Kathryn LabelleDaughters of Aataentsic: A Case Study in Community-Guided Research
The Daughters of Aataentsic: The Life Stories of Seven Wendat Women, 1650-2006 seeks to advance knowledge about the complex relationship between Wendat/Huron/Wyandot women, Feminism, and the colonial regimes of North America by finding out how Wendat women have confronted patriarchal policies and what strategies (if any) were successful. Much has been written on the disruptive effects of patriarchal policies on North American Aboriginal societies and the decline in women's status, power and authority. In many cases the story remains one of victimhood and cultural corrosion, with an emphasis on the "double burden" of being both an Indigenous person and a woman. While still acknowledging the validity of this declension model, my project considers the ways in which Aboriginal women have resisted colonialism, preserved their culture and maintained their status as matriarchs. Within Wendat studies there is very little information published on the topic, although Wendat cultural keepers suggest that there are many examples. My current research project contributes to, and elaborates on, traditional Indigenous Feminist knowledge by exploring what strategies have been most successful in the historical struggles of seven Wendat women for cultural preservation during the years 1650-2006. Preliminary findings indicate that Wendat women have consistently turned to traditions of "motherwork"-- work that is geared towards bettering their community circumstances with the ultimate goal of
reinstating a pre-colonial "mother centered" value system.
The project's methodology follows a new generation of non-Indigenous scholars who are dedicated to community-engaged research. Although rooted in a customary historical approach, with textual documents as the main source, this research program relies heavily on community collaboration. I have sought out a project Advisory Council made up of seven Wendat women elders. These women, who represent a transnational women's network within four Wendat Nations (Quebec, Anderdon, Kansas and Oklahoma), have been critical to the development of this project, providing community perspectives and insight. The Council has provided guidance in terms of the selected case studies, suggesting the following women: Cecil Gannendaris (?-1669), Catherine Jean dit Vien (1676-1767), Margaret Solomon (1816-1890), Mary McKee (1838-1922), Eliza B. Conely (1869-1946), Jane Zane Gordon (1871-1907), and Éléonore Sioui (1924-2006). It has also facilitated access to restricted private collections and community archives.
There are several significant contributions and impacts of the proposed research. It is my hope that this research will answer important questions about how Aboriginal women have used motherwork as an Indigenous Feminist strategy and the impact of patriarchal regimes on matricentric communities in North America. Case studies such as these also provide a critical tool in the process of decolonization by highlighting tangible examples of strong, educated and successful Wendat women and countering the unfortunate, yet popular negative perception of Aboriginal leadership and women throughout North America. Finally, this project will demonstrate the importance of collaborative research models between Aboriginal communities and scholars.