The Mission and Impact of Matriarchs

As I Was Saying

As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

In light of Mother’s Day, when I think of my adopted mother who died when I was 12 years old, I remember a woman who embraced prayer and fostered a sense of family in my upbringing. She didn’t drive a vehicle or have a job outside of the home. She knew what each of us needed and what the family needed. She was a quiet force of influence and love. When she died after a six-year battle with cancer, she was deeply missed for those reasons and many more.

When I read the Bible and reflect on the Indigenous woman in society, I see many women of influence. In the Old Testament, there is Ruth, who kept her family line going despite great tragedy. There is Esther, who saved a nation from destruction and annihilation. In the New Testament, there is the woman at the well—a Samaritan woman—playing a role in evangelism.

In many Indigenous families, women take the lead in many spiritual and family matters. It’s unfortunate that there are, historically, many Indigenous families who have an absent father. According to the 2016 Census by Statistics Canada, about one-third of children ages 0-4 live with one parent, and of that number, 27% live with just their mother and 5% live with just their father.

When I look specifically at the Dene People at Cold Lake First Nation, in Northeastern Alberta, Canada, I see that historically the Dene people had women and Elders who made many of the major decisions in their communities. (My own Indigenous tribal group is Cree.) Over the years I’ve seen a pattern of Indigenous women taking the lead in their families to do their best for those families. I know many godly Indigenous men, but Indigenous women are the ones who are more likely to take their children to church, to go back to school, and who try to keep the family going.

I also think of the women in the beginning of the Exodus story. These women, who were midwives, were told by Pharaoh to kill all the male children they were helping to deliver. These women refused to do such an evil thing, and because of obeying God rather than an evil ruler, the Bible says they were blessed and given families.

The Bible was written in a time when men were more prominent as leaders of families, especially with the first-born males, such as we see in the Exodus story. Yet women in society, in the Bible, and in the Indigenous community have often taken the matriarchal position of being the leaders of their families.

My adopted mother, who took me in, did the best she could with what she had. My Indigenous mother and father couldn’t raise me and build into my daily life. This experience hasn’t diluted within me the fact that women throughout the Bible and in the current Indigenous community are playing vital roles in society and in their families.

Matriarchs are not just women that come from traditional matriarchal communities, such as the Dene of Northeastern Alberta. They are women that are all around us, completing all sorts of family orientated tasks. They are on a mission to protect, provide, and make a generational impact for years to come. We can reflect and be encouraged by some of the women of the Bible, but let’s not forget the matriarchal women who are right in front of us. Whether you're Indigenous or not, I think it's safe to say that women play a bigger role than we have given them credit for.

About the Author

Parry Stelter is originally from Alexander First Nation that is part of Treaty Six Territory. He is a doctoral candidate in contextual leadership with Providence University and Seminary who offers workshops on grief, loss, and intergenerational trauma. He is a member of Hope CRC in Stony Plain, Alta. His website is wordofhopeministries.ca.

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