Donna R. Gabaccia
Because the United States celebrates itself as a beacon of liberty, emancipation is one of the most common themes in the history of immigrant women and the exploitation of women, as workers or as wives, tends to be traced to the patriarchy of foreign communities or immigrant men rather than to unequal American gender relations. At least since the colonial era, opportunities for immigrant women from Europe to expand their own sense of personal autonomy and agency have surpassed opportunities for immigrant women from Asia, Latin America, Africa, or the Caribbean. Gender inequality for immigrant women is less the result of confrontations between differing immigrant and American forms of patriarchy and more the product of gendered forms of American racism.
In 1939, an Ojibwe woman named Naynaabeak was involved in a conflict that shows some of the complexities that American Indians experienced throughout the history of settler colonialism in the United States. Her family did not live on a reservation, but they were Ojibwe people and tribal citizens and her home and fishing spot were historically Ojibwe places. The complex legal world defined by borders disrupted Naynaabeak’s ability to make a living, and her conflict was simply part of everyday existence for many Ojibwe women. This chapter considers the hurdles that Naynaabeak’s generation overcame in their determination to make a living, and how their efforts to remain on their lands, fishing grounds, forests, hills, and mountains—and especially their sacred places—enabled their descendants to maintain indigenous communities which still exist. The chapter reviews the literature about gender and labor in American Indian history to illuminate its major themes.