September 27, 2016 (Gatineau, Quebec) – Over seventy Indigenous women leaders from across the country, along with 40 observers and guests, gathered for the 42nd Annual General Assembly (AGA) of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) on the unceded Algonquin territory of Gatineau, Quebec on September 24th-25th, 2016. The NWAC assembly recognized that this is a critical time as the federal government works to fulfill a number of commitments with Indigenous peoples, including the Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
The gathering took the time to discuss a number of key issues that are of deep concern to Indigenous women in this country.
Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, led off a critical discussion on balancing the responsibilities of environmental stewardship with economic development. A number of the delegates described specific situations in their provinces and territories that are directly compromising the water and land in their communities and the ability to live on the land. The Minister was invited to consider engaging Indigenous knowledge to not only inform but guide their work around climate change and economic development.
Michèle Audette, National Inquiry Commissioner and former NWAC President, provided an update and received best wishes for her work. Concerns were also expressed as the Inquiry is not yet up and running and has only a two-year mandate.
Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and National Chief Dwight Dorey from the Indigenous Peoples’ Assembly of Canada, offered their greetings and provided some interesting points on where Indigenous women are positioned in federal priorities. The federal government has committed to UNDRIP which states that Indigenous women have the right to choose their own representative bodies to speak for them. Recently NWAC has not been invited to certain federal consultations including the session on Climate Change and the Environment planned for this week where three National Indigenous Organizations will be in attendance. The question was posed, is it being assumed that Indigenous women are being represented by the AFN, Métis National Council and the Inuit Tapariit Kanatami at this time? If so, that is not a sound or accurate assumption.
One of the most powerful moments of the weekend was a speech by Willow Hill who described the broken child welfare system from her own lived experience. Her story and strength was a reminder of the resiliency and strength of Indigenous women. The delegation made a commitment to work on addressing child welfare as a system that hurts Indigenous children and families, including supporting Cindy Blackstock and the First Nation Child and Family Caring Society in their initiatives.
Cora Lee McGuire closed the gathering with a powerful success story of the work done by the Ontario Native Women’s Association to secure $100 million for ending violence against Indigenous women in the next three years. The final message was from a British Columbia delegate who symbolized the strength of Indigenous women to deal with the immediate needs while working to transform the system. She called on each woman to step up and foster Indigenous children while we reconstitute a child welfare system that supports Indigenous children, women, families and communities.
The delegation was also in a consultation on Monday, September 26 to discuss sex discrimination in the Indian Act and specifically the Descheneaux case.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) is founded on the collective goal to enhance, promote, and foster the social, economic, cultural and political well-being of First Nations and Métis women within First Nation, Métis and Canadian societies. As a national organization representing Aboriginal women since 1974, NWAC’s mandate is to achieve equality for all Aboriginal women in Canada.
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