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Indigenous Women's Firsts - 1

Honourable senators, just as I was a student in both land-based education and Western education, and walked between two worlds, I would like to invite you to be a student of First Nations, Métis, Inuit and non-status peoples’ reality and history. I invite you to do so to learn two-eyed seeing, a Mi’kmaq way of knowing that will help us in our journey toward reconciliation.

In the 1974 book The Fourth World: An Indian Reality, by George Manuel and Michael Posluns, Manuel states on page 2:

Within my own lifetime I have seen my people, the Shuswap nation, fall from a proud state of independence — when we looked to no man’s generosity outside our own bounds but only to our own strength and skill and the raw materials with which we had been blessed for our survival — to a condition of degeneration, servitude, and dependence as shameful as any people have ever known. I have also seen my people make the beginning of the long, hard struggle back to the plateau that is our proper place in the world.

Honourable senators, I will give a statement every Wednesday to share with you the stories and lives of First Nations, Métis and Inuit in our long, hard struggle back to our proper place in Canada. In reversing the course of historical development of First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities today, it will come from the hard work of the women. Women have always been the ones who have championed the hard struggles and overcome obstacles so they could reclaim their spirit, power and autonomy.

I went to Kahnawake in 2003 when I was starting my Master’s in Community Studies. One of the Mohawk elders said to me, “I can see the tired in your face, but you can’t stop. This is why we do what we do,” as she held up a picture of her grandchildren. “You must learn patience, as this is how we have been able to beat government policies and laws throughout history. Our children and grandchildren will get onto our shoulders, as we did with our ancestors.”

Therefore, I will start with 197 Indigenous women who were first in their fields. I want to acknowledge Sally Simpson from Mohawk College for the hard work and dedication to bring to light these Indigenous trailblazers who have overcome such great obstacles. We will then pay tribute to elders, youth, leaders and those who have passed to the spirit world.

Thank you.

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