Manitoba·Opinion

Aboriginal women's rise brings power to much-­needed voices

'We try not be sexist, but history tells us women have been more prone to peace and nurturing, while men have been more apt to engage in war and and the destruction it creates,' Don Marks says.

'Fortunately, I believe that most of the men who inflict this violence want help so they can change'

Sheila North Wilson became the first grand chief of MKO this month. Don Marks points to her as one of the leaders to watch. (Submitted by Sheila North Wilson)

We try not be sexist, but history tells us women have been more prone to peace and nurturing, while men have been more apt to engage in war and and the destruction it creates.

Women are the life givers. They carry the water.

For the past century, First Nations politics has been dominated by men, but things are changing.

Female indigenous leaders like Marion Ironquil Meadmore, Mary Richard, Diane Redsky, Leslie Spillett, Sharon Redsky, Nahanni Fontaine, Josie Hill ... I have to stop here because the hundreds of names I could add would take all of my space ... have been driving forces behind the positive changes that have been made in the social and economic development of First Nations.

The point is, we welcome the new approach that comes with the election of Sheila North Wilson as grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak,­ the first woman to be elected grand chief of MKO since it was established in 1981.

North Wilson is well ­versed in the major pressing issues of infrastructure needs, hydro development, mining and other priorities facing northern First Nations communities. She will carry the case well.

Every 20 minutes in this "modern" country, a woman is slapped in the face, punched or kicked, stabbed or shot.- Don Marks

At the same time, North Wilson is going to bring a perspective backed by political clout to a major tragedy that plagues our country.

Every 20 minutes in Canada, a woman becomes the victim of domestic violence.

Let's rephrase that.

Every 20 minutes in this "modern" country, a woman is slapped in the face, punched or kicked, stabbed or shot. More than 1,200 aboriginal women are missing or murdered.

And every time this happens, good men get angry because they can't stand to see their mothers and sisters and aunts treated this way, and they want to punch the living daylights out of these men ­­ but that usually only makes it worse for the woman.

Most men cannot comprehend what it's like to be unable to fight back or defend yourself in any way. And most men in their right minds would never put a woman in that kind of situation.

Women want these violent men to get counselling; to find out why they think it is their duty or their right to whack a woman with a frying pan because they didn't make the eggs right one morning.

Mean­spirited men must suffer the consequences of their actions. Perpetrators cannot be allowed to move from one relationship to another, inflicting violence on victim after victim, including children who have to suffer the horror of seeing their most beloved guide through life be bruised and bled and battered in front of their eyes.

No doubt women must be protected, but this isn't something that can be solved by "locking people up and throwing away the key."

There are so many men who are victims themselves and may be helped with some patience and love and professional care. Many of these men themselves suffered abuse that has caused them to lash out.

There is a lot of work to do

Sheila North Wilson does not have to be a victim of violence to be able to relate to a woman who is. She can rely on experts like Manitoba advisor on aboriginal women Nahanni Fontaine and Manitoba Muslim leader Shahina Siddiqui (who supplied the statistic on how often women are abused). These brilliant, educated experts will help MKO and all First Nations people deal with this situation, which has non­aboriginal and aboriginal men inflicting enormous pain on indigenous women.

When anyone imagines a fellow human not able to find safety in her own home, worried about being woken up at 3 a.m. and being bounced off walls by fists of fury, or out on the streets living in vulnerable situations that arose out of a dysfunctional background nobody would choose­­ we all know these missing and murdered women are a national priority for all Canadians.

There is no validation for the guy who tells a judge "she just wouldn't listen" in court.

Fortunately, I believe that most of the men who inflict this violence want help so they can change.

And most other men want them to change.

Let us never forget the sacrifice that good, ordinary men, plumbers, school teachers, insurance salesmen, doctors and lawyers made when they laid down their lives to defeat mass murderers like Adolf Hitler.

Moms and dads both have roles to play in the home and in community leadership. We just haven't had enough female hearts and minds represented in in our political processes.

Lead the way, Sheila!

Don Marks is a Winnipeg writer.

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