Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
There is a resurgence of matriarchy in First Nations communities, said Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald, and that is why the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is being voiced on a world stage.
Archibald was joined by two other women leaders on a five-member First Nations panel from Canada that spoke to media during the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York April 19.
Addressing violence against Indigenous women and girls, said Archibald, was one of the priorities that “has driven us from our home fires all the way here to New York City to this global forum…There are families that are affected directly and those families need a space internationally.”
“Now we see traditional women in leadership coming to the forefront… and that’s why, I think, we’re talking more about our missing and murdered Indigenous sisters and two-spirited relatives,” said Vice Chief Aly Bear of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.
However, she added, having three women representing First Nations from Canada appears to be a “contradiction” between women leadership and the violence Indigenous women and girls and two-spirited people still face.
Bear spoke about the death of Linda Mary Beardy, a 33-year-old woman originally from Lake St. Martin First Nation, whose body was found in a Winnipeg landfill site. Winnipeg police ruled the death not suspicious in nature.
“We are not trash. We are not garbage. We deserve to be valued,” said an impassioned Bear, a mother of two girls. “Traditionally our women held high respect in our communities and it’s that colonial violence that came here, that colonial mindset that came here and put us to the lowest of the hierarchy.”
Former Neskonlith First Nation chief and panelist Judy Wilson agreed.
“Indigenous women in communities in Canada are facing a crisis,” said Wilson. “With the disruption of the colonial cloak … and the Indian Act, it displaced that role (of Indigenous women), and the Indian residential schools that removed our children broke down the families.”
As the first woman to hold the position of national chief, Archibald said “these spaces are particularly difficult for women, especially at this juncture, and being the first is always a really difficult place to be.”
With women making up half of the Indigenous population, only about 25 per cent of the chiefs are women, said Archibald. So while there is a resurgence there is still not parity.
However, low numbers haven’t discouraged women leaders from speaking out.
“We are bringing forward those issues that have not been discussed in the past. This is the second United Nations forum where I have spoken about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls,” said Archibald.
Also part of the panel were Chief Joe Alphonse of Tl'etinqox First Nation and Grand Council Chief Reg Niganobe of Anishinabek Nation.
Never miss a Windspeaker article. Subscribe Today to our new Windspeaker Newsletter!
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.