By Doris Peltier, Women and Leadership Coordinator
In titling this article “We take care of family,” I wanted to acknowledge an important reminder shared by an elder at the closing of the 2014 International Indigenous Preconference, in Sydney, Australia. I absolutely love how elders cut to the chase to remind us of our responsibility to our communities. For me, it was an intrinsic truth that implicitly embraces our indigenous values and our interconnectedness – from individual, family, community and nation. The truth he shared totally resonated for me when thinking of how each of us has role in determining how “we take care of family.” Ultimately, I think his message was about our self-determination.
Now, what I really want to do is to juxtapose this intrinsic truth shared by the elder and focus on Indigenous women. Sadly, as I write this, the body of a 15-year-old, young Indigenous woman was just discovered in one of our regions, serving to underscore the urgency of the need to “take care of family.” The issue of violence against Indigenous women and girls permeates every aspect of the Indigenous woman’s experience in Canada. Oftentimes as an Indigenous woman myself, I feel a keen sense of helplessness at the violence directed at the life-givers of our nations.
Community interventions are urgently needed from the ground up! Quite often, we may think of interventions from a more traditional westernized lens as the “act of intervening…a deliberate entry into a situation…in order to influence events or prevent undesirable consequences.” This is the Encarta dictionary definition of intervention and I disagree with their usage of ‘undesirable consequences,’ because we are dealing with real people, who have families.
On the flip side, through an Indigenous lens, we begin at birth in the acknowledgement of newborn babies as ‘gifts from Creator.’ I recall a welcome ceremony held for my newborn daughter amongst relatives (I use that word in its broadest sense because it was her extended family within the community), where she was passed from elder to elder as they quietly told her a truth about life. I will not describe the ceremony in detail, but will only add that it was the same principle of “it takes a community to raise a child.” She also received her spirit name in the ceremony, given to her by two sponsors; in Oji-Cree they are called ‘kwiimes.’
To link all of this back to the title of this article, I would not call what we are doing an intervention, but I would say, “We ARE taking care of family,” and that perhaps we need to scale it up even further, through community ACTIONS. We are starting to see an increased resurgence in traditional and ceremonial practices that are community-driven and through the embracing of passage of rites ceremonies. In immersing ourselves in our wholistic and life-giving approaches, we are resisting the predominant dangerous story/narrative. A number of years ago, upon stepping into my role as Aboriginal Women and Leadership Coordinator with the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, I began reading research reports about Aboriginal women living with HIV, and immediately recognized a colonial depiction of my sisters. Sadly, I came to also see that oftentimes we inadvertently use that same narrative (because the government wants us to). This should not sit well in our spirits, and the wisdom imparted by the elder should serve as a reminder.
Therein began the hard work to flip that dangerous story on its head. There is great work happening now with many organizations embracing strengths-based approaches that decolonize that narrative, and I am happy to say that women have been leaders in supporting this. The amazing and diverse group implementing this work recognized the importance of RESISTANCE by celebrating RESILIENCE and is now working towards RESTORATION. I also realized that there is also a process of RECONCILIATION that happens. The story is changing folks! Be on the lookout for more fabulous nation-building from the women who continue to ‘take care of family.’
In conclusion, a quick update on the Aboriginal Women and Leadership file within the organization. I am happy to report that the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network Voices of Women (CAAN-VOW) Standing Committee underwent a renewal process, and have now been meeting monthly since January. The renewal process involved a national call-out, and this process was also completed in January. VOW is currently working on a terms of reference that embraces the broadening mandate of CAAN. In other great news, we have contracted out a Conference Coordinator on a part-time basis to assist with the planning and coordination of a CAAN National Aboriginal Women’s Conference to take place in 2015. These are just some of the highlights and I will report more details in my next newsletter article. Stay strong and beautiful!