Contributed by Jessica Yee
I am proud to be Native. I am proud to be a woman. I am proud to know that I come from a long ancestral line of strong Native women. And I donâ€™t think that this is a message we recognize coming from my community often enough.
So I was completely overjoyed to discover that the Spring Equinox has now been dubbed â€œIndigenous Womenâ€™s Empowerment Dayâ€?. Wow! There is finally a day that symbolizes and honours the first life-givers of our planet; Indigenous women.
â€œToday’s celebration of Indigenous Women’s Empowerment Day was truly a woman’s day of empowerment. Offering support through direct action which we did today by awarding those Indigenous women who have surpassed and overcome the traps and pitfalls offered by society, to now live a clean and healthy life, was inspirational.â€? founder Gloria Lacroque told me today, who initiated this focal event as part of the Kookum Education Traditional Acceptance Society (KETA).
The event in Vancouver was opened up by two female elders, Dorothy Visser, Cree from Northern Alberta, and Evelyn locker, Blackfoot from Southern Alberta. Indigenous lawyer Janelle Dwyer presented the first award to recipient Cee Jai Julien, while the second award was presented to recipient Mona Woodward by Dr. Jan Christilaw, Vice President of Medicine at BC Women’s Hospital and Health Centre. It has been an emotional journey for all the women present, but a real chance to come together from different sectors in admiration, respect, and solidarity for one and other.
This significant occasion began in British Columbia on March 20, 2006. The idea is to claim the time of the year where we change seasons and see balance in the light and dark of the day as an opportunity to acknowledge the strength and accomplishments of the Indigenous women in our land. We very frequently only hear about the negative events that surround the Native community and seldom about the many achievements and advances which, in actuality, far outweigh the bad.
Gloria and I spoke about the themes of ‘rebirth’ and ‘transformation’ that permeate from the Spring Equinox being indicative of only part of the struggle Indigenous women in Canada must face in reconstructing our damaged identity. â€œThis timeframe is a perfect statement for what we need to do, rebirth our collective identity so that the struggle of one becomes the struggle of all.â€? she says.
I often reflect on the power of our traditions and the great culture of Native peoples that have been rejected through colonization, Christianization, and extreme genocide. We have so much in our ancestral teachings that supports respect for women, caring for the community, and love for Mother Earth. Yet today Indigenous women face the highest rates of domestic violence and poverty in the world. It is essential to recognize these injustices, but be proud of who and where we come from in the present world. The ability to draw on the strength of the old to walk in the new is paramount to live as confident, healthy peoples. Middle ground for the two worlds must be created and advocated for our youth in particular who suffer the brunt of all this pain.
Gloria is committed to the voices of women being heard loud and clear across the country. â€œThis is our day to shout, “NO MORE” to violence which targets Indigenous women in Canada. We will say, “NO MORE” to a society which has benefited at the expense of Indigenous women. We will say “NO MORE” to denied access to all the goods and services available to all, where the ingrained exclusion of Indigenous women prevents access.â€?
One of the greatest teachings I ever learned was that what you see and hear; you take a responsibility for. It is now my responsibility to ensure Indigenous Womenâ€™s Empowerment Day continues; and make sure that you are all part of it too.
Jessica Yee is a multiracial youth of Native descent who was called to the line of action by raising controversy in her Catholic school and began volunteering at Homeward Family Shelter at the age of 12. Now at 22, she is a proud Chinese-Mohawk woman and has initiated â€œAboriginal Realities, Aboriginal Choicesâ€? within the organization Canadians for Choice, where she is also a member of the Board of Directors. She does anti-racism consulting work with a number of different organizations including the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, is a family group facilitator for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, serves on the Board of Directors for Maggieâ€™s Toronto Prostitutes Community Project, and is a forum facilitator for the Highway of Tears Initiative in British Columbia.