Canadian Indian women "are tired of what's happening"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Mon Jan 1 11:02:07 MST 2001


NY Times, January 1, 2001

Canada's Tribal Women Fight (Mostly Male) Graft

By JAMES BROOKE

DAKOTA PLAINS, Manitoba — Against a winter prairie backdrop of bare trees,
honking Canada geese, and four-wire fences, Leona Freed stands out larger
than life. Eyes blazing and firing verbal buckshot, she is a new kind of
Indian radical.

Her primary targets are not white people, but rather Canada's tribal
chiefs, whom she accuses of "rigging elections, stealing government money,
and going on fancy gambling vacations in the States, while their people
live in third world poverty."

"If the non-natives operated their businesses like the chiefs, they would
be in jail," said Mrs. Freed, who is 48 years old and pays household bills
by bagging onions at $5.20 an hour. Her husband, Glen Freed, has had a
towing business.

Mrs. Freed — one parent was Sioux and the other Ojibway — is part of a
loosely organized new movement largely made up of Indian women who are
taking on Canada's native establishment and are determined — particularly
after embarrassing and well-publicized corruption scandals — to make clear
how the equivalent of $4 billion American is spent on Canada's one million
indigenous people, including Inuit and others.

Unchecked corruption and nepotism pushed these women to violate a central
tenet of minority group politics: breaking ranks when dealing with the
white majority.

Mrs. Freed is president of the Manitoba chapter of the First Nations
Accountability Coalition. In Saskatchewan the anti-corruption group's
chapter is led by Rita Galloway. Farther west, in Alberta, the clean
government fight is led by Yolanda Redcalf, a 33-year-old Cree woman who
has gone on hunger strikes outside tribal offices to demand accountability.
And in British Columbia, it is Meaghan Walker-Williams, a 28-year-old woman
who formed the Somena Governance Society to prod tribal leaders on
Vancouver Island to open up closely guarded tribal accounts for public
scrutiny.

This noisy clean government movement is propelled by quiet changes in
Indian society.

Over the last 30 years, the number of Canadian Indians with college degrees
has grown to about 150,000 today. Increasingly business oriented, Canadian
Indians under age 30 are more likely to start their own businesses than
their counterparts in other ethnic groups. These better- educated tribal
members are demanding modern accounting of tribal budgets and a stop to
patriarchal ways.

"Who are we going up against? Mostly males," said Mrs. Freed, who added
that tribal chiefs often have the power to withhold welfare and college
tuition payments as well as to deny families access to public housing.

Many tribes explicitly excluded women from leadership roles and from
property inheritance, justifying it as tradition. Such thinking has also
defined tribal membership. An Indian man who marries a non-Indian woman has
full rights of membership, including a share in federal benefits. An Indian
woman who marries a non-Indian man often forfeits these benefits for
herself, and they do not apply to her husband at all.

In 1985, Indian women who had married non-Indian men regained their legal
status as Indians in Canada. But on returning to reserves, they often found
themselves off lists for services.

Noting that she has six children and nine grandchildren, Mrs. Freed said:
"The women are tired of what's happening. We want a future for our children."

"Suicides, abortions, crime rates are all going up," Mrs. Freed said with a
raw anger. (Two days before, her 20-year-old niece, Jerilyn Dawn Price,
mother of a small boy, had killed herself.)

Full article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/01/01/world/01CANA.html


Louis Proyect
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