Voice of Women on First Nations Sisters


From the Desk of Judith Wouk

'International Women's Day should honour Aboriginal Sisters'

Mainstream media missed the symbolism of fish broth sipped during her hunger strike by First Nation Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat

By Hannah Hadikin
Board of Directors
Canadian Voice of Women for Peace
Photo by Murray Bush - Flux Photo.  
Photo courtesy Murray Bush — Flux Photo.  

Each year on March 8, International Women’s Day (IWD), is celebrated around the world. It’s a day to reaffirm commitment to women’s equal rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It is a day to look back on past struggles and accomplishments of women and to — hopefully — mark progress on equal social, political and economic rights.

In 1910 at the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, the idea of an International Women’s Day was first tabled. IWD emerged from the efforts and struggles of labour movements across Europe and North America. It was proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day — a Women’s Day — to press for the rights of women, for decent jobs, living wages and economic opportunities. Thousands of events are held throughout the world commemorating this special day.

In many countries, IWD is an official holiday. Each year the UN declares an International Women’s Day theme. The UN theme for International Women’s Day 2013 is: “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”.  

From the beginning of the 20th century, millions of women have marched and chanted for their rights to live free from fear, harassment and violence.

A hundred and three years later, women are still struggling for equality, dignity, peace and environmental justice and still continuing to call for an end to wars and armed conflict. Globally women’s inadequate education, healthcare and violence against women, trafficking, and bloodshed are worse than ever.

I wish to propose that International Women’s Day 2013, be designated as a special day in honour of First Nations, Inuit, Metis and Sinix women. I propose this in light of developments in the past several months which saw Idle No More emerge as an amazing, powerful movement for the rights of aboriginals to protect water and lands.

After Harper’s government passed new laws attacking environmental protection regulations, paving the way for expansion of tar sands, building pipelines and other fossil fuel development on native lands, in November 2012, four courageous  women swore to be ‘’idle no more’’.   The four founders, Sheelah McLean, Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam and Jessica Gordon of the Idle No More, have emphasized their intention for the movement to remain at its core a "grassroots" movement, releasing a statement to say that they have a different vision than that of the "leadership" of First Nation Chiefs, saying "we have been given a clear mandate … to work outside of the systems of government ". The founders of Idle No More outlined the vision and goals of the movement in a January 10, 2013 press release as follows:

The Vision revolves around Indigenous Ways of Knowing rooted in Indigenous Sovereignty to protect water, air, land and all creation for future generations. The Conservative government bills beginning with Bill C-45 threaten Treaties and this Indigenous Vision of Sovereignty

Indigenous Ways of Knowing embrace, honouring and sharing with ceremony, rituals, smudge and discussion in place of heated debate.  There are three directions to follow:

  • Promote the well being of the earth, water, sky
  • Promote the well being of communities
  • Promote education & peaceful relations

Thousands of people have participated in the Idle No More demonstrations in all regions of Canada. Protests were timed to coincide with the announcement of Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat who began a fast with a demand for a meeting with the Prime Minister and the Governor General of Canada to discuss aboriginal rights. 

Regrettably, some media sources made attempts to discredit Chief Theresa’s hunger strike on the basis that she was partaking of tea, water and fish broth. Research would inform that First Nations ancestors survived on fish broth through harsh winters because there was nothing else to eat, after colonial polices subjected the people to abject poverty. Fish broth thus symbolizes deep cultural meaning, hardship and scarcity with survival dependent on the sustenance of fish broth.   

On January 28, 2013, my visit to Vancouver coincided with a national day of action to show the government that Canadians are coming together for our shared futures and to stand in unity for democracy. I had the privilege to attend an amazing rally with aboriginal people from many nations and several provinces. At the entrance to the open square, one was met with a combination of drums, singers and dancers in exquisite, full regalia.  A spectacular sight!

I was deeply moved by this peaceful resistance and the throngs of people with signs united in their love of our planet and their deep sense of stewardship. I was particularly impressed by the numbers of aboriginal women who took turns to speak, expressing their concerns about the attacks by multinational corporations with their aims to take away land, extract non-renewable resources, and to poison the land, water and air — all in compliance of Stephen Harper and his caucus. I heard and saw women rising against the threats to our forests, water, ecosystems, on behalf of our shared environment, so that our children, grandchildren and their grandchildren for seven generations, will stand a chance to live and thrive on our beloved Mother Earth.

“In the political arena Aboriginal women may be underrepresented, but many are leading the way in the area of healing the wounds of colonization. In small, informal circles and large healing conferences attended by thousands, women are grappling with missing and murdered women, and all kinds of abuse and violence, and drug, alcohol and other addictions. Their learning sets an example of wellness for their people that involves a return to the respectful traditional culture where women were respected for their equal contributions”

I continue to believe that the future holds much promise through the mobilization of women’s nonviolent struggle for gender equality and with it greater potential for sustainable peace, respect of human rights and social justice and environmental protection. Let us heed the call from our First Nations, Inuit and Metis, Sinix sisters, their families and their youth, who are awakening us to join the movement.