By Renee Weibe
University of Calgary Sociologist Dr. Cora Voyageur has conducted the first study on female chiefs on Canadian reserves. Of the 90 women chiefs across Canada, Voyageur has studied 64 women and their experiences. She is currently working on a book, which will give these women a voice to tell their stories.
Voyageur worked with the Indian Association of Alberta in the early 1990s and has been involved in many chief’s meetings. Prior to her study, information about female chiefs was scarce. The lack of information motivated Voyageur’s study.
“As well as dealing with issues such as economic development and job creation, the women chiefs must also deal with social issues and community healing,” explained Dr. Voyageur.
In 1951 changes to the Indian Act allowed women to become chiefs, formerly an exclusively male role. In 1952 Canada had its first female chief.
The prototypical female chief is 45 years old, married, has children, some form of post-secondary education and experience in reserve politics. She likely originates from a “politically-involved” family.
“They are responsible, highly regarded people from the community and are recruited to run for the position by community members,” added Voyageur.
Gender issues can be a challenge for these women.
“As with most women, it is sometimes difficult to deal with issues in a male dominant society,” said Voyageur. However, there is no difference in the process of election for either male or female chiefs.
The study of women in politics in First Nations Communities has the potential to influence a variety of disciplines.