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Reviewed by:
  • Indigenous Women, Work, and History: 1940–1980 by Mary Jane Logan McCallum
  • Patrizia Zanella (bio)
Mary Jane Logan McCallum. Indigenous Women, Work, and History: 1940–1980. U of Manitoba P, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-88755-738-5. 320 pp.

In Indigenous Women, Work, and History, Mary Jane Logan McCallum unveils part of the rich yet largely unacknowledged history of female Indigenous labor in Canada, taking into consideration both racial and gender oppression. She documents how extensive federal control distinguishes the labor conditions of Indigenous women from those of white women and other minorities. McCallum's study is designed as an antidote to the rhetoric of decline, loss, and absence in Indigenous historiography. She is careful to include the perspectives of female Indigenous workers drawing from a variety of sources, including interviews, literature, and oral histories. She also draws attention to the gaps in sources and the fact that this invisibility can signify resistance. The book reveals the perspective of the DIA (Department of Indian Affairs), Indian agents, school principals, and white employers and inserts their discourse in the larger rhetoric of the nation-state and of modernity. McCallum contributes to a historiographical understanding of modernity that includes Indigenous women and demonstrates that "Native women were not 'displaced' by modernity, but rather labored in modern Native ways from the 1940s to the 1970s" (20).

The first chapter reveals how Indigenous girls were pushed into domestic work by "limited access to education, discrimination in the workplace, and state policies that severely limited career options" (21). From the point of view of the DIA, agents, and principals, domestic work served as an extension of the girls' moral and religious education and provided continued supervision. The latter involved policing workers' leisure time and reproductive behavior. Chastity and obedience were expected, as the default terms "Indian girl," "Indian maid," and [End Page 112] "Indian maiden" make plain. Indigenous domestic workers were supposed to continue their education in white households while modeling domestic roles of docility for others and conveniently serving as a cheap labor force. One worker was moved to another family in order to separate her from her partner, which suggests how domestic work could function as another layer of removal. At the same time, domestic work was used by many Indigenous women as a temporary move to a place that would provide access to other job opportunities. They also crossed the border to the United States, where wages were higher.

The second chapter looks at the Indian Placement and Relocation Program. Founded in 1957 as the first organized labor program on a national level, it likewise aimed to permanently relocate Indigenous women to urban centers. Like enfranchisement, the goal of relocation was to ultimately terminate federal services to Indigenous people. Key justifications of the program include self-sufficiency and the transition to an industrial economy and modernity, which hint at the DIA's belief that "Canadian wealth and Indigenous poverty were distinct and developed independently" (73). In fact, the program was paid for by Indigenous workers who either received no financial assistance or paid it back in full. Although it favored the relocation of men, especially in the North, more women ultimately relocated to cities through the program. Like the domestic placement program, it focused on women's homemaking skills and jobs with low remuneration that did not require costly training and education. Indigenous women's labor and bodies were subject to more supervision and less support than the labor and bodies of Indigenous men, and integration into society was code for compliance with society's racial and patriarchal hierarchy. While hairdressing provided an opportunity for self-expression, hairdressers rarely became shop owners and did so only through the DIA, without whose support banks refused loans. McCallum also addresses the formation of Indigenous centers and discusses beauty contests, which reflected a patriarchal value system in which the female body was still "a site of surveillance" (116), but which, nonetheless, made political statements about Indigenous presence and cultural continuity. However, McCallum finds that pageant winners' subsequent activism had more political influence than the contests themselves.

The third chapter offers another telling example of the additional gender discrimination Indigenous women were subject to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9590
Print ISSN
0730-3238
Pages
pp. 112-116
Launched on MUSE
2018-03-24
Open Access
No
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