Conference shares the struggles of aboriginal women
Posted By MONIQUE BEECH , STANDARD STAFF
Monday, March 22, 2010
Standing before a room of 30 men and women — all different ages, races — Wendy Sturgeon explained how aboriginal women in Canada have become an ‘endangered species.’
The residential school system, which stripped away their children for more than 100 years, the executive director of charitable organization Niagara Chapter- Native Women Inc., told the group gathered in the Brock University classroom Saturday afternoon.
The forced assimilation into European culture, said Sturgeon, hosting one of several workshops during Brock’s fourth annual Niagara Social Justice Forum.
Being forced into a foreign culture where men reigned supreme.
In most traditional indigenous tribes in North America, women were in charge, she said. They were the decision makers about when to go to war, when to move.
That all began to change with the arrival of the Black Robes, or Christian missionaries, in the 1600s, Sturgeon said.
“They regarded us as savages and thought we had to be civilized,” Sturgeon said. “We were a full-fledged, well-functioning society for years.”
Women have suffered the most in the years following the Indian Act of 1876. They were the ones who had to fight to keep their Indian status if they chose to marry a non-native man, she said.
Like other indigenous women around the world, decades of heartache has followed. Issues of extreme poverty, discrimination, and horrific violence, including murder, rape and torture.
This native baggage, as fellow presenter Marie Jones put it, is what aboriginal women have been carrying around and what’s been holding them back.
But all of her people are starting to wake up and are fighting oppression, said Jones, who is Mohawk from Six Nations.
It’s like being laid up for months with an injury, she said.
“Now we’re getting physiotherapy,” said Jones, an aboriginal child advocate with the Niagara Chapter-Native Women, Inc.
Sturgeon and Jones’ workshop, called Native Woman – Endangered Species, was one of 10 sessions led by Niagara residents during the day-long free forum. Topics ranged widely from protecting Niagara’s beautiful landscapes, to homeless youth to staying loyal to food produced in one’s own country.
About 200 people attended the day-long event, which was designed to give a variety of community groups the chance to share their commitment to overall social justice while addressing specific issues important to them.
“An event like this is a wonderful opportunity for groups in the community and groups on campus to connect with one another,” said Janet Conway, Canada Research Chair of the Social Justice at Brock and head of the forum.
“It’s great for the students to become aware that there are community organizations that are working on a myriad of issues in their own community and to get connected with them if they want to.”
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