Covid-19 Pandemic Leadership in Canada: 4 Indigenous Female Leaders
by Shelley Wiart
I love watching Indigenous womxn leaders perform a fireworks display of advocacy on a public platform. Unapologetic in their power, in their strongest Aunty-voice, they lay bare the truth. They are determined to tell our stories to obtain justice. They give life to Indigenous peoples stories of inequality, systemic racism, and injustice through a lens of survivance and healing. They share strength-based stories of our land, language, and culture, and remind us that our resilience resides in our spiritual connection to our land and our Indigenous knowledge systems.
Who better to be in charge of pandemic rebirth than womxn who have been targeted by systems of oppression — patriarchy, colonialism, sexism, and racism — and emerged with their fist high in the air. It is the power of Indigenous womxn’s words that shake the foundations of colonialism. Their leadership is a collective rally cry for inclusivity, equality, and systems change. Their leadership is transparent and based on relational accountability to their communities. They understand our interconnectedness; either all of us come together or none of us survive. They put their power and privilege to good use — for the betterment of all society — not just for a few. Indigenous womxn will lead us forward during the Covid-19 pandemic crisis. The following are four Indigenous womxn leaders that are enacting Covid-19 pandemic systems change.
Dr. Janet Smylie: Collecting Covid-19 Indigenous health data
Dr. Smylie is a Métis physician and public health researcher at the Centre of Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. She currently holds a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Applied Public Health Research Chair in Indigenous Health Knowledge and Information.
She is the leader in charge of assessing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Indigenous communities that live both on-and off-reserve.
She will focus on collaborating with Indigenous communities to collect health data in a good way — a way that does not perpetuate harm and deficit-based stories about Indigenous peoples.
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Dr. Pam Palmater: The Covid-19 response needed for Indigenous women, girls & 2SLGBTQQIA people
Dr. Palmater is a Mi’kmaw citizen and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in northern New Brunswick. She has been a practicing lawyer for 20 years and is currently an Associate Professor and the Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University. She advocates for the pandemic response needed for Indigenous peoples, especially our incarcerated Indigenous women who represent more than 42 percent of those in federal prisons. Moreover, she highlights that Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, need a tailored Covid-19 response because of the current context of racialized and sexualized violence and poverty, caused by ongoing genocide.
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Dr. Carrie Bourassa: Covid-19 Immunity Task Force
Dr. Bourassa is the Scientific Director of the Canadian Institute of Health Research’s Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health (IIPH) and a member of the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force. She will be developing effective mechanisms to ensure that advice on Indigenous issues, concerns and engagement is going to be provided to this task force leadership group on an ongoing basis. She advocates for the consideration of Indigenous peoples social determinants of health to create a culturally safe Covid-19 response. Also, she will be working in partnership with Indigenous communities to develop Covid-19 prevention strategies and action plans for immunity when a vaccine is discovered.
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Dr. Suzanne Stewart: Urban Indigenous Covid-19 Response
Dr. Stewart is a member of the Yellowknife Dene First Nation and holds the current Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal Homelessness and Life Transitions. She is the Director of the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health at the University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health. She is working in collaboration with Dr. Smylie to develop an Urban Indigenous Response to COVID-19. This strategy will address the misinformation is being circulated in Indigenous communities; the consultation of Indigenous Healers/Elders for a culturally appropriate response to the pandemic; and Indigenous research methods of the pandemic assessment, treatment, and framework evaluations.
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On Wednesday, June 17th I attended the online keynote presentation by Dr. Suzanne Stewart for the 3rd Annual National Native Health Research Training Initiative. Her presentation was titled, Indigenous Health, Healing and Research: Covid-19 Challenges and Strategies Moving Forward. She asked for Indigenous community members and organizations on that virtual presentation to reach out to her to partner on the Indigenous Covid-19 response. She stated, “Colonizers want to keep us apart. They want us to fight each other for resources, grant monies, jobs, and positions. We must work together to change the policy of how systems are doing things. Only system holders of power can change it. It is our job, as Indigenous researchers, to listen to our communities and Elders/Knowledge holders and give them [policy makers] the right information from our people. The system itself has to be changed.”
Indigenous womxn leaders know there must be a systems overhaul of colonial policies and practices. The Covid-19 pandemic is allowing us the opportunity the restructure the systems of oppression that has marginalized Indigenous peoples for over 150 years. These 4 Indigenous womxn health leaders are working hard to build relationships with Indigenous communities so that we can insert our sacred knowledge and our forms of medicine into the system. It is time for Indigenous womxn’s voices to dominate the Canadian stage and show the current leadership the power of our spirit and the strength of our communities.
Shelley Wiart is a member of the North Slave Métis Alliance, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Shelley is currently finishing her fourth year of a Bachelor of Arts program in the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, Athabasca University. Please sign up for the Women Warriors newsletter for more information about Indigenous women’s holistic health.