Contemporary oppression of Indigenous women is a result of historical sexism and racism and many of the negative stereotypes that Indigenous women experience today can be historically situated (Forsyth, 2005).  The identities of Indigenous women are simultaneously gendered and racialized.  While white women were constructed as ‘pure’ and vulnerable, Indigenous women were, and continue to be, constructed as dirty and immoral.

Forsyth (2005) explains how colonialism benefitted from this construction; “The image of the dirty and immoral “squaw” was frequently employed to instigate moral panic about the downfall of the white race and to justify strict measures that would keep Indian women on reserve and preferably in the home” (p. 70).  This harmful depiction of Indigenous women served to justify policies that restricted the movement of Indigenous women off reservations and deflect accountability away from government and administrative agents such as the Department of Indian Affairs and the North-West Mounted Police (Forsyth, 2005).  Further, as conditions on reservations deteriorated and the negative impacts of poverty, ill health, violence and sexual abuse were apparent, Indigenous women were used as a scapegoat to explain these circumstances.

The status that Indigenous women once held in their communities was stripped away from them through the process of colonization.  Small pox, residential schools, and the Indian Act all had an impact on how Indigenous women were respected and represented in society.  Indigenous mothers have had their children forcibly removed from their homes, which has had devastating consequences on Indigenous women and the family structure.  The negative construction of Indigenous female identity and their marginalization and oppression can be directly linked to the high rates of violence against Indigenous women, examples of which are outlined in the following section.