landed a turtle put her on his back. They walked around the earth planting the corn, beans, tobacco. The Earth was created to be a safe haven for her and she created society. - Ojibwa from western and northern Ontario o Creator: Spirit women o Gave birth to all the birds in the world - Nuu’chah’nulth from British Columbia o Creator: “Copper Woman’ (or First Mother) o She was a male/female hybrid Sept 17 o 4 levels of reality: Earth, under the earth, ocean, under the sea o Above these realities were the heavens o She took elements from each level of reality to create a woman: bones, blood, skin and body – had copper coloured skin like her creator o Scented moss under her arms and between her legs o Given senses o Wind was trapped and placed in her lunges o She was the first woman ever created and existed alone o Supernaturals helped her survive and she was grateful because she was no longer alone o They were called back home and she felt despair at their leaving o She wept, and tears fell from her eyes o The supernaturals told her to cherish the tears as evidence of her mortality o She buried her mucus which eventually grew into a human being o This human being was jealous that she was not paying enough attention to him and crawled into bed with her o Eventually another human was born o Thunderbird enjoyed watching her with her children, especially her eldest child o Eventually all of her children went in different directions and formed all the different races and cultures of the world o Everyone is related and everyone descended from her belly Women’s work in aboriginal societies - Aboriginals in groups organized their work along gendered lines – men had their work, women had their own work - They had more responsibility that European women and made more decisions - They stayed close to home - Their most important role was to look after children - European explorers wrote about the ease with which aboriginal women gave birth Sept 17 - They compared this with what they saw in Europe – European women had lengthy birth and often didn’t have the stamina and died - They wrote respectively of aboriginal childbirth – few pains, very light quickly that didn’t last long, birth happened quickly - One explorer said he witnessed a travelling tribe that stopped, gave birth on their own, and caught up with the tribe with the child strapped to their back - Aboriginal mothers were described as healthier, more mobile, and more productive – low birth rate - They nursed for 2-3 years which acted as a form as birth control – European women didn’t nurse for so long - It was not the most important element of a woman to give birth, maybe 3-4 children – in Europe it was their expectation to produce numerous children, 6+ children - Hunter-gatherer tribes in warmer climates were described as harsh societies for women to live in – harder to find food and lots of travelling - Tribes in agriculture and fishing were viewed as women having a more easy existent, more plentiful food and they were stationary - Women did majority of agricultural work – under their control and responsible for food supply - Men cleared the land, while women planted and harvested - Corn, squash, beans were the most important crops - Men did majority of hunting, but women took care of the meat; skinning, preserving, storing, divvying, and cooking - Innu tribe, women were responsible for gathering shellfish – 50% of diet was shellfish - Women were involved in the buffalo hunt which required the efforts of entire village in western tribes - Men herded buffalo in foothills of Alberta to the edge of a cliff where they would fall to their death - It would take 3 days of hard labour to skin just one buffalo - The women would skin, stretch out the hide, dry it, preserve them, stitch them into carrying bags, or use them for their tents - The meat from one buffalo could feed families for months Sept 17 - Women made pemmican – mix of dried buffalo meat, berries, and buffalo fat which was ground into a paste and laid out to dry - Pemmican could sus
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