Indigenous women leaders look for ways to support one another and others

·3 min read
On Tuesday, Quebec Cree Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty (left), along with AFN National Chief RoseAnne Archibald (2nd from left) and Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, Kahnawà:ke’s Grand Chief (right), met in Ottawa with the Honourable Mary May Simon, Governor General of Canada. They discussed ways they could support each other, and other Indigenous women. (submitted by Mandy Gull-Masty - image credit)
On Tuesday, Quebec Cree Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty (left), along with AFN National Chief RoseAnne Archibald (2nd from left) and Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, Kahnawà:ke’s Grand Chief (right), met in Ottawa with the Honourable Mary May Simon, Governor General of Canada. They discussed ways they could support each other, and other Indigenous women. (submitted by Mandy Gull-Masty - image credit)

As Mandy Gull-Masty, the first female Grand Chief of the Quebec Cree Nation, is officially sworn in later today, a growing group of Indigenous women leaders is looking for ways to connect and support one another and others.

Gull-Masty is one of several Indigenous women who have risen into leadership roles since the summer.

She was among a group of them who met Tuesday in Ottawa with Governor General Mary May Simon, an Inuk from Kangiqsualujjuaq, Nunavik, who was appointed in July.

"I was really honoured and I felt [it] was such a privilege to sit with them to discuss how we were each going to use our office to call attention to this perspective of women coming into leadership," said Gull-Masty, who will be sworn in as Cree Grand Chief in a ceremony at 1 p.m. today in her home community of Waswanipi, Que.

Jarred Gull
Jarred Gull

Gull-Masty was invited to the meeting Tuesday by Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald, who was elected in early July. Also present was Kahnawà:ke's Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, who is also the first female leader of her nation and a member of the LGBTQ community.

"At this important time in our history, this will be an incredible opportunity to lay the foundation for working relationships with these strong women," said Grand Chief Sky-Deer in a press release before the meeting.

It's no accident that all of these women are moving into leadership roles, according to Lorraine Whitman, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada.

With colonialism ... patriarchal policies displaced women from their traditional roles.
- Lorainne Whitman, President NWAC

With the discoveries of unmarked graves of Indigenous children at residential schools across the country, Indigenous communities are looking for a different kind of leadership, she said.

Left vulnerable to violence

"With colonialism ... the patriarchal policies displaced the women from their traditional roles in the communities and the government," said Whitman, adding communities are looking for the healing energy that women bring.

She also said that Indigenous women were left very vulnerable to violence by that displacement, something she is very happy to see changing.

"Now the shift is starting to turn," said Whitman.

Chris Young/ Canadian Press
Chris Young/ Canadian Press

During the meeting Tuesday, the Indigenous women leaders discussed their priorities, from reconciliation to the environment and how important it was to have Indigenous voices in the discussions around climate change.

The women also discussed the importance of mentorship, according to Gull-Masty.

"The importance of sharing what it means to be a female Indigenous leader, often in a space that is majority men," she said.

One of the priorities National Chief RoseAnne Archibald identified, according to Gull-Masty, was to create a national forum for Indigenous women to come together to talk about being an Indigenous woman in a leadership role not just in politics, but in all fields. Gull-Masty said it was one of the ideas she was most excited about.

A call to the Assembly of First Nations to find out more was not returned in time for publication.

I think it's magic, I think it's a ceremony, I think it's powerful. -Michèle Audette, Senator, and former commissioner MMIWG

For Senator Michèle Audette, creating those connections and support will be key to the success of the impressive Indigenous women rising to power, not just in politics, but in other sectors as well.

"I think it's magic, I think it's a ceremony, I think it's powerful," said Audette, who was a former commissioner responsible for conducting the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).

"If we don't have that network, if we don't have that space where we can be mentored ... we can be lifted up when we fall ... [and] understood when we are facing situations that our male colleagues didn't face, " said Audette, adding that her personal network of women helped her in very important ways when she worked on the MMIWG.

"Those networks will help us. I use my network everyday."

CBC
CBC
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