Indigenous Women in Politics

Three Female Canidates Share Their Insights From Running In Municipal & First Nations Politics

The 88th anniversary of Person’s Day took place on October 18th, and celebrates the Famous Five’s victory to include women in the legal definition of “Persons,” thereby marking women’s entry into the public and political spheres of Canada. It came to my attention that Indigenous women and “most women of colour – including Chinese women, “Hindu” or East Indian women, and Japanese women – weren’t allowed to vote at the provincial and federal level until the late 1940s. And under federal law, aboriginal women covered by the Indian Act couldn’t vote for band councils until 1951, and couldn’t vote in federal elections until 1960.”[1] First Nations under the Indian Act would lose their treaty rights and Indian status if they voted; however, when Diefenbaker became Prime Minister he “pushed the voting rights legislation through Parliament. It came into effect July 1, 1960”[2]

With that history in mind, Indigenous peoples have only held the right to vote for approximately fifty years. Furthermore, when we examine the barriers that women, especially of minority descent, encounter when running for political office, such as “stereotyping of women’s role and abilities; media imbalances in the treatment of women politicians; and a rampant sexist perception of women’s conduct and behaviour,”[3] it is a testimony to Indigenous women’s strength and perseverance when they decide to enter the political realm.

I am an ardent supporter of all women in politics, especially Indigenous women, and I’ve developed a relationship with two candidates that ran in October 16th city elections, Michelle Robinson, Calgary City Council Ward 10; Miranda Jimmy, Edmonton City Council Ward 5; and local Onion Lake Cree Nation band councillor, Dolores Pahtayken, candidate for 4th Vice Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, Saskatchewan.

I’ve asked each of them to answer the same seven questions and share their insights from campaigning so that more Indigenous women may be inspired to run in their next local election, or consider a larger role in provincial and federal politics. I believe that Indigenous women have important perspectives on collective community decision-making, gender equality via matriarchal societies, and reconciliation that are needed in Canadian democracy and policy.

For the sake of brevity I will include Miranda and Dolores’ answers in a special edition newsletter early next week.

[1] CBC News, Social Issues. (February 26, 2013). Women & The Right To Vote In Canada: An Important Clarification. Retrieved on October 20, 2017 from http://www.cbc.ca/strombo/news/women-the-right-to-vote-in-canada-an-important-clarification.html

[2] CBC News, North. (July 1, 2010). First Nations right to vote granted 50 years ago. Retrieved on October 20, 2017 from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/first-nations-right-to-vote-granted-50-years-ago-1.899354

[3] Equal Voice. (2017). Fundamental Facts. Retrieved on October 20, 2017 from https://www.equalvoice.ca/facts.cfm

My name is Michelle Robinson. My mother is Dene from Yellowknife and my dad is from Yorkton, Sk. While my Indian Act imposed status card says Yellowknives Dene, I am also a daughter of the Mayflower and of the American Revolution through my dad. I ran in the October 16, 2017 municipal City of Calgary election for Ward 10 councillor.

1) What was your motivation for running?

First, I love Naheed Nenshi as a kind man, educated, progressive, an overall political nerd on policy and because we have great roots within the east side of Calgary. Despite his maximum education on public policy, Harvard, being a prof at Mount Royal University and a three time elected Mayor of Calgary, he doesn’t know about Indigenous issues. At one time, he spoke of an empty Canada where there was nothing and how immigrants came and made this beautiful city and country. An Indigenous person of Blackfoot descent took him aside and explained the meeting place of Calgary prior to colonialism and now he says that in his speeches. When I met him, he didn’t know I paid taxes nor that I did not receive a free university education – he thought that was part of the deal! I have also met others, whom are lawyers, that don’t know any of these things. These may be incredible individuals on their own merit, but just don’t know what they have not been told. Indigenous peoples have a huge amount of knowledge to bring to the colonial table in a time of reconciliation. Because I have direct family that attended residential school, Sacred Heart in Ft. Providence, I feel a strong duty to continue that work of education the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action. The City of Calgary did an analysis of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action and made a report, the White Goose Flying Report, which inclues recommendations for the City of Calgary to implement at the municipal level. If we didn’t push this, it would be forgotten. I asked candidates if they knew anything about this and none of them did. Now that I have lost, I will continue pushing. This education is critical if we are going to work on vital city issues like poverty, housing, harm reduction, discrimination, police carding, infrastructure and safety. Safety means a variety of things to different people. That said, not one mayoral candidate, none of the ward 10 candidates, were talking about the murder of Colton Crowshoe in my neighbourhood, the missing and murdered Indigenous women vigils I was doing in the ward or the violence against women in general. We have issues with cultural misunderstandings with more cultures in our area too. We have rampant hate and discrimination issues that need addressing. While I would love to focus on speed bumps in problematic neighbours where drag racing is occurring, I want to do everything we can to stop violence and we can’t without an intersectional lens in communities where people of colour are being targeted by police with carding.

Then there are the other things I have learned from working with police the past several years including: lack of traning for dealing with different cultures; sexual harassment issues within the force; bullying that is part of their structure. We need healthy work environments for all the police to do their jobs. I believe body cams help them for showcasing all the crap of dealing with the public in stress, as well as accountability for those that need their rights protected.

