“Our women’s hearts have been on the ground for decades!”

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AZA Women's Workshop at the Prince Arthur Hotel in Thunder Bay

THUNDER BAY – Speaking before a small gathering at the Prince Arthur Hotel the message is that the voices of women must be heard. It was an emotional day, the pain that so many people feel is so close to the surface in their lives. The tears flow and the healing is a slow path forward.

The event was hosted by Animbiigoo Zaagi’igan Anishinaabek First Nation (Lake Nipigon First Nation) and was open for all to attend.

Gladys Radek a Gitxsan/Wet’suwet’en First Nations woman who is travelling to Ottawa for the final report of the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls and Sharon Johnson of Thunder Bay were two of the speakers.

Gladys Radek is honouring MMIWG as she heads to Ottawa from British Columbia
Gladys Radek is honouring MMIWG as she heads to Ottawa from British Columbia

Gladys Radek spoke on how the United Nation’s Declaration on Human Rights for Indigenous people is seen as a small step forward. However, she also told the audience that not once in the document is the term woman mentioned.

The report from the Missing and Murdered Women and Girl’s National Inquiry is due this week. The message is to have women make sure that the report and its messages are not forgotten by this government.

There needs to be real action following the report says, Gladys Radek.

The report is due to come down this week, and there are concerns that between the release of the report and the fall election this critical report will end up “on the shelf”.

The impact of Indigenous people of Residential Schools, the sixties scoop, and now the millennium scoop where in some parts of Canada there are over half of Indigenous people in the Child Welfare system.

Some of the problems come from what could be seen as an overwhelmed Indigenous Child Welfare system where children are placed in dangerous homes. Examples being a court case against Dilico where a supervisor is suing the organization over wrongful dismissal. At issue, in that case, is that children were reportedly placed in the homes of a registered sex offender and that failure is being put on the one person and not on the organization as a whole.

There are instances across Canada where the ongoing abuse of children continue – from the very agencies which are there to protect children.

In an emotional sharing, one speaker explained how she was abused by partners, and by friends and taken out of Thunder Bay and left on the highway in the ditch. She also shared that she has forgiven her attackers – and that has been a way of dealing with the pain and working toward healing.

Human trafficking remains a serious issue. NetNewsLedger has individuals telling us of connections between Thunder Bay and Montreal where women are being taken from our city and end up being forced into the sex trade. Today’s workshop was told that the issue is perhaps larger than most would like to think.

The abuses especially against women, we learned, have led many Indigenous people into a downward spiral of drug and alcohol abuse.

“We need to teach our young girls how to be safer”

Almost all of the women speaking at the workshop stated that “women are very forgiving people” – and how forgiving their abuser is an important part of their healing.

On women in jails, the workshop was told that the women say the roots of their problems all come from violence and dealing with that root violence is needed.

“I am going to be the one who makes a change and breaks the cycle. We are the mothers who are going to make the changes needed”

The discussion grew to issues with housing in Thunder Bay. From the Indian Friendship Centre the message was toward efforts to help in the 288 Windsor Housing complex in Thunder Bay.

A presenter from the Indian Friendship Centre told the gathering that gangs, drug dealing, and crime are rampant in that housing project. Gaining access to the community unit became very difficult at first. While there is or was a community unit there which the Community Action Group ran, that was reportedly closed, and the first efforts were in the courtyard in the centre of the complex. Access to the Community Unit appears to be coming, however. Right now, there is a growing need for support.

The overall message of the day is that Indigenous women are resilient and forgiving.

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