Cora-Lee McGuire-Cyrette is no stranger to being part of a team. As the executive director of the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA), McGuire-Cyrette has wholeheartedly immersed herself in the issues at hand since assuming her role in 2015.
“Working to address violence against Indigenous women has been a driving force in my life. My grandparents who were residential school survivors have taught me the power of reclaiming leadership and identity, and that my trauma is only part of my story and as a result, I’ve chosen to not let my trauma or others define me,” she says, recounting her own trauma and not allowing it to define her narrative.
As a member of the Bear Clan, McGuire-Cyrette is from Bingwi Neyaashi Anishnaabek located in the Robinson Superior Treaty Area and has worked in community and empowerment her entire career and as an Indigenous woman’s leader she recognizes the importance of reclaiming the voices of Indigenous women.
Her leadership has led to the development and implementation of numerous programs and services that are based on Indigenous women’s wisdom, including innovative community development approaches. In 2015 ONWA had only 17 programs provincially, since then she has grown the agency to offering 59 programs provincially, these programs are all based on engagements with Indigenous women.
With the understanding that communities have knowledge, wisdom and capacity to address the issues they face, McGuire-Cyrette says Indigenous communities have an opportunity to build from this ideology by sharing tools and resources for even stronger communities.
Through her work with communities, McGuire-Cyrette has recognized that Indigenous women’s work cannot be done in isolation, something that is more prevalent now.
As a leader on addressing Violence Against Indigenous Women specifically on the issue of human trafficking of Indigenous women and girls, McGuire-Cyrette’s role has kept her at the forefront of some of the many issues affecting Indigenous women.
Her leadership relies on original teachings, development of strategies, and a constant assessment of risks and benefits. The programs and community-based services that have been developed have established a strong and grounded workforce under her guidance.
“Co-chairing Ontario’s Indigenous Women’s Advisory Council has provided me the opportunity to exercise my inherent leadership role that women in my family have done for generations,” she says about her community leadership within and outside ONWA.
With a Bachelor of Arts in Indigenous Learning and Sociology, McGuire-Cyrette has taken her formal education and community leadership to create a workforce benefitting the lives of Indigenous women, building a workforce at ONWA that is 78 per cent Indigenous people and 69 per cent Indigenous Women. In 2015 ONWA had 57 employees and this year the agency will be close to 150 employees across the province to provide critical and essential services that Indigenous women need.
“My ongoing education has been part of my healing journey that I’m extremely proud of and has taught me that breaking the cycle of violence is not just an aspiration concept but an option we all have,” she notes, giving credit to the many years of education outside of a classroom that is needed to lead a community.
Through her own self-awareness and determination to create a world benefitting Indigenous women, McGuire-Cyrette has been and will continue to role model Indigenous women’s leadership. By seeing herself as part of a larger solution, McGuire-Cyrette is dedicated to being a leader to make change for future generations.