As at the start of this book, we find ourselves teetering between hope and despair. This book has been about looking back to mark progress and obstacles. The media continues to highlight the racism within our institutions. Before her death in October, 2020 at a Quebec hospital, Joyce Echaquan filmed the racial slurs hurled at her by hospital staff, revealing the systemic racism that had been documented in a provincial inquiry about the hospital less than a year earlier. The Chief of the Conseil des Atikamekw de Manawan, said, “The racism problems at the hospital did not start yesterday” (Shingler). That statement reflects the larger societal problem in Canada, and if left with this story alone, we would all have just cause to despair.
Yet, Indigenous leaders continue to move forward in hope. Our final words are reserved for one such leader, Judy Hughes. As President of the Saskatchewan Aboriginal Women’s Circle Corporation (SAWCC), Judy works alongside the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) and has devoted her career to supporting family members who have had a loved one torn from their midst.
Judy and I began our conversation by noting that readers will come to this work having experienced a global pandemic, something none of the authors had even thought about let alone written on. The obvious question is what impact such a life-changing phenomenon has had on Indigenous women. The obvious answer has been noting a significant increase in intimate partner violence. Women vulnerable from systemic poverty and the stresses of intergenerational trauma oftentimes have less capacity for multiple stresses that a pandemic presents. Support systems like shelters and counselling may weaken or be shut down altogether when governments and healthcare turn their attention to coping with Covid-19. For instance, Amnesty International released an urgent action memo stating that the Mexican government suspended funding for the CAMIs (Amnesty). The Casas de la Mujer Indígena y Afromexicana are a network of Indigenous women’s community organizations which operate nationally throughout Mexico. Common services include the provision of sexual reproductive healthcare, traditional midwifery, broader healthcare provision and referrals, psychological support, the prevention and elimination of gender-based violence, trauma-informed support and the provision of legal services. They are also often engaged in the wider promotion of women’s and Indigenous rights as well as Indigenous culture in Mexico.
In Canada, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls jostles for the federal government’s attention amidst health and economic demands created by the pandemic. Yet the work of Indigenous women and organizations has actively and relentlessly pursued the first of the 231 Imperatives from the final report:
1.1 We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, municipal, and Indigenous governments (hereinafter “all governments”), in partnership with Indigenous Peoples, to develop and implement a National Action Plan to address violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, as recommended in our Interim Report and in support of existing recommendations by other bodies of inquiry and other reports.6 As part of the National Action Plan, we call upon all governments to ensure that equitable access to basic rights such as employment, housing, education, safety, and health care is recognized as a fundamental means of protecting Indigenous and human rights, resourced and supported as rights-based programs founded on substantive equality. All programs must be no-barrier, and must apply regardless of Status or location.
- Table and implement a National Action Plan that is flexible and distinctions-based, and that includes regionally specific plans with devoted funding and timetables for implementation that are rooted in the local cultures and communities of diverse Indigenous identities, with measurable goals and necessary resources dedicated to capacity building, sustainability, and long-term solutions.
- Make publicly available on an annual basis reports of ongoing actions and developments in measurable goals related to the National Action Plan.
In 2020, no government plan exists. Instead of presenting the National Action Plan as promised in June 2019, the Federal Government only began to form committees in August 2020, to help develop the National Action Plan as stated in 1.1 above. In contrast, while Canada ‘continues talking’, NWAC has acted on the 231 Calls for Justice by producing a ten-point Action Plan and by establishing an unique first of its kind in Canada holistic healing lodge. For context, the Native Women’s Association of Canada advocates for and defends the rights of Indigenous women across the country. “Much like a ‘Grandmother’s Lodge, we as aunties, mothers, sisters, brothers and relatives collectively recognize, respect, promote, defend and enhance our Indigenous Ancestral laws, spiritual beliefs, language and traditions given to us by the Creator” (nwac.ca).
After giving a failing grade to the federal government’s inaction on a national action plan, NWAC proceeded with its own ten point action plan, while calling for the following immediate steps to take place:
- A call for an independent national task force to open up unresolved files of missing and murdered women
- Ongoing work for a national data base to track the numbers of missing and murdered women
- Provision of funds for NWAC to establish its own MMIWG Oversight Unit to ensure implementation of the 231 Calls for Justice
On a broader scale, NWAC envisions a multi-language report on genocide as well as an anti-racism and anti-sexism national action plan. All of these recommendations are offers from NWAC to work with the federal, provincial, territorial and Indigenous governments to ensure that any actions taken have been planned in consultation with the largest national body comprised of Indigenous women and gender diverse people.
Judy notes that NWAC has consistently undertaken international work to raise awareness of the genocide committed by Canada as concluded in the Supplementary Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls – “A Legal Analysis of Genocide”. The organization envisions a “Best Practices Summit” where people from around the globe learn what works and why.
Such global learnings are evident in the most significant of NWAC’s initiatives, the opening of its unique distinctions-based Resiliency Lodge. Situated on the traditional land of the Algonquin people in Chelsea, Quebec, the Resiliency Lodge combines on-the-land programming, Indigenous cultures, languages and spirituality to support Indigenous women and gender-diverse people to promote and foster wellness and resilience. The programs and services are accessible and culturally safe to survivors of trauma and violence. The workshops are developed to enhance the spiritual, emotional, mental, physical, social, and economic well-being of Indigenous women and gender-diverse people. Each person’s resiliency journey is built on the concept of healing: Elder-guided healing, land-based healing, culture-based healing and holistic person-centred care. The lodge provides a safe space for women and gender-diverse people to engage in Indigenous ceremonies, languages, food, medicine baths, expressive art and learn how to navigate all the social services. It also has a safe space dedicated to commemorating and honouring all the missing and murdered women and girls on this land. The resiliency support and training continues year long with an in-person four session resiliency and wellness journey and virtual online services with access to Elders and ceremonial support. Such community-based and culturally distinct lodges are planned to be made available across Canada to meet these needs. Through these actions, intentional community leans into a future of strong Indigenous female leadership.
The concept of these lodges, Judy recounts, shows what can be done when global communities unite. The resiliency lodges parallel the CAMIS – Casas de la Mujer Indígena y Afromexicana (Houses of Indigenous and Afro-Mexican Women). For Mexican women, the CAMIS provide a safe refuge from violent circumstances, again by providing culturally distinct counselling and support around gender violence. Lynne Groulx, NWAC’s Chief Executive Officer, explains “It is notable that the positive experience of the CAMI experiment in Mexico has prompted other countries in Latin America to emulate their practices and to put in place similar structures with a view to more effectively providing Indigenous women and girls with an array of indispensable services. There are unquestionably multiple lessons and best practices which can be drawn from the Mexican CAMI model and be applied to the Canadian context, such as NWAC’s Resiliency Lodge” (NWAC).
So, we conclude this book holding the urgency of despair and the power of hopefulness in each hand. When leaders like Judy Hughes and so many others cannot rest while “there are still bodies lying out there, and families still searching for their loved ones,” as Judy powerfully notes, then there will be change. It is the collective will of individuals that generates the most healing and transformative hope. There could be no more fitting conclusion to this retrospective of a past decade than the commitment expressed in the Vision Statement for the Resiliency Lodge. May all readers worldwide grow into this statement:
“We envision a world where Indigenous women and gender-diverse people live a good life free of violence, and where our strength and healing grow from our culture and our connection to the land” (NWAC Resiliency Lodge Programme Guide).