Matrix Cultures















































The Intrusion of Male Supremacist Values
on Matrix-Traditional Cultures

Maliseet Nation, eastern Canada

The Maliseet land base has shrunk to the tiny Tobique Reserve in New Brunswick, just over the border from Maine. Eastern Canada was colonized by the French and then the English over centuries. Not only land was taken, but the settler society intruded in a variety of ways on the First Nations. In the 20th century a Canadian law stripped basic rights from Indian women, their very identity and legal status as Indian people.

The Indian Act defined this status as necessarily patrilineal, depending on relationship “to a male person who is a direct descendent in the male line of a male person…” This was not something theoretical. It meant that aboriginal women who married white men or other non-Indians were legally defined as non-Indians themselves. The law also cut off women's property rights, designating sole ownership to males. In practice, men were throwing their wives out of the house and moving in their girlfriends. According to the provisions of the Indian act, the white women married by some of these men, were legally considered Indians! [Silman, 11]

The first to challenge this law was Mary Two-Axe Early, a Mohawk from Quebec, in the 1950s. By the '70s, First Nations women were mobilizing around the country.
Jeannette Lavell and Yvonne Bedard challenged the Indian Act as unconstitutional in 1973, but the Supreme Court of Canada simply ruled that the country’s Bill of Rights didn’t apply to them. Back on the res, “Indian women who supported Lavell and Bedard were attacked by Indian leaders and labeled ‘white-washed women’s libbers’ who were undermining their Indian heritage. [Silman, 12]

But in reality that heritage was centered on motherlines, as Bet-te Paul of Tobique Reserve explains. “We didn’t come from a male-dominated society—it was matrilineal. Some of us have been digging to find out our old culture, and one document about relationships shows there was a special relationship between the elder women and the young girls. Also, the elder women were the ones to hold places in council and to guide the men. We had chiefs, but the elder women were behind the men; they were listened to and held in high respect.” [Silman, 226]

Cheryl Bear says the same. "Some people say that traditionally Maliseets were matriarchal, that women had more of a say. I don't know too much about that, but in the household I was raised in, it was true. It was my grandmother; she always had the say—what was right or what was wrong—and my grandfather seemed to almost automatically honour or respect it." She added that this grandfather gave a lot of support to the women as they fought for their rights and always told them not to give up. [Silman, 111]

[Source: Enough is Enough: Aboriginal Women Speak Out, as told to Janet Silman, Toronto: The Women's Press, 1987]


Nivaklé, Paraguay

Nivakle women express their dissatisfaction with the “chauvinist manners of the Paraguayan men," so different from the ways of their historically matrilineal/local society.

"In the old times, among the Nivaklé, women were the owners of all sexual initiative in their relationships. Invested with a certain aggressiveness for love, she could choose the man she preferred."

The influence of European culture has changed the values and behavior of Nivaklé men. “Imitating the white patron, now he dares to compel women for love.” [Hughes, 7]



In Laos, the majority of cultures have been matrilineal and matrilocal right up to the present day. This includes not only the minority indigenous peoples but also the main Lao ethnicity, among whom the youngest daughter traditionally inherits the land and cares for the parents in their old age.

However, like other matrilineal societies, Lao mother-right is under severe pressure and has been slowly giving way. Even though women still inherit, husbands’ names now appear on most land titles. The Lao Women’s Union is taking action to stop this drift.

Lao women have a powerful economic role and significant social-structural supports but are “politically and socially subordinate” to men. Some, such as Lao Theung and Hmong, are patrilineal.

Source: CEDAW report on Laos