MP-0000.25.532 | Aboriginal people of the Plains, about 1900

Photograph, glass lantern slide
Aboriginal people of the Plains, about 1900
Anonyme - Anonymous
About 1900, 19th century or 20th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
8 x 8 cm
Gift of Mr. Stanley G. Triggs
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Ethnology (606) , Native people (373) , Photograph (77678)
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Keys to History

Early European settlers were either horrified or awed by the independence, strength and knowledge Native women possessed. Although the experiences of First Nations women varied from the Atlantic to the Pacific, they enjoyed much greater social and political autonomy than European women. Aboriginal women were also tremendously important to advancing the interests of European colonists. On the Prairies and in British Columbia, where whites were still a minority, Native women provided food and shelter, acted as interpreters, and in many cases, lived with white men and bore their children.

But after 1867, Native people were seen less as friends and allies and more as an obstacle to "progress." The federal government and Christian missionaries agreed that the solution to the "Indian problem" was assimilation. For women, this meant losing their political voice and learning to be subservient to men, especially their husbands. Pressure to conform to European notions of female chastity, concepts that did not exist in their own cultural traditions, was applied in Christian residential schools and by local Indian agents hired by the government to oversee the lives of Native people on reserves.

The stereotype of the "squaw" is one of the many legacies of this period. Writers, journalists and politicians frequently characterized Aboriginal men as lazy and Aboriginal women as sexually immoral. History has shown that the creation of these false stereotypes made white Canadians more likely to believe that by settling the Prairies and putting Indians into the care of the government and missionaries, they were saving them from themselves.

Source : Straitlaced: Restrictions on Women [Web tour], by Elise Chenier, McGill University (see Links)

  • What

    This portrait was taken on the Canadian Prairies.

  • Where

    The precise location and the name of the photographer is not known.

  • When

    This picture was shot sometime around the turn of the century.

  • Who

    In the late 1800s, Native peoples living on the Prairies suffered terrible poverty and endured long periods without food. These conditions were caused by the disappearance of the buffalo, a series of droughts and the failure of the federal government to deliver promised food supplies.