Convention News – August 12th
Oral reports from each provincial council president; national secretary-treasurer, Judy Lewis; national spiritual advisor, Bishop William McGrattan; executive director, Kim Scammell; and national president, Betty Anne Brown Davidson were presented to members and 171 delegates on Tuesday afternoon.
Keynote Speaker: Sheila Isaac
Indigenous Women in Community Leadership Program
Peggy Roach, national chairperson of education introduced Sheila Isaac, program manager for the Coady International Institute’s Indigenous Women in Community Leadership Program (IWCL).
Sheila, a Mi’kmaq lawyer from Listuguj First Nation in Quebec began her speech admitting her surprise that League members “wanted to hear about Indigenous women in Canada.” As a child, she used sports to improve her self esteem and, as a product of residential schools, she saw education as a way out. “My father,” she said, “taught me not to rely on the men.”
In school, Sheila found she wasn’t taught the history of her peoples, and with an absentee mother, she taught herself about her culture and her peoples’ past. To help the audience grasp what being Aboriginal means in today’s society, Sheila went over a brief history of Aboriginal people, beginning with “Columbus gets lost” and the resulting label, “Indian.”
Providing a sobering statistic, Sheila let members know that Aboriginal people won the right to vote in 1960; forty-two years after women earned the right to vote in 1918. Sheila also spoke of injustices to Aboriginal women who, prior to Bill C-31, (passed in 1985) were stripped of their “status” if they married non-aboriginal men; the government’s way of taking the “Indian” out. Sadly, it took until 2008 for Canadian Aboriginal peoples to be included under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
IWCL is a four month program, running May through August, designed to:
- Engage the next generation of Indigenous women leaders
- Provide practical skills/experience for Indigenous women
- Benefit from the wisdom of established women leaders
- Produce inspiring resources
- Support active, community–driven development towards self-reliance and self-determination
By educating Aboriginal women and helping them become leaders, current issues plaguing the community such as the missing and murdered Indigenous women and lateral violence can be addressed.
Sheila ended her address by having members view one of her student’s films on lateral violence. “What kind of Inuk are you?” was the worst question Sheila’s student had ever been asked by a fellow Inuit person. “This is lateral violence,” the student said, “the shaming, humiliating and occasionally violent behavior directed towards a person from the same group. We have believed that this is normal behavior for our people and it’s not.” Educating women, having them recognize the leader within themselves, can put communities on the right path to changing this behavior.
The video ended with a poignant quote by Marianne Williamson, applicable to all women.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Commissioning of New Life Members
“Life membership is an honour and a privilege, but also a responsibility,” said national president-elect, Barb Dowding. Accepting the nomination of life membership is accepting the responsibility of sharing the League with others, a life-long vow to the sisterhood. These women have been chosen for their ability to go forth and proclaim, “We have seen the Lord!”
Verna Lynn Bergeron, Kapuskasing
Theresa McGuire, Lively
Cathy Bouchard, Red Deer
Albertine Moran (in absentia), Brandon
Zita Cameron, Kingston
Jacqueline Nogier, Snow Lake
Bev Drouin (in absentia), Chalk River
Linda Marie O’Hagan (in absentia), St. Catharines
Theresa Duann, Dartmouth
Marie Rackley, Saint John
Annette Kelly, Timmins
Hazel Robichaud, Dieppe
Ann T. McGray, Dartmouth
The new life members were summoned by name and dipped their hand in a bowl of holy water held by National President Betty Anne Brown Davidson. They made the Sign of the Cross and then went to Bishop McGrattan who prayed over each, “Receive the Sign of the Cross on your hands, that through the touch of your hands in service to the people of God, you may know God’s presence in your life.”
Before Bishop McGrattan blessed the newly-commissioned life members, members in the assembly raised their hands over them and sang the CWL blessing.
Keynote Speaker: Imelda Perley
Building Relationships with Aboriginal Women
Pat Deppiesse, president for BC & Yukon provincial council introduced speaker Imelda Perley, a linguist from Tobique First Nation. Imelda began her keynote address by welcoming members and guests to the traditional Wolastoq community. “Wolastoq,” said Imelda, “is the traditional name of St. John River,” which flows freely through the beautiful city of Fredericton.
The loss of the identity and languages of Canadian First Nations people should be of concern to all Canadians. Imelda spoke in a soft, peaceful voice as she asked members, “How do I teach my children and grandchildren that the first name of St. John River is Wolastoq?”
An elder-in-residence at the University of New Brunswick, Imelda spoke of the spiritual use of sweetgrass, “the hair of mother Earth.” She spoke of working with those in the mental health field and using traditional medicines versus pharmaceuticals to help those in her community, for she has “seen the Lord in my medicine man.”
“I get hurt a lot because of my culture because it’s not the norm of society,” Imelda said sadly. How can we address the divide between aboriginals and non-aboriginals? Imelda’s answer, “Know the real identity of the native, first nations people… that’s the way of opening the door of understanding.” We were born with “two ears and one mouth” Imelda said, adding, “You have to listen more than you speak.”
First Nations people, want “a side by side relationship” said Imelda, not a relationship where one is above the other. As a child, Imelda’s grandmother told her that the four- letter word “hate” was not one to be spoken from her lips. “In my language, we don’t objectify,” Imelda explained. “We have to learn to use words that heal, not hurt.”
Tobique First Nation is one with many successful people, where the whole community raises the children. Pleasing the members in the audience, Imelda added she always thought the success of her people was, “because there was a Catholic Women’s League when we were children.” Her grandmother always taught her, “Don’t forget the church.” Earning chuckles from the audience, Imelda stated, “I actually have the recipe of what we call CWL sandwiches.” There is “no difference between Aboriginal spirituality and Catholicism,” said Imelda, “except one.” She then explained, “When the priest goes to the right, we always go to the left because that is where our heart is.” In Imelda’s culture, she said, “We’re taught that all of creation are our relatives.”
Imelda ended her address with a traditional song that honours the river. Water is a symbol of life and “as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the river flows.” Her voice pierced the air with a haunting, powerful sound that, when accompanied to her beating drum reached the souls of the audience members. “I’ve been translating from English to Maliseet for so long,” she said, “It’s about time to ask us to translate Maliseet to English,” so stories of the First Nations peoples of Canada can be shared.