I truly seek to understand and advance equality between Christian men and women—morally, socially, and spiritually. Simply put, I believe in the full restoration of Eve. This includes acknowledging Eve and her daughters as created in the image of the Holy Spirit.
Born to be a Christian Feminist…
In order to understand my story I think it’s important to understand my grandmother’s story. My grandmother was an official feminist. The bold, in-your-face, never compromising kind of feminist that people often shun. She, Nellie Makokis Carlson, founded the organization Indian Rights for Indian Women back in the 1970s while living in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada where I was born in 1970. Her cause was known as Bill-C31. She fought to reinstate treaty rights to Indian women who had lost their rights after marrying non-Indian men. She, along with her friends, were called “squaw-libbers” by those who deemed them troublesome. Her book, Disinherited Generations: Our Struggle to Reclaim Treaty Rights for First Nations Women and their Descendants (which this post is based on) can be found here.
A Little Background…
My great, great, great grandfather was from the Cree Nation. His name was Chief Little Hunter. He signed a treaty for Saddle Lake Band called Treaty Six at Fort Carlton and Fort Pitt along with Chief Kehewin (also of the Cree Nation) in 1867. Back then the first peoples of Canada agreed to meet with the Queen’s representatives because they understood one thing: the Indian’s way of life was coming to an abrupt end: their main food source the buffalo had been made nearly extinct—starvation was setting in, and increasingly new people were moving into Indian territories to farm and hunt the land; plus, countless Indian people had already died due to disease and war. Change wasn’t just in the air. Death was.
When I think of those chiefs who gathered under duress to sign the treaties, I understand their great hope was for their children’s survival. They went into solemn deliberations to make peace with the Queen with one thing on their hearts… life.
However, once official treaties were established between the Queen and Canada’s first peoples, the government realized guidelines were needed in order to determine who an actual “Indian person” was. An Indian person, after all, was now by law entitled to certain “benefits” (such as health and education) in exchange for much of their land (take note, however, the chiefs understood a “treaty” to be a settlement of peace and not necessarily an agreement to give away land). By 1876 the Government of Canada introduced the first Indian Act. It defined an “official Indian” as “any male person of Indian blood reputed to belong to a band, any child of such a person and any woman lawfully married to such a person.” Because of this act, the only Indian person that actually existed in Canada was that of a male Indian. Women were classified “Indian” only in relation to the person of their husband or father.
Because of this narrow and biased definition, if an Indian woman married a non-Indian man she was in danger of losing her Indian status. My grandmother was one such woman. In marrying my grandfather, Elmer Carlson, who despite his mother (Helen) being Cree and despite her being a direct descendant of Chief Kehewin, he lacked Indian status because his father was Norwegian. Helen had married August Carlson— a Norwegian man. Therefore, my grandfather, Elmer, was born non-status. After marring Elmer, my grandmother was considered a “red ticket” holder—her identity as an “official” Indian was now in question. For the time being, she was allowed to live on reserve with her family but not all treaty rights were afforded her. For example, she could no longer vote during band membership meetings. Eventually, in 1951, the government eliminated all red ticket holders from band membership lists.
The Indian Act section on women and marriage was changed six times over the years. On the sixth time, the women and their children lost all rights and were arbitrarily deleted from band membership lists. The changes were discussed between 1946 and 1950. At that time, many of my relatives—Ralph Steinhauer, George Hunter, Edward Cardinal—were on the band council at Saddle Lake. I remember two of them came to me and said: “The women lost.” They [the men] voted against us, and allowed women of other races to remain as status Indian.
–Nellie Makokis Carlson, Disinherited Generations
You see, Indian men who married non-Indian women were allowed to invoke full Indian status over their wives—no matter what her nationality might be. By the grace of seemingly God—both his wife and children would now be considered Indian, gaining all rights that came along with that union of marriage. In essence, the non-Indian wife morphed into the official Indian that her husband was. Whereas, an Indian woman upon marrying a non-Indian morphed into whatever nationality he was. It was argued that this was the natural way—women were to follow their husbands, and they should remain silent on the matter.
In my grandmother’s opinion, and (eventually) the Canadian Government’s opinion, Indian women, after marrying non-Indian men, should not lose their native identity (and the promised treaty rights that went along with that identity). Losing their native distinctiveness was just too traumatic and simply impossible to do. Despite what the Indian Act stated, my grandmother believed Indian women were most definitely persons. In other words, a woman did not become non-native once she married a non-status individual. Rather, both parties came together with both identities intact. My grandmother, along with other unshakable women, worked to pass a Bill that reinstated treaty rights to the women and their children who had been forced to give up their Indian status. Bill C-31 was passed in 1985. In 1988 my grandmother won the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case for her work in advancing gender equality. In 2016 she had a school named after her. She had fought the good fight and had proved to Canada that First Nations women were indeed persons alongside First Nations men.
My Story & Mission—#WomenImageoftheHolySpirit
My life has been nothing like my grandmother’s. I grew up not on an Indian reservation surrounded by numerous family members, but in the city with my mom, dad and one brother. I went to school not at an isolated residential school, but at a school only three blocks from home. I felt at times (like when around family) too “white” and at other times (like in school) too “Indian.” I grew up not fighting the government but fighting my own demons. My innermost passion was not for Indian Women’s rights, rather my deepest desire was to find God—and God eventually led me to Jesus. (I’ve written a memoir about my childhood, you can find it here.) However, my relationship with my grandmother has graciously permitted me a perspective few children experience. I was present when death threats against my grandmother arrived by phone; I listened to her on CBC radio as she argued with highly respected chiefs about the obvious prejudice against women, and I accompanied my grandmother to Ottawa to present Bill C-31 to the Canadian Parliament. The result of such a life is a deep understanding of the necessity of the female voice within society. When that voice is pushed back or silenced altogether, you can be certain the spirit of death is at work. Women represent life after all.
Growing up watching and listening to my grandmother has, no doubt, left me with some passionate residue regarding the female agenda and since God uses every part of our background for good, it only figures God would lead me toward a revelation of God as Mother. After all, what God reveals in the natural soon is revealed in the spiritual as 1 Corinthians 15:46 says, “But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual.”
Having brought up how God first manifests the natural and then, later, the spiritual, let’s remember this disquieting fact: women were first declared “persons” in Canada in the year 1929 (whereas First Nations women began being treated as persons in the year 1985). Similarly, the United States also had its own feminist battle for freedom going on: prior to 1920 only white males were trusted with the responsibility to vote in elections and to lead their country (even though their very symbol for freedom was that of a woman—the Statue of Liberty). By observing and remembering the struggle of the female population to be “loosed” from man’s desire to “rule” independent of woman to the point of disregarding her actual personage, we can draw a rather sad conclusion regarding the state of our spiritual realm: Just as women have had to struggle to be accepted as “real persons” with gifts to help and lead, so too has the feminine aspect of God sought to reveal Herself.
After all, if women represent the image of the Holy Spirit—as I wholeheartedly believe they do—then what we see manifesting in woman’s journey on earth reveals to us what is happening with the Holy Spirit. She is the mysterious Holy Ghost and the divine incognito—the unseen mystery of God—characterized by a gentle dove and heralded as humankind’s helper. She is deeply desired but strangely allusive. She brings ultimate freedom and unending life; yet, she is more than this. She is a person.
Our relationship with the Holy Spirit should be just as close and intimate as Jesus’ relationship was with his disciples. The Holy Spirit is, after all, God on earth—our helper, teacher, friend, guide and our Mother.