Rights to Land or Children
At one time, Aboriginal women did not have to worry about
child custody and access. Women shaped the social structure
and held decisions-making power. Every family member held
important responsibilities in the well-being of the children.
It was an honour and privilege to have such significant roles
in a child’s life so everyone took their responsibilities
belief was that no one owned the children. Each child was
a blessing to be given every possible opportunity to be unique,
and to receive the utmost best of teachings to bring forth
a healthy and well-balanced individual. Human dignity was
held in such high regard that there are no words in Aboriginal
dialect to differentiate gender: words like him, her, she
and he do not exist in many of the languages of the First
in 2001, things are very different for Aboriginal women. Colonization
has stripped Aboriginal women of every conceivable right.
Many of our Aboriginal leaders have bought into the patriarchal
European structure and have chosen sexist and misogynist beliefs
on which to model band rules and policies. Property rights
on the reserve determine the outcome of child custody and
access rights. Most bands hold all reserve land and property
in the name of the band for the use of all members. Before
you could go to a court to apply for an order allowing one
party to stay in the family home. Courts have now ruled that
only the Indian Act can apply to property on reserve. The
Indian Act does not deal with family law matters. Women make
their requests to stay in the family home to the Band Council,
Council of Elders or Chief, who have their own set of rules.
The patriarchal structure of most band policies and procedures
entitles property rights to the head of the family.
As a result, Aboriginal women attempting to escape violence
are often forced out of the family home and community and
into cities, where they encounter a multitude of systemic
barriers. They are constantly being re-victimized by racism
in the system. Because of the complexities of band procedures
and policies of who is entitled to what, Aboriginal women
are often forced to live in extreme poverty. With these additional
barriers, it is almost impossible to fight for child custody
and access rights. The Social Development Department within
a band is modeled after the child protection act, and the
"best interests of children" criterion is seen through
this lens, which means that children should live with the
person who is financially stable, has access to the family
home, extended family members, and to traditional culture.
The patriarchal structure of today’s band policies entitles
men to all of these – leaving women with few resources.
residential school syndrome and the destruction of the matriarchal
system have led to the normalization of violence. Men can
have a history of wife assault but their right to child custody
and access is never questioned. This is especially true for
men that have a position of power in the community. Allegations
of child sexual abuse are being dismissed, without investigation,
as false and vengeful charges. Children are being ordered
by the courts to spend overnight visits with fathers who have
abused them. Mothers have lost custody of their children because
they dared to breach a court order by refusing supervised
visits with fathers who have abused the children.
and access issues expose the true values of our society. Men’s
rights of power and control over women still take precedence.
We need a society based on fairness, and a system which accounts
for the real social, political and economic realities for
Aboriginal women. We need to put the safety of women and children
Mabel Nipshank is a Metis woman of Cree and
French descent. She has been the Volunteer and Counselling
Coordinator at Battered Women’s Support Services in Vancouver
for four years, and is a member of the Aboriginal Women’s
Reprinted from Education Wife Assault Newsletter,
Volume 11, Issue 1 with permission of the author.