From forced relocation to secure belonging: women making native space in Quebec’s urban areas

Caroline Desbiens, Carole Lévesque

Abstract


In the 1970s, urban areas in Quebec (Canada) welcomed several indigenous organizations, notably the Quebec Native Women’s Association (QNWA), which was created in 1974 and based in Montreal. As with the Native Women’s Association of Canada created a year earlier, the QNWA was founded by First Nations women who lost their status due to the discriminatory clauses in the Indian Act (1876): until the 1985 reform, women who married non-indigenous men were stripped of their status and, in most cases, forced to leave and then kept away from their land and communities of origin. Forced to relocate on the basis of gender, many of these women moved to towns and cities where they became key architects of what David Newhouse has called “the invisible infrastructure” of urban indigenous communities. Originally, this infrastructure included the kitchens, living rooms, cafés, parks or other informal spaces that supported these communities. Over the years, the infrastructure has become increasingly visible, in large part due to the creation and development of Native Friendship Centres (NFC), which provide support and services for indigenous people in urban settings in areas such as health, social services, education, employment, housing, etc. In Québec there are ten NFC and it is a notable fact that each of them is presently headed by a woman. In this paper, we draw on the work of feminist geographers to examine how, from an experience of forced migration, First Nations women in Quebec established new indigenous territories in urban locations. What began as informal networks of solidarity has become a built environment that is contributing both to the visibility and viability of urban indigenous communities. Using feminist historical geography as an analytical framework, our chief objective is to detail the unfolding of this gendered geography during the last fifty years, and assess its importance for contemporary configurations of indigenous identities, cultures and politics.


Keywords


Urban aboriginal women; forced relocation; Indian Act of Canada; feminist historical geography; Quebec

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