A group of about 100 First Nation women elders and their supporters held a day of traditional ceremonies in Ottawa on Wednesday, June 18, ending up on the steps of Parliament.
The ceremonies were part of an event called Indigenous Women Rising Up! Iskwewak Pasikowak! that brought together indigenous women and elders from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. Their goal was to deliver a message to the federal government.
“We’re fighting for the future of our children and our great-grandchildren,” said Elder Rose Watchmaker of Onion Lake First Nation, Saskatchewan. “We’re fighting for our rights.”
Elders in attendance firmly stated that they are taking their power back. They would no longer take orders from the government, nor give up their rights.
Organizer Linda Kitchigeesick called the day of ceremonies a symbolic “pushing back” against the Conservative government and hopes it’s the beginning of a turning point for First Nations.
Many of the elders travelled from Onion Lake, Saskatchewan and Frog Lake, Alberta. Driving more than 3,000 km, the elders held ceremonies along the way.
Elders raised the funds to travel to Ottawa by holding community bingos and yard sales.
The Ottawa ceremonies began in the early hours on nearby Victoria Island — a historic gathering point for First Nations — before the participants walked to Parliament Hill.
They spoke about the many problems plaguing First Nation communities — problems they say are caused by lack of control over their lands and resources.
“They are here for a combination of things: for the environment, education, the whole issue of treaty that the government doesn’t seem to want to recognize,“ said Chief Wallace Fox of Onion Lake.
“We don’t have to come here and ask for rights because our rights we were born with,” said one of the elders in attendance.
When the ceremonies and speeches concluded, the participants walked to Westboro Beach in the western part of the city for a final ceremony to wrap up the day.
But the act of walking away from Parliament was a symbolic gesture as well.
“We walk away from Parliament to demonstrate that this is just an illusion, that this is just a colonial construct that has taken away our rights as who we are as the original and first women of this land called Turtle Island, North America,” said Claudette Commanda, an elder from the Kitigan Zibi Algonquin Nation in Quebec.
No one from the Federal Government addressed the elders but at least one opposition MP, Liberal Carolyn Bennett, was on hand.