International Women’s Day is celebrated in countries around the world as a day of unity, reflection, advocacy, and action. It’s also an opportune time to call for change.
In Canada, there are many examples of the advocacy and resiliency of grassroots Indigenous women and girls. Two recent examples that garnered media attention: Isabella Kulak from the Cote First Nation stood up for her right to wear her ribbon skirt at a school event, and TikTok creator Michelle Chubb’s videos, which are shared millions of times over, blending Indigenous regalia with social justice issues. But let’s not forget all the mothers and family members still fighting for justice for their missing and murdered daughters and loved ones.
The hard truth is that, here in Canada, the benefits of gender equality are not the same for all groups of women and girls.
Change is needed—drastic, immediate, systemic change.
Indigenous women continue to be impacted by multiple levels of bureaucracies that work in silos. These bureaucratic systems are protective of their own turf. They’re ever focused on the need or imperative to document their work. Their output comprises projects, pilots, programs, policies, frameworks, protocols, accords, memorandums of understanding, and best practices.
While the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) always has a response to this bureaucratic output, our level of response is dictated by the amount of time we are given to digest the information. Often, the materials are couched in difficult-to-understand, bureaucratic, and ambiguous language.
Moreover, although NWAC may be asked to participate in some high-level events organized by the government, such as federal/provincial/territorial tables, we are usually invited to speak after the men and sometimes from the sidelines. At other times, we are able to provide a submission after the fact—despite being under-resourced; in some cases, we are able to do so only after our legal counsel has sent in a stern letter to the organizers.
Yet, this is a country that boasts about its human rights and gender equality achievements—and boldly asks the general public to join in the boast.
Excuse us, but NWAC doesn’t feel like boasting.
We can’t boast when there are an incredibly high number of mothers whose children are in foster care; a high percentage of Indigenous women are in prison; a scandalous number of women are experiencing violence daily or have gone missing or been murdered. We can’t boast when there are disproportionate numbers of Indigenous women and girls who are being trafficked.
Add to all this the urban and on-reserve housing crisis; the water crisis facing many communities; the utter lack of culturally appropriate solutions designed and developed by Indigenous women; systemic racism exhibited in the health care system and other service sectors; and the underlying social, political, and economic marginalization that has emerged since colonialism.
Then consider the short-term and unstable funding provided to Indigenous women’s groups; the allocation of funds to non-Indigenous organizations when these funds should be going to Indigenous women’s organizations; the lack of meaningful consultation.
Despite the plethora of domestic and international reports, a Royal Commission, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the most recent National Inquiry, just this past year two Indigenous women were victims of deeply embedded racism. Chantal Moore was shot by a police officer during a wellness check, and Joyce Echaquan died in a Quebec hospital after filming staff insulting her.
This country must exercise the political will to urgently implement the systemic and institutional changes recommended in all those reports. But frankly—sitting on this side of the table and borrowing from the iconic words uttered by MP Romeo Saganash in Parliament in 2018—it sure looks and feels like the government doesn’t give a “fuck” about our rights.
The feminist agenda lacks an understanding of colonialism and its manifestations in today’s society. It fails to understand the important role of the matriarchs and Indigenous women in Indigenous communities, as well as their inherent and basic human right to make their own decisions. Instead, departments controlling funding have begun giving non-Indigenous groups funds that belong to Indigenous organizations. This is shameful, especially given that the National Inquiry’s Final Report specifically called for appropriate funding and programming led by Indigenous women.
Reclaiming our place as matriarchs and blazing our own path, to lead ourselves out of colonization, is a daunting task, but long overdue.
We are resilient. We have support from our sisters in the Americas, from our allies and partners, and from women and men eager to step up to help end the ongoing genocide of Indigenous women and girls.
This is why NWAC has decided to host a Summit of the Americas on Violence Against Indigenous Women. On March 29 and 30, grassroots Indigenous women and girls from across the Americas will come together with Indigenous women leaders, representatives from both the Organization of American States and the United Nations, family survivors, and corporate and government leaders to discuss the epidemic of violence against indigenous women and what needs to be done. An outcome document will be presented to governments and UN officials.
Today, Indigenous women stand proudly, resilient and determined to be silent no more.