By Yasmeen Mirza, Canadian Union of Public Services
I attended a panel discussion on Indigenous women and girls at risk when transitioning to an urban environment
There were three Panelists. They were Sheila North Wilson, Grand Chief, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO). She is an award winning Journalist, Entrepreneur, Advocate and Storyteller for Indigenous people. The other panelist was Tammy Christensen. She is the executive director of Ndinawemaagnag Endaawaad Inc., which is a youth-serving organization that provides a holistic continuum of services to improve social, economic, cultural and personal outcomes for Indigenous youth in Winnipeg. The third speaker was Janice Henderson, Ogima kwens- Chief Mitaanjigfamiing , First Nation representing Grand Council.
The session took place in the basement of a church in mid-town Manhattan, and the room was packed. There was no standing room left and people were standing in the hall way. The session was very touching and emotional as some of the speakers spoke about their experience when they were taken away from their home and placed in foster care. One speaker spoke about her experience in a residential school in Canada.
It was good to hear that Indigenous Elder women are reclaiming their role as leaders. Their hope is that Truth and Reconciliation will be a way to rebuild their nation to nation relationship with Canada. They are building Indigenous led organizations which are delivering services for Indigenous families. Some of these are increased healing opportunities that recognize the trauma left behind from years of colonization. The panelists spoke about leadership through the Idle No More movement and youth leadership development, and trying to increase more Indigenous women engagement in important advocacy groups.
As more and more Indigenous women and girls are moving into the city for various reasons, they are facing many challenges/ barriers once they arrive. Some of these are: high rates of poverty, lower rates of education and employment, lack of adequate housing, high risk for violence and exploitation. Indigenous women and girls’ experience of violence is closely linked to historical and ongoing colonization, resulting in poverty and exclusion. They do not benefit from services provided in the cities because these services are not geared to them. One size does not fit all.
The panelists provided examples of how important Indigenous-led urban services are to ensure the safety and well-being of Indigenous women and girls coming to the city. ‘Our Relatives Home’ is an Indigenous led, youth serving organization where Indigenous women can stay temporarily until they find stable housing. The Ndinawe Child and Youth Care Certificate Program is a holistic education program for Indigenous youth on cultural safety, dealing with trauma and cultivating supportive relationships.
I was emotionally moved by this workshop and realized how important Indigenous women leadership is for building healthy and proud Indigenous communities, in urban environments.