Nova Scotia

'It's really powerfuI': Indigenous women gather to share skills, experience

More than 100 Indigenous women — some who have travelled from as far as Yukon and New Zealand — are gathering in Antigonish, N.S., this weekend to learn more about each other and share their skills and experience.

Alumni of Indigenous Women in Community Leadership program meet this weekend

Karri-Lynn Paul says the growth of the Indigenous Women in Community Leadership program is 'pretty dang phenomenal.' (Kaitlyn Swan/CBC)

More than 100 Indigenous women from across Canada and beyond are gathering in Nova Scotia this weekend to share knowledge, meet other Indigenous leaders and hear each others' stories of cultural preservation and community.

Some women have travelled from as far as Yukon and New Zealand to attend an alumni gathering for the St. Francis Xavier University's Indigenous Women in Community Leadership program.

Karri-Lynn Paul, the lead facilitator for the program and a graduate from the program's first year in 2011, said the course is gathering steam each year.

"We started with 12 women and now we have 122 graduates," she said. "That's pretty dang phenomenal."

The community leadership program, offered through St. F.X.'s Coady Institute, is a three-week course held annually that teaches ways for Indigenous women to become better and stronger leaders in their own communities. 

Women from as far as Yukon and New Zealand travelled to Nova Scotia to attend the event. (Kaitlyn Swan/CBC)

Paul, who's originally from Woodstock First Nation in New Brunswick, said the goal of the alumni gathering is to introduce these women to each other and help them make connections so they can "achieve something together."

"If you're passionate about social work, or child care or food sovereignty, get together and start to do that work that we so badly and desperately need Indigenous women to do together," she said.

"You've had those opportunities to lead, and then now, what are you doing for others? How are you bringing others up? How are you starting to connect on that national, or even global level?"

'It's really powerful'

Karla Stevens, who's from Paqtnkek Mi'kmaw Nation, near Antigonish, led a discussion on Saturday about language, culture, and how people are incorporating and trying to reclaim their traditions within their territories.

While technology can be useful, Stevens said people could benefit from going back to the oral way of learning about language and traditions — by gathering around the table with elders, community, and family.

"One-on-one conversations are more impactful and meaningful," she said, adding that younger people can learn a lot from Indigenous elders.

Stevens, who doesn't speak Mi'kmaq but would like to learn it, said she was inspired by a residential school survivor who relearned how to speak the language through her father.

"Hearing from herself, and where she had come from, just gives you more hope that you could do the same," she said.

Karla Stevens led a discussion about language, culture and reclaiming traditions. (Kaitlyn Swan/CBC)

Lisa Osawamick, an Anishinaabe business owner from Ontario, is a student in this year's program.

She said she feels "an amazing sense of pride and resiliency" to see Indigenous women from across the country coming together to share their knowledge.

"Here we are, we're women, and we're able to reclaim our language, our identity, our culture," she said.

"It's an extraordinary feeling. It's really powerful."

The alumni event wraps up on Monday.


With files from Kaitlyn Swan