An Anishinaabe woman is organizing a menstrual product drive for students in northwestern Ontario First Nations after they were excluded from a provincial initiative to provide the products for free in schools.
The Ontario government announced in October that Shoppers Drug Mart would provide six million essential hygiene items for free, annually, to school boards in the province for at least the next three years.
"I immediately inquired as to whether or not that includes on-reserve students living in Ontario," said Tania Cameron, a Kenora, Ont.-based community organizer.
She found out First Nations in Ontario weren't included when Sol Mamakwa, the NDP MPP for the Kiiwetinoong riding, asked about it in the legislature last month.
"It's just going to the municipalities and school boards," said Cameron.
Cameron, who is Anishinaabe from Niisaachewan Anishinaabe Nation north of Kenora, started collecting menstrual products and monetary donations for on-reserve students on Nov. 1.
"It's just catching like wildfire and the support from the community locally and regionally is just incredible," she said.
Cameron has done similar menstrual product drives in the past and said that it's unfortunate that a project meant for all Ontario students would exclude students on First Nations.
"Jurisdictions shouldn't matter," said Cameron.
"A student in need shouldn't be recognized in terms of boundaries, federal [or] provincial boundaries."
Help from other organizations
There are 133 First Nations in Ontario and Cameron plans on trying to get supplies to at least 25 in the northwest region of the province.
She has received over $2,900 worth of monetary donations so far and is in the process of setting up partnerships with organizations to help with shipping and distribution.
Cameron has also partnered with the Ontario chapter of Moon Time Sisters, a period equity organization that works with northern and remote Indigenous communities.
Moon Time Sisters has agreed to issue tax receipts to donors. Its lead co-ordinator, Veronica Brown, said she was disappointed to learn that on-reserve students were being excluded from the initiative
"It's just another colonial barrier that's being forced upon Indigenous youth and we need to move past this," said Brown.
She said if Ontario can provide rapid COVID-19 tests to schools on First Nations, then menstrual products should also be considered essential.
"Both the provincial and the federal government need to be working towards looking at how we can solve this," said Brown.
Loblaw 'open to discussions'
Ontario's Ministry of Education did not provide a statement to CBC News but said on background that 46,000 off-reserve students in Ontario identify as Indigenous and will benefit from the provincial initiative.
The ministry said it has asked the federal government to adopt a similar menstrual product initiative for First Nation and federally-run schools.
In an emailed statement from Loblaw, the parent company of Shoppers Drug Mart, a spokesperson wrote that the company is donating products to the Ministry of Education, which is responsible for how they get distributed to schools, and the criteria.
The company said it has not been contacted by any Indigenous communities "but would certainly be open to discussions."
Cameron's product drive will continue until Nov. 25