Tak­ing back their power

Cree women turn their backs on Ot­tawa

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - NEWS LOCAL - By Jes­sica Botelho-Ur­ban­ski

THOU­SANDS gath­ered, some from as far as Aus­tralia and New Zealand, to take in Man­i­toba’s Abo­rig­i­nal Day fes­tiv­i­ties at The Forks on Satur­day.

The fes­ti­val, which tra­di­tion­ally cel­e­brates di­ver­sity and strength among abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties, also drew 11 indige­nous women from Onion Lake Cree Na­tion Treaty Women’s Sec­re­tariat.

Glo­ria Cho­can is among 11 fe­male elders from Treaty Six, all be­tween the ages of 55 and 77, who trav­elled to Ot­tawa on June 18 then walked away as a sym­bolic ges­ture. The women are protest­ing what they feel are in­jus­tices com­mit­ted against their people by the federal govern­ment.

All of the women hail from Onion Lake Cree Na­tion, a re­serve that sits on the bor­der be­tween Al­berta and Saskatchewan. They’re slowly mak­ing their way home by car, stop­ping at abo­rig­i­nal cel­e­bra­tions along the way.

Among the beat­ing drums and jin­gling cos­tumes that pop­u­lated the fields be­low the Cana­dian Mu­seum for Hu­man Rights, Cho­can ex­plained the rea­sons be­hind their peace­ful protest.

“It seemed like a far-fetched dream at first,” she said. “Then we started talk­ing about try­ing to get women to start stand­ing up and help­ing.”

“The elders have al­ways been telling us that women are strong, that women are pow­er­ful. It’s go­ing to take a woman to take a stand, to take the right fo­cus, like they did dur­ing the time of treaty-sign­ing.”

Cho­can said her group didn’t ask for any­thing from the govern­ment when they vis­ited Ot­tawa on June 18. They sim­ply went to Par­lia­ment Hill to take a spir­i­tual stand against in­jus­tice.

“As women, when we wake up ev­ery morn­ing we think of our kids right away. We think of the mur­dered and miss­ing women, the fos­ter care sys­tem, the lack of ad­e­quate hous­ing, the ed­u­ca­tion. You know, what can we do to help our young chil­dren lead bet­ter lives?” she said.

“We want a bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem that’s geared to­ward us, like the French have. We want our chil­dren to be able to learn in our lan­guages, but that’s not made avail­able for us.”

Cho­can wore a heavy white tra­di­tional cos­tume to the Grand Pow­wow at The Forks on Satur­day af­ter­noon. Its in­tri­cate bead­ing and fur patch­work added to the ef­fects of the swel­ter­ing heat, which topped off around 28 C. Cho­can be­gan to get dizzy, but her mes­sage was clear. “We needed to go (to Ot­tawa) and ask the Cre­ator to help us in a way. We needed to get strong, band to­gether, be­cause our men can’t seem to get go­ing,” she said.

“That’s what we went there for — not to be rec­og­nized or any­thing — but we did feel the power when we walked away. That’s why we said, ‘We are not walk­ing to Par­lia­ment,’ be­cause it seems like ev­ery time you walk to Par­lia­ment Hill, you’re em­pow­er­ing the govern­ment — you’re giv­ing up some­thing. So we said, ‘Let’s walk away and show them that we’re tak­ing our power back now.’ ”

“We’re not chil­dren any­more. We need to be lis­tened to.”


Glo­ria Cho­can (right) and her sis­ter Ros­alie Chokin at The Forks. Glo­ria and

10 other Cree women re­cently held a peace­ful protest on Par­lia­ment Hill.

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