Erin Wolski

This article is intended to generate knowledge of gender balance and to insist its inclusion in the truth and reconciliation process. The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) promotes the use of a culturally relevant gender-based analysis (CRGBA) by the men and women involved in forging a renewed relationship between Aboriginal and Canadian peoples. In Culturally Relevant Gender-based Analysis: tool to promote equity, we contend that NWAC’s CRGBA framework is:

a learning tool for use by anyone involved in policy, program or project development; it is intended to broaden perspectives and deepen knowledge of colonization and its outcomes. In particular, it is intended to improve Aboriginal women’s health and well-being. Over 40% of Aboriginal women live in poverty, for example, and Aboriginal women are three times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to suffer violence.1

CRGBA development has been motivated by the total failure within current policy and decision-making processes to meet Aboriginal women’s needs. Both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal societies are guilty of not only marginalizing, but completely discounting the value Aboriginal women bring to these processes. It is our goal to see that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission equally value Aboriginal women’s roles and meet their needs, from beginning to end. We have witnessed the outcomes of devaluation and imbalance, such as poorer overall health status, disproportionate incarceration rates, suicide, addiction, chronic disease, violence, and death among Aboriginal people, especially among Aboriginal women. The pursuit of truth and reconciliation must strive to impact these outcomes.

The Role of NWAC

NWAC is one of five federally recognized national Aboriginal organizations and is the only one that represents the interests of Aboriginal women. NWAC came about during a time when both Aboriginal and women’s issues were at the forefront of change.
Movements that had their genesis during the 1970s were responsible for creating a political conscience unlike any other time in our history. While there have been attempts over the years to incorporate the Aboriginal world view into research and policy development processes, there has yet to be an effective, broadly accepted tool to facilitate this. It is acknowledged, however, that a holistic perspective allows for more inclusive, comprehensive approaches to issues. It is also acknowledged that the Aboriginal woman’s perspective brings traditional ways of being into current ways of thinking and revitalizes matriarchy as a more viable, long-term solution to the many problems faced by Aboriginal peoples.2

Aboriginal issues are some of the most complex; resolution involves comprehension and respect. Prior to contact with Europeans, Aboriginal people were already rich in a long history of cultural traditions and self-governance:

Prior to first contact, many Aboriginal societies were … [matriarchal] in nature and focused on family, community and the continuity of tradition, culture and language; Aboriginal women were central to all of this as teachers, healers, and givers of life. While Aboriginal men and women had distinct roles, their roles were equally valued.3

Aboriginal society has become patriarchal. We have embraced a set of values that were once foreign. However, it should be known that the imposition of patriarchal laws, structures, and institutions has had severe, negative, and lasting impacts. We need to reflect on this and ask ourselves who is benefitting. An honest assessment of this will assist us in creating change. “The need to restore the value of Aboriginal gendered roles has motivated the development of culturally relevant gender-based analysis, or CRGBA.”4

NWAC works to promote increased awareness of the Aboriginal woman’s reality and, in the Aboriginal Healing Foundation’s publication From Truth to Reconciliation: Transforming the Legacy of Residential Schools, NWAC President Beverley Jacobs and co-author Andrea William’s submission details the linkages between the current and historical, social, and economic environments in Canada and the abhorrent trends within, specifically missing and murdered Aboriginal women. While NWAC is credited with raising the profile of violence against Aboriginal women nationally and internationally, the organization has also accepted responsibility for identifying ways to create change. The ultimate goal is to eliminate violence against Aboriginal women and it is understood that this can only come about by exposing the avenues from which it is perpetuated. NWAC views colonialism and patriarchy as underlying root causes that perpetuate racialized gender-targeted violence.

CRGBA has become a critical piece of work within Aboriginal organizations, many having developed their own frameworks to suit their own purposes. Several of these were showcased at the National Aboriginal Women’s Summit in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (NWT) in July 2008, co-hosted by the Government of the NWT and NWAC. At this event, Aboriginal women from across Canada had an opportunity to learn about CRGBA before developing action-oriented recommendations for the federal government.

Colonization of Roles

It is well-established that the legacy of colonization changed Aboriginal people’s roles in society; however, it can be argued that Aboriginal women’s fall from grace was more devastating and widespread. Colonial laws and genocidal policies,5 while impacting the delicate balance between the genders, specifically targeted Aboriginal women and their roles as family anchors. As Pertice Moffitt stated “Aboriginal women were closely linked to the land, and because land acquisition became the goal of the colonizers, Aboriginal women became the target.”6 The descent was swift and saw gendered roles changed forever. With colonization came a systematic overhaul of the value of the roles each member played within family, community, and nations.

It is a long-standing goal of Aboriginal women’s organizations like NWAC to drive shifts in policy priorities that will see substantive change to the realities experienced by Aboriginal women; to see the value of Aboriginal women’s roles elevated and balance restored.


