Women key to driving First Nations change: Spence

Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence joins Nishnawbe Aski Nation women's council.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation says Attawapiskat chief can help raise First Nations women's profile

Elder Ellen Bruce draws on a mural at the Nishnawbe Aski Nation women's council conference in Thunder Bay. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Nishnawbe Aski Nation has added a high-profile member to its women's council.

At a conference in Thunder Bay on Sunday, NAN women's council spokesperson Jackie Fletcher announced Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence had agreed to join.

NAN women's council spokesperson Jackie Fletcher says Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence can help empower First Nations women. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

"(Spence has) raised such a profile for Aboriginal people, not just women," said Fletcher. "We need her at this level."

Spence was a participant at the conference in Thunder Bay on empowering First Nations women, along with several other delegates from Attawapiskat First Nation.

"(Women are) the ones who look after everything," she said. "They have a lot of patience, lots of love and a lot of motivation."

Spence garnered national media attention when she started a hunger strike in December to draw the federal government's attention to Aboriginal issues.

Fletcher said there are only a handful of female chiefs leading the 49 communities in NAN territory, despite the fact that First Nations used to be matriarchal societies.

"For some reason we don't get the notoreity or respect or whatever from a lot of males in the community."

'Inspiration to continue'

Fletcher said about 100 women attended the three-day conference to talk about issues ranging from dealing with addictions and violence to revitalizing culture and caring for the land.

Elder Ellen Bruce travelled from Matachewan First Nation near the Quebec border to attend the event.

"I think it's really important for women to get together to share concerns."

Bruce said the conference also encouraged participants to make their voices heard.

"It takes courage at times to speak out," she said. "I got inspiration [here] to continue."

Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence says women can drive change by working together. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Maxine Skunk, 33, from Mishkeegogamang Ojibway Nation said she felt inspired to make a difference in her community.

"I'd like to promote awareness about ... domestic violence," she said.

Spence said driving change was the reason she agreed to join NAN's women's council.

"I think we could really accomplish a lot of things if we really focus together."