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CAUT Bulletin Archives

March 2000

Native Women Face Unique Challenges

A recent study by Professor Carolyn Kenny and two of her colleagues at Simon Fraser University reveals that for many aboriginal women the challenges of juggling work, family and education are also complicated by the challenges of trying to sustain meaningful cultural ties.

Kenny found that these often competing demands are not recognized by employers, educators or members of their own communities, forcing many aboriginal women to make difficult choices and decisions in their careers that others do not have to consider.

Kenny's study, which has resulted in a comprehensive document containing recommendations for Status of Women Canada and the Assembly of First Nations for future policy development, advocates the creation of direct funding for aboriginal women within their own communities to attempt to alleviate some of the pressures involved in maintaining strong cultural ties while developing their careers.

Some of the stories uncovered by the two year study, which included interviews with 140 aboriginal women living in rural and urban communities across the country, document the conflicts involved in participating in cultural practices like the commemoration of deaths of important community leaders that last up to a week with employers who were unwilling to give them the necessary time off.

There were also the conflicts raised with members of their own communities who felt threatened by the academic success of aboriginal women and rejected them. The women are therefore faced with barriers that were uniquely related to their circumstances and experiences, often making realizing career ambitions a costly goal to achieve.

The policy opportunities raised by the interaction of such strong forces in the lives of native women demand attention by policy makers and educators so that the potential contributions to their cultures, careers and personal lives are not lost or lessened by the barriers they face. In the wake of the commemoration of International Women's Day and the International Day for the Elimination of Racism in March, the intersections of the lives of aboriginal women should be highlighted both for their successes and challenges.