The voices of indigenous women are making waves through Thunder Bay and the Ontario Native Women's Association is at the forefront of this new, rumbling choir.
With such prominent models like Tanya Talaga and Autumn Peltier, She is Wise shared stories and discussions, creating a space for everyone to understand and listen to these prominent Indigenous women from across Canada.
Connecting to the land a priority for Canadians
Sheila Watt-Cloutier, from Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, and recipient of many awards and honours for her work as a political activist and representative for Canadian Inuits, was one of the keynote speakers of the conference.
She spoke about the wisdom needed to move forward through the issues Indigenous women face and the importance of connecting to the land.
“Indigenous knowledge and wisdom are the solutions to the issues we are facing. We are a people who remain connected to our land, to our people and to our way of life. That connectedness is something that the world needs to relearn,” she said during the conference that hosted 221 participants.
Maria Linklater, elder, cultural leader and mentor from Thunderchild First Nation, reiterated this connection during her speech.
“If you want to heal, go back to the land. Be with Mother Earth [because] we are related to everything. Learn about the trees, learn about the medicines. It is a different kind of learning, sitting out on the land.”
Discussing issues remains priority for women
Tanya Talaga, local author and Toronto-based Anishinaabe Canadian journalist and Globe & Mail columnist, spoke about the importance of discussion and reconciliation, prioritizing voices to uphold the practices and commitment needed for healing.
“We need to have this discussion. We always need to have this discussion. A huge part of reconciliation is truth telling. It is speaking truth,” Talaga said during the conference.
As a published author who has written literature about the systemic racism and unsolved disappearances of Indigenous youth in Thunder Bay, Talaga is a woman who has no hesitation in speaking about the need for discussion and reconciliation.
Renee Linklater, member of Rainy River First Nations and PhD holding author of Decolonizing Trauma Work, continued this narrative with her keynote address saying, “Stories that get passed down to us, those can be medicine that we put in our bundles as well.”
With 20 years of working with Indigenous communities and healing agencies, the keynote speaker called for the need to individually work on trauma and to continue having more open and honest discussions to assist with others’ healing.
“For healers and those working on healing, it is important to understand your own trauma and trauma history. What makes us unique as Indigenous helpers, is that we share those stories with our families and communities,” she said during her keynote address.
A new generation stepping forward
Participants felt reenergized and uplifted hearing these words and notes of change from such inspiring women. One of these being a younger face capturing the attention of communities and politicians.
Autumn Peltier is a voice that is rumbling through the land of Canada and its communities. From Wiikwemkoong First Nation on Manitoulin Island, Peltier is a clean water advocate who, at the age of thirteen, addressed world leaders at the 2018 UN General Assembly.
“Behind every boil water advisory is a grandmother that is too old to fetch water, a mother that cannot afford bottled water, a child that does not know what it is to have clean water. The work I am doing is not for me, but for my community, and for my late grandmother Josephine Mandamin. The work I am doing is for my descendants and the future.”
The “water warrior” spoke vividly about the need to address the future of water and how elders and descendants will live with water in the future, continuing the theme of open discussion and reconciliation as a deeper connection to the land.
A generation of change to come
While She is Wise continues to trailblaze through the lives of Canadians, Indigenous women are at the forefront of the changes needed to continue living in a world humans have been taking for granted for far too long.
With sharp words from Autumn Peltier and deep-rooted knowledge from Sheila Watt-Cloutier, ONWA is breaking the barriers for every Indigenous woman in Canada to speak as loud as their voice will carry, because every woman’s voice matters.