Gender Roles

On Gender Roles

"Within each indigenous nation women carried out their roles that reflected their respect of their people."

Daisy Sewid-Smith, Kwak waka ‘wakw

Women find it strange for me to speak about women like this. Many of our women have completely broken protocol, taboo, custom, and tradition. They will, like I said to you before I am uncomfortable speaking before the chiefs, because that's the way we were trained. I was at my father's home when he used to call all the chiefs. I call real chiefs in earlier times. I was just little girl when I used to help serve them. But I used to like to take my time because I wanted to listen to what they had to say. Because women weren't, not all women were allowed to attend these meetings. Only certain women and they had to either have a potlatch position or they were very high ranking chiefs' wives. And even the women never spoke in those meetings unless they were asked to by the chiefs. And then, if a chief is speaking, a woman never interferes. 

If I'm talking with you and if a chief all of a sudden had something to say he will say something even before I am finished speaking and I have to stop speaking when he does this, because that's the way of our tradition or custom, that he must be heard. 

And many people, many women again, they have meetings before potlatch and only a handful of people are supposed to attend this potlatch. And only knowledgeable women are allowed to attend these potlatches.

Now you have very aggressive women barging in and saying, 'This is my right. I have a right to be here,' and completely monopolize the meeting, shutting out the voices of the chiefs, and they do that in the big house, and the decision is no longer made by the chiefs, it's made by the women. 

In the early days I used to hear the old chiefs say, 'How dare so-and-so get up and speak at the potlatch last night. Doesn't she know that she is not allowed to speak?' And that's in the big house during a potlatch. Today they completely monopolize everything. They make the decisions. They decide how things are going to happen. I know what has to happen at the big house, but never once do I sit down when my brother is going to have a potlatch and say this is what is going to happen, this is what we're going to do and you guys have to do it because I say so. Never have I done that. I will say, 'what are we going to do? What dances are we going to show?' Even though I may have more knowledge than my brother, he must have a voice. Then we all decide as a family what will be shown and what will be said and what will be given and how we're doing to do it. But in many cases today the women have complete control, and control everything. And the old chiefs call that a shameful act and I've heard it over and over as I was growing up.



"We are only as strong as the women in our communities."

Mary Thomas, Shuswap

The role of the parents, we question is why were there no jails? Because there was no need for jails cause there was no lawbreakers. How did they prevent that? It was because of the family circle a girl was taught from an early age, her role in the family as a woman. When she grew up you become a young woman, and your body is a giver of life you value that body. Don't go around flaunting it every time? You look after your body and make sure you are pure. And there were many certain things they had to do especially when they started menstruating, they were expected by the elders to swim morning and night. Keep their body clean. They were given medicine to clean their inside and when they became mothers the children they gave were strong healthy children.

And when you think of it you know, the things we ate was different, we ate healthy foods. So when a young woman starts bearing children if her body is healthy and pure, her children are going to be born strong and healthy and pure like herself. And the women was always was, especially the grandmothers I can say that now when my children need to discipline their children I have to really try and control myself not to butt in. As a grandmother I love my grandchildren dearly and I tend to get a little overprotective. The role of the woman was something that was really valued. And the medicines that we ate, I guess the biggest part was the food that we ate was the food that we took from the ground all had antibiotic in it. And when you are eating that as your daily diet. Your immune system stay in tact and you are healthy. Very seldom you know you lay down and "oh, I am sick. I lay down".



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