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Roles of Women
Ojibwa Community and Hallowell’s representation of women and children
(cropped from original photo, see below)
Historically, Ojibwa women, though essential and valorized members within their own communties, have been overlooked or ignored by cultural outsiders, including Western anthropolgists. Since most early anthropologists were males, their interactions were mainly with male leaders rather than females in indiegnous communities. The photograph collection of Alfred Irving Hallowell reflects the tendency for male anthropologists to have a greater access to men rahter than women. Although Hallowell took pictures of the all types of Ojibwa community members, the majority of his photos prioritized men and male dominated spheres instead of women and children. Many of the photographs label only the males. Most of the female Ojibwa are referred to as the wives of the named males or they are not even acknowledge at all. Children are rarely identified by name nor given any sort of label.
Children are expected to grow up very quickly in Ojibwa society. After only a few weeks after being brought into the world, the baby is spoken to as if it were an adult and is rarely coddled as many Western societies. After the birth, a naming feast is conducted and name-tokens (in photo below) are placed on the baby’s cradle. Though the photographer may have posed this infant, the fact that the baby is holding the drum symbolizes the importance of children in maintaining the community’s culture.
While the women and children here are wearing non-traditional prints, many Ojibwa women resisted the colonizing pressure to wear non-native clothing. Preferring their own traditional dress, many Ojibwa women outright refused clothing given to them by Christian missionaries. The Ojibwa community continued to face pressure to adopt outsider norms and values due to increased contact with the Westerners through trade, culture, and education. The young woman with the book in her hand probably was attending a Western boarding school brought there by Western missionaries.
In Ojibwa communities, women and men’s roles were often seen as complimentary. The couple shown above both has objects intended for the arrival of a new baby: the woman is holding a piece of a cradle while a woven baby garment hangs over the front of the man. Anthropologist Peggy Gonzalez has noted that “seldom is love a key issue in marriage. Marriage is primarily a relationship of survival and subsistence.” Unfortunately, due to modern changes and the imposition of Western patriarchal society, women’s work in the domestic sphere has become devalued. Although some Ojibwa females and males continue to work together as a team, the status of these indigenous women has been subordinated over time.