Indigenous Women, Work, and History



When dealing with Indigenous women’s history we are conditioned to think about women as private-sphere figures, circumscribed by the home, the reserve, and the community. Moreover, in many ways Indigenous men and women have been cast in static, pre-modern, and one-dimensional identities, and their twentieth century experiences reduced to a singular story of decline and loss. In Indigenous Women, Work, and History, historian Mary Jane Logan McCallum rejects both of these long-standing conventions by presenting case studies of Indigenous domestic servants, hairdressers, community health representatives, and nurses working in “modern Native ways” between 1940 and 1980. Based on a range of sources, including the records of the Departments of Indian Affairs and National Health and Welfare, interviews, and print and audio-visual media, McCallum shows how state-run education and placement programs were part of Canada’s larger vision of assimilation and extinguishment of treaty obligations. Conversely, she also shows how Indigenous women link these same programs to their social and cultural responsibilities of community building and state resistance. By placing the history of these modern workers within a broader historical context of Aboriginal education and health, federal labour programs, post-war Aboriginal economic and political developments, and Aboriginal professional organizations, McCallum challenges us to think about Indigenous women’s history in entirely new ways.


”This book challenges persistent narratives about Aboriginal women in Canadian history, in part by recovering the history of Aboriginal women’s waged work and locating that history within the context of state policies and social discourses of modernity, Aboriginality, race, and gender. In so doing, McCallum challenges the existing scholarship on Aboriginal people’s history and rejects long-standing conventions that have erased Aboriginal people’s labour and ignored women as economic actors and workers.”

Julie Guard, University of Manitoba

“Deftly written by Mary Jane Logan McCallum, Indigenous Women, Work, and History is a seminal work of original scholarship providing a definitive four decade history of Canada’s indigenous female population as part of the Canadian labour force.”

Midwest Book Review

“Scholars of all stripes should enthusiastically embrace Mary Jane Logan McCallum’s new study on Indigenous work.”

Douglas K. Miller, Labour/Le Travail

“An important study of history, work, gender, and Indigeneity. By highlighting the understudied issue of Indigenous women’s experience of waged work in the latter half of the twentieth century, and by questioning and critiquing English-Canadian history and its attitude towards Indigenous history and historians, McCallum expands several fields of research and challenges scholars to rethink key aspects of their scholarship and profession.”

Julia Smith, The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

"Indigenous Women, Work, and History is an indispensable contribution to historical scholarship on Indigenous labour in North America, specifically to Indigenous women’s work in the postwar period."

Michelle Desveaux, Canadian Journal of History

“Extraordinary in detail, breadth, and depth.”

Carol Williams, BC Studies

“Boldly contributing to conversations on advancing the field and practice of history, Indigenous Women, Work, and History is an intriguing read for scholars in Canadian and First Nations studies.”

Katie Keliiaa, American Indian Culture and Research Journal

"Mary Jane Logan McCallum unveils part of the rich yet largely unacknowledged history of female Indigenous labor in Canada, taking into consideration both racial and gender oppression. McCallum’s study is designed as an antidote to the rhetoric of decline, loss, and absence in Indigenous historiography. She is careful to include the perspectives of female Indigenous workers drawing from a variety of sources, including interviews, literature, and oral histories. She also draws attention to the gaps in sources and the fact that this invisibility can signify resistance.”

Patrizia Zanella, Studies in American Indian Literatures


Manitoba Day Awards, Association of Manitoba Archives (2016)

About the Author

Mary Jane Logan McCallum is a Professor in the Department of History at University of Winnipeg.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements vi
Tables and Illustrations vi

Introduction p.3

Chapter 1
Sweeping the Nation: Indigenous Women and Domestic
Labour in Mid-Twentieth Century Canada p.21

Chapter 2
The Permanent Solution: The Placement and Relocation
Program, Hairdressers, and Beauty Culture p.66

Chapter 3
An Early Labour History of Community Health
Representatives, 1960–1970 p.121

Chapter 4
Gaining Recognition: Labour as Activism among
Indigenous Nurses p.169

The Wages of Whiteness and the Indigenous Historian p.229

Notes p.244
Bibliography p.296
Index p.318