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The power and agency of Aboriginal women were invisible to them. Donaldson provides another telling example of Eurocentric mischaracterization.She describes the Cherokee role of The Ghigau sat in council meetings with both the peace and war chiefs, decided the fate of war captives, prepared the purgative Black Drink at the centre of many Cherokee ceremonies, and led the women’s council.
Aboriginal women have been described as facing a “double-burden” – that for being discriminated against as a woman, and further for being Aboriginal.Beverley Jacobs, Former NWAC president and Mohawk activist, “International Law/The Great Law of Peace,” 35.Despite the vast socio-cultural diversity amongst Canada’s hundreds of First Nations, historians and experts largely agree that a balance between women and men’s roles typically existed in pre-contact Aboriginal societies, where women and men had different, but complementary roles.These concepts were written right into the Indian Act, with certain rights afforded to men and women of “good moral character,” as determined by the Indian agent.The Indian agent became, therefore, a sort of sexual policing agent.European men further believed that a woman should remain chaste and “virtuous,” according to their cultural and religious beliefs.Settlers developed and held onto the mythical archetype of the virtuous Indian Princess willing to reject her own people for Christian civilization.Many First Nations were matrilineal, meaning that descent – wealth, power, and inheritance — were passed down through the mother.Historians and scholars have emphasized the various capacities in which women were able to hold positions of power and leadership in their community. Udel, for example, explains that motherhood was honoured and revered as key to the thriving of the culture, and was not always strictly defined by its biological role, but was understood as a position of leadership and responsibility for caring for and nurturing others.Historians and other experts also emphasize that women across many First Nations were responsible for land holdings and allocation of resources—they controlled access to certain areas as well as distribution of its products.Ultimately, however, as women’s roles varied greatly between First Nations, they shared similar characteristics.