Indigenous Women and Nation-building in Ontario: The Postwar Experience

Lay Summary 

The postwar period is often seen as a period of decolonization in Canada and internationally, but the top-down approach of many scholars has often excluded the experiences of Aboriginal peoples, and the responses of First Nations women in particular. I argue that the story of politicization on the national scale needs to start at the community level, where many Aboriginal women were and are politically and socially active.

An example of such community involvement is the Indian Homemakers’ Club, an organization encouraged by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration (which, at the time, was responsible for Aboriginal affairs). First Nations women were encouraged to participate and to exhibit 1950s ideals of charity and domesticity. It is unclear how these women responded to such encouragement. It is apparent, however, that Aboriginal women used it for their own purposes such as infrastructure, protection and enhancement of community property, employment opportunities, and recreational activities to keep their children busy and in school. Did Aboriginal women, who could not vote in community elections until 1951 and in Canada until 1960, develop their own sense of feminist activism? Did they see their actions in political terms? Were their actions political in nature? How can we define political action when colonial experiences and responses are gendered? Did Aboriginal women use the Homemakers’ Club as way to subvert colonial presence and policies, and/or as a way to strengthen traditional kinship and social welfare practices? This project will examine the Homemakers’ Club as a case study of Aboriginal womanhood and feminism and seeks to understand the club’s ties to community- (and thus nation-) building in the postwar era.

SSHRC Insight Development Grant
Memorial University
St. John's
Newfoundland and Labrador
Aboriginal Peoples
Community Development
Aboriginal History
Aboriginal Women
Industry Sectors 
Aboriginal Public Administration
Scientific Research and Development Services
Start date 
1 Jan 2012
End date 
31 Dec 2016