The CRGBA framework is:

a “living” document and will change over time. Elements of the framework have been gleaned from the work that NWAC and others have done on gender-based analysis. The Bureau of Women’s Health and Gender Analysis at Health Canada, for example, helped initiate the process and provided background and support to NWAC in the development of the framework…. NWAC sees the framework as a founding document for all research and policy areas within the organization, grounding all of our research and policy work…. The goal of the framework is to facilitate the application of this knowledge within a current context. Applying CRGBA has the potential to move policy, programs and legislation toward achieving more equitable health outcomes.7

CRGBA is a learning tool intended to broaden perspectives and knowledge. The genocidal agenda implemented over a century ago is entrenched in current legislation, and in order to fully comprehend the legacy of impacts, preconceived notions of gendered Aboriginality must be abandoned:

Historically, Aboriginal women have been portrayed in derogatory terms. Through [the imposition of] various laws, regulations, policies and Christian edicts, a demeaning and demoralizing portrayal became the identity of the Aboriginal woman in Canada, forcing them into an oppressed position in society, which are serious mitigating factors as to their poor health of today.8

The CRGBA should allow the application of new knowledge and the development of more relevant public policy within both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal society. Once it is understood how the denial of Aboriginal identity in Canada is linked to poor health, users will begin to understand why CRGBA is so important.9

The policy shifts expected by implementing CRGBA will be particularly relevant as the truth and reconciliation process begins its nationwide activities and events. True reconciliation should see the development and use of Aboriginal-driven mechanisms of change. NWAC envisions the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a critical link to health and healing in Aboriginal communities and views the Commission as an opportunity to create real change. The CRGBA is offered as a tool of change; its use will bring about more comprehensive, inclusive policy and decision-making processes.


If conventional gender-based analysis (GBA) tools are intended to address gender bias, the objective of a culturally relevant gender-based analysis is to broaden current approaches and to incorporate Aboriginal world views. Conventional GBAs are limited in scope and fail to meet the needs of Aboriginal women; CRGBA sets the bar higher contextually and requires the user to question basic assumptions and prejudices.

Colonization, for example, is perceived by many to be an historical event; however, it must be understood as a current phenomenon. CRGBA users will understand that a very real legacy of colonization continues today through policies such as those in the judicial and educational systems, through the socio-economic environments within both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal society, and through legislation such as the Indian Act, the Canadian Human Rights Act, and the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act at the national level and through band membership codes at the local level.

The NWAC CRGBA is versatile and can be incorporated into any phase of the policy development process: planning, implementation, and/or monitoring. The indicators used to evaluate the policy (or program) in question are intended to measure the level to which a defined set of criteria is met. For example, if the desired outcome is the application of CRGBA, the level to which this is achieved can be measured by the extent to which Aboriginal women were part of the process. The tool will help the user determine why the methods used to engage Aboriginal women were unsuccessful. The following excerpt from NWAC’s CRGBA framework illustrates how engagement is evaluated:10

The template can be used to measure the application and incorporation of CRGBA throughout the life of the policy and should be revisited to ensure consistent and continued application. This means that Aboriginal women’s roles must be maintained through all phases of the process and that Aboriginal women’s perspectives must be reflected in the outcomes.

NWAC’s CRGBA specifically focuses on revitalizing Aboriginal women’s roles because of the long-standing imbalance, and the differential impacts Aboriginal women have experienced. However, elevating the importance of Aboriginal women and their roles does not discount the importance of Aboriginal men and their roles. Establishing and maintaining a balance between the two is also important.

There are many practical examples of the CRGBA that generate new knowledge and the potential for more sustainable solutions to Aboriginal issues. NWAC has begun to gather case studies to demonstrate how culture and gendered perspectives can shed new light on issues. Areas of particular interest are economic development, justice, violence, and health.

Aboriginal people experience disproportionate rates of many chronic illnesses. Diabetes, for example, was virtually unknown less than 50 years ago, but today the prevalence is three to five times higher than in the general population. Older Aboriginal women aged 65 years and over experience diabetes at higher rates (one in four) compared to Aboriginal men (one in five). Also, there is a special concern for the rate of growth among Aboriginal children and women of child-bearing years.11 Therefore, Aboriginal women should be central in the development of diabetes policy and programming, locally and nationally.

When a cultural lens is applied to health, diabetes in particular, a clearer picture emerges that can broaden understanding and perhaps trigger the development of more sustainable solutions. By applying the CRGBA, more facts emerge that can explain how and why Aboriginal women in particular are predisposed to experiencing such high rates of the disease. The CRGBA will point to systemic discrimination, gendered racism, and other phenomena that perpetuate Aboriginal women’s realities.12
The same is true of the reconciliation process. Aboriginal women’s roles are critical at all levels because they have been differentially impacted by colonization. The Native Women’s Association of Canada invites the Commission to use the CRGBA framework to expose the truth, to generate systemic, long-lasting change, and to revitalize gender balance.


