Indigenous women need to fight for power, former N.W.T. MP told UN panel

Politician Ethel Blondin-Andrew spoke at a panel of Indigenous leaders in Geneva about the challenges facing Indigenous women seeking political power.

Ethel Blondin-Andrew spoke at UN panel with representatives from Malaysia, Greenland, Russia, Mali, Brazil

Ethel Blondin-Andrew went to Geneva last week to talk Indigenous women in politics with other Indigenous women around the world. (CBC)

N.W.T. politician Ethel Blondin-Andrew says she is inspired by Indigenous women around the world who are not just fighting for their voice in the political world, but for their lives. 

Blondin-Andrew, a former N.W.T. MP, took part in a United Nations panel in Geneva to discuss Indigenous women in politics. She and five others discussed why they got into politics, challenges they've run into along the way, and how the UN can support Indigenous women around the world in pursuing the same path. 

The panel had representatives from Malaysia, Greenland, Russia, Mali and Brazil.

Blondin-Andrew said the path to power can be dangerous for Indigenous women in many parts of the world.

"It's a matter of life or death," she said. "It's a matter of being able to keep your voice."

Breaking ground in Canada

Blondin-Andrew is the first Indigenous woman in Canada to be elected into federal politics, and when she was elected, there weren't many Indigenous MPs at all to share the floor. 

She went on to become the minister of state for northern development in the cabinet of past prime minister Paul Martin.

"I was raised in a male-dominated society," she said.

Blondin-Andrew credits her grandmother for her entry into politics.

"Since I was a young girl, my grandmother played a very dominant role. She was a strong matriarch. My grandmother was afraid of nobody and no one."

Her advice is to break ground at every opportunity. 

"Make them hear who you are," said Blondin-Andrew. "Do not allow people to define you. Do not allow them to subjugate you … They'll always put you at a lower station than your capabilities.

"If you assert yourself as a people, as a gender, you will take your rightful place. If you shrink away and if you allow people to subjugate you, you will never break loose from the vestiges of colonization."

'Forever marked' by injustice in The Pas

Blondin-Andrew says she draws on the story of Helen Betty Obsorne, a 19-year-old Cree woman brutally murdered in Manitoba in 1971, as a reminder of why it's important for Indigenous women to have a voice in politics.

Four men were charged in her death 16 years later, and only one man was convicted. In 2000, the province issued a formal apology to the family for not doing more to pursue the case.

"[This story] forever marked me that justice has to be done for our women," said Blondin-Andrew.

We must not be thought to be less than anybody else.- Ethel Blondin-Andrew, former member of Parliament

"We must not be thought to be less than anybody else. We have rights. We have human rights. We have individual rights and collective rights."

Blondin-Andrew said women putting their names forward for office gives her optimism.

"This has been a monumental girl-power moment for me, being there with those women who have to fight for their lives — not only their rights — and their place to be. It's also about future generations of women taking their place."

A summary of the panel discussion will be included in a UN annual report of the Expert Mechanism to the Human Rights Council.


  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Blondin-Andrew became a minister of northern development. In fact, she was minister of state for northern development.
    Jul 28, 2019 8:42 AM CT