At the end of the day, I want my daughter to bike to the pool or library and the current state of the paths and road do not facilitate that safely. Having board experience has helped me prepare for running. The last ten years of working, living, and volunteering in the area gave me a great understanding of the overall issues we are facing. With two businesses we had previously, and my experience with energy, I know I am an electable candidate. It took me time to come out of my shell. I realized into the campaign, many of my own friends didn’t know many details about me, other than my human rights advocacy depending which stage of my life they met me.

2) Was your family political? Did you receive encouragement or mentorship from a politician? (I’m interested in knowing if female politicians are exposed to politics at a young age and what kinds of mentors you had).

My family is loud about their opinions but no one in my dad’s side has run for politics. I did have a friend’s mother who was a town councillor in Sylvan Lake but I didn’t know much about it at the time. I just knew my family didn’t approve of the female mayor, other than she was female. I later found out they thought the decisions to change downtown and add big business in the industrial side of the town was something they felt she was responsible for. Now I know she is one vote so I don’t understand society in general with blaming one politician when it takes a team to make decisions.

I found out later in life that my Dene family on my mother’s side was very politically active. My uncle was in the NDP, my aunt was a Liberal and later was elected in Chief and Council. The C & C undemocratically kicked my aunt out! So my family was very political. My uncle is completely out of the NDP now.

When I had my daughter, Jackie Crazybull was murdered. I felt a strong pain from knowing my daughter and I were not as safe being Indigenous. I also thought the hospital was awful at listening to their patients and imposed their regulations that when in that state, felt like a state sanctioned rape. I had to heal for over a year. I tried to lodge a complaint but it was fruitless. I tried politicians. I started to go to activist events. I started to see some of the same politicians at the event I was going to. I seen some progress depending on the subject and level of government. There is so much to say about from then to now. There now are many female politicians in my life, all have been so encouraging. I would love to mentor others now that I had that direction.

3) What surprised you most about campaigning?
How difficult it was to brag about me.

4) What are the top three needs you heard from constituents?
Many people actually don’t know what they are needing but said:
-taxes are too high
-don’t waste money on arenas
-green bins are awful

I know the stats of the needs. I know poverty is what 78% of Calgarians are most concerned about. I know the root of poverty; I know I was on the right track.

5) What advice do you have for Indigenous women considering running in politics?
Know your history, and be confident on it. Also, know your perspective is valuable, needed and no colonial school teaches what you know.

6) Why do you think the gender gap continues to exist in politics?
Colonialism is based on patriarchy. No one is changing the system to make it equal.

7) Would you run again? Or consider mentoring an indigenous candidate to run?
Yes. Everyone needs to have at least a two-term run. And as I stated before, I would love to mentor.


Helen Oro on Beading, International Fashion Shows & the Dangers of the Fashion World (iTunes Libsyn)

Helen Oro is Plains Cree from Pelican Lake First Nation and the founder of Helen Oro Designs Inc. She takes her traditional First Nation beadwork and adorns modern day accessories such as heels, sunglasses, clutch purses etc. She also produces fashion shows creating opportunities for Indigenous people aspiring to pursue careers in the fashion and model world. Internationally recognized for her designs and work, Helen aims to create a positive image for Indigenous women everywhere.

On today’s episode Helen shares:

  • How she started beading.
  • Her childhood and teenage years described as the “dark ages.”
  • How motherhood changed her life.
  • Her first piece of beading and following her passion.
  • How beading helps her focus as an adult with ADHD.
  • The starting point of joining beading and fashion shows.
  • Her international travel experiences for fashion shows.
  • Australia and Canada exchange fashion shows.
  • London Fashion show and protesting #NoDAPL.
  • Producing fashion show and working with First Nations youth.
  • Dangers of the fashion world – fake model calls.
  • Latest projects – MMIW Fashion Show in BC and Western Canada Fashion Week in Edmonton.
  • The most challenging aspect of producing fashion shows.
  • Her feature in Flare – #HowIMadeIt

Selected Links from this Episode

Connect With Helen

Facebook

Instagram

Juanita Lindley on the Power of Prayer, Setting Boundaries & Rebuilding Relationships after Addiction

Juanita Lindley’s mission is to inspire those struggling in and with addiction. She is also in recovery from addiction and healing from the impacts of intergenerational trauma of the residential school era. Juanita founded her own company, Keepin’ it Real Addictions Services and offers counseling and motivational speaking. She is currently enrolled in a Masters of Education program at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC.

On today’s episode Juanita shares:

  • Her personal struggles with addiction.
  • How childhood and community trauma was intertwined with her addiction.
  • How she felt her culture hindered her sobriety at first.
  • The most important healing tool in her recovery.
  • Teaching prayer.
  • The toughest part of sobriety.
  • Reentering the social scene in recovery.
  • Setting boundaries with loved one and friends in addiction.
  • Advice for families struggling with addicts in their lives.
  • Learning our behaviors and patterns as our key to freedom.
  • Learning how to trust.
  • The unreal expectations in the current recovery model.
  • Rebuilding the relationships with her children in recovery.
  • Advice for parents to help direct their children against drugs and alcohol.
  • A how-to example for setting boundaries.
  • Speaking from your inner knowingness.

Selected Links from this Episode

Connect With Juanita

Facebook

Email

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