What is the Native Women's Association of Canada?

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Different groups of people are impacted differently by the same policies. In this lesson, we'll see how the Native Women's Association of Canada works to protect the rights and lives of one important group of Canadians.


There are some laws and policies which impact women differently than men (particularly heterosexual men). Sometimes this is accidental; it can be a result of not having enough women involved in the legislative process. Sometimes it's intentional. Either way, it's important for women to know how certain policies are going to impact their lives. This is even more important to First Nations women, since nearly all ''Indian Law'' in North America was written by white men.

In light of this, several organizations exist to campaign for women's rights within ancestrally indigenous communities. Among the most active is the Native Women's Association of Canada. The NWAC is an organization that provides activism, policy analysis, and other forms of advocacy for First Nations women of Canada. Through their work, they help ensure that sexist policies aren't accidentally or intentionally passed against First Nations communities just because there aren't indigenous voices at the table.

History of the NWAC

The history of the NWAC dates back to the 1960s and all the activism associated with that era. Canada and the United States both pushed towards civil rights and this included civil rights for First Nations people. A number of First Nations activist organizations rose in this decade to challenge Canada's traditional policies and Indian Laws.

However, many female activists were acutely aware that some policies hurt First Nations women more disproportionately than men. For example, one policy stated that a woman could lose indigenous status if she married a non-indigenous man. Dozens of women were denied the rights of indigenous status based on this policy, one essentially designed to keep First Nations people from mixing with white Canadians. So, First Nations women started campaigning to bring awareness to these specific issues and fought to change them. In 1974, a collection of these early organizations came together and created a national body for First Nations women's rights. This was the birth of the National Women's Association of Canada.

What They Do

So, what exactly does a First Nations women's activist organization do? The NWAC calls itself a national ''Grandmother's Lodge,'' building on a long tradition of female-led political organizations in First Nations histories. Their objectives are to promote equal opportunities for women, advance indigenous self-determination through women's roles as leaders, provide resources to women who need to know more about legal policies and how to fight them, and cultivate the traditions and customs of Canada's First Nations.

Among other things, the NWAC promotes the role of women in maintaining First Nations cultural heritage

In practical terms, the NWAC campaigns against policies that would negatively impact First Nations women, advocates for policies that would be beneficial, and provides them a political voice. They help educate the public on how policies could impact First Nations women, they advance cultural events and cultural sovereignty, and they help teach local women how to campaign as activists in their own communities.

Areas of Focus

In their specific goal of addressing women's issues, the NWAC tends to focus frequently on a number of policy areas. These include education for women, housing opportunities, labor and employment equality, environmental issues, women's health, and child welfare, to name a few.

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