NWAC’s CRGBA framework is a living document. Since the initial drafting of this article, the framework has changed. The newest version of the CRGBA incorporates the grassroots perspective and, as such, is more easily incorporated into existing policy and decision-making processes. We feel we have succeeded in developing a simplified, more user-friendly version of the framework and offer it for use by the Commission with the understanding that by adopting the CRGBA principles, outcomes will better reflect the needs of all those who participated in the process.


Erin Wolski is a member of the Chapleau Cree First Nation. She was born and raised in Mushkegowuk Territory, Treaty 9. Erin has an undergraduate degree in Environmental Health from Ryerson University. She has spent the last decade working in Ottawa at various national Aboriginal organizations and is currently Director of Health at Native Women’s Association of Canada. A passionate advocate for Aboriginal women’s equality rights, she focuses much of her attention to health research and policy analysis. Her work on culturally relevant gender-based analysis frameworks has contributed to the pool of knowledge nationally.

  1. Wolski, Erin (2008/09:26). Culturally Relevant Gender-based Analysis: A tool to promote equity. Network 11(1):26–27. Retrieved 7 April 2009 from: pdf
  2. Wolski (2008/09).
  3. Wolski (2008/09:26).
  4. Wolski (2008/09:26).
  5. Jacobs, Beverley and Andrea Williams (2008). Legacy of Residential Schools: Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women. In Marlene Brant Castellano, Linda Archibald, and Mike DeGagné (eds.), From Truth to Reconciliation: Transforming the Legacy of Residential Schools. Ottawa, ON: Aboriginal Healing Foundation: 119–140. This can also be retrieved in PDF format from:
  6. Moffitt, Pertice (2004:325). Colonialization: A Health Determinant for Pregnant Dogrib Women. Journal of Transcultural Nursing 15(4):323–330.
  7. Wolski (2008/09:26). A large number of documents were reviewed in the creation of this CRGBA template, but most notably the following were relied upon: NWAC (2007) Culturally Relevant Gender Based Analysis: An Issue Paper. Prepared for the National Aboriginal Women’s Summit, June 20-22, 2007, Corner Brook, NL (retrieved 9 April 2009 from: ); Status of Women Canada (2003). Gender-Based Analysis (GBA): Performance Measurement of its Application. Ottawa, ON: Status of Women Canada (retrieved 20 October 2008 from:; Wolski, Erin (2007). The Aboriginal-Driven Gender Based Analysis Framework. August 2007 Background Paper #1. Vancouver, BC: Aboriginal Women’s Health and Healing Research Group (retrieved 20 October 2008 from:;?AFN Women’s Council (2007). Draft Framework “Gender Balancing: Restoring Our Sacred Circle”. Ottawa, ON: Assembly of First Nations (retrieved 20 October 2008?from:?’s%20Gender%20Re-Balancing%20Framework_EN.pdf);?Wolski, Erin (2007). Towards the Reconstruction of a Gendered Aboriginal Identity. August 2007 Background Paper #2. Vancouver, BC: Aboriginal Women’s Health and Healing Research Group (retrieved 20 October 2008 from: ); Wolski, Erin (2007). Exploring the relevance of Gender Based Analysis to Indigenous realities in Canada: A comparative analysis, Gender Based Analysis, Phase II. Vancouver, BC: Aboriginal Women’s Health and Healing Research Group (retrieved 20 October 2008 from: http://www.;?Health Canada (2000). Health Canada’s Gender-based Analysis Policy. Ottawa, ON: Health Canada (retrieved 20 October 2008 from:; NWAC (no date). Native Women’s Association of Canada-Aboriginal Health Indicators Framework (unpublished draft document); Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (1999/2006). Gender-Based Analysis Policy. Ottawa, ON: Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada (retrieved 20 October 2008 from:; Health Canada (2003). Exploring Concepts of Gender and Health. Ottawa, ON: Health Canada (retrieved 20 October 2008 from:?; and NWAC (no date). Native Women’s Association of Canada Sisters in Spirit Initiative (unpublished draft document). For more information contact the Native Women’s Association Health Unit Director, Erin Wolski at or at 613-722-3033, extension 229.
  8. Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) (2008:8–9) (footnotes removed). Culturally Relevant Gender Based Analysis and Assessment Tool For Health Canada Aboriginal Health Transition fund 2007-08. Ottawa, ON: Native Women’s Association of Canada (unpublished document).
  9. The NWAC Health Unit will promote CRGBA through regional outreach and through both mainstream and Aboriginal publications; excerpts in this article may be found in other publicly available documents, such as: Canadian Women’s Health Network’s Brigit’s Notes Summer 2008 edition (see:; and the National Aboriginal Women’s Summit II, held in Yellowknife, NWT on 29–31 July 2008 (see: We anticipate that this will only be the beginning of CRGBA promotion in Canada.
  10. NWAC (2008:17–18), see note #8.
  11. Health Canada (no date). Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative (ADI). Retrieved 14 April 2009 from:
  12. See Native Women’s Association of Canada’s website for more information at: