From coast to coast and north to south, Indigenous women are on the rise

To make International Women's Day, meet 13 Indigenous women from across Canada to watch in 2017 and beyond.

For International Women's Day, meet Indigenous women from each province and territory who are making waves

Lianne Marie Leda Charlie is one of 13 Indigenous women CBC Indigenous profiles on International Women's Day. (submitted by Lianne Charlie)

International Women's Day is marked on March 8 every year and celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women around the globe. 

And Indigenous women are making their mark in communities across Canada — becoming leaders and working to foster Indigenous languages, build businesses, create art and more.

Although there are many more CBC Indigenous could list, here are just 13 Indigenous women to watch in 2017 and beyond.

Maatalii Okalik, Nunavut

Award-winner Maatalii Okalik, 27, is president of the National Inuit Youth Council. (Supplied)
​Maatalii Okalik is Inuk, and comes from Inuit Nunangat. Okalik, who works for the government of Nunavut as the chief of protocol and is also president of the National Inuit Youth Council, recently travelled to Sweden on an official state visit.

She has an extreme sense of pride in being Inuk. 

"The more that we are proud to be Inuit, the more we are continuing to strengthen our language and culture that go back for thousands of years," said Okalik.

She said the woman she is most inspired by is her mom, Looee Okalik. 

"She raised us with that principle to be proud to be Inuk, contribute to your community, to follow your dreams. Without her raising us in that light, I wouldn't be who I am today," Okalik said.

Accomplishments that she is proud of include catching her first seal, caribou and fish.

"The more that we are making self determined decisions, the happier we are," she said. 

"Every day that we wake up is resistance."

Helen Oro, Saskatchewan

Helen Oro is the young entrepreneur behind Helen Oro Designs. (Elicia Munro)
Helen Oro is a Nehiyaw Iskwe fashion designer from the Pelican Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan. 

Oro says that being a mom is her proudest achievement. The Saskatoon-based entrepreneur has been making waves in the fashion industry with her accessories brand, Helen Oro Designs. She has been taking the designs to fashion weeks across the U.S. and overseas in Australia and New Zealand. She was recently invited to London Fashion Week.

She was also recently one of 200 people worldwide to be chosen to take part in a unique program called Accessories: Mastered. The exclusive program connects fashion industry entrepreneurs and experts with local designers to help build a global brand.

One of her biggest inspirations is her kookum (grandmother), Helen Dumais, who helped to raise Oro.

Nikki Fraser, British Columbia

Nikki Fraser is a the youth representative for the Native Women's Association of Canada. (Kadri Press)
Nikki Fraser is Secwepemc from the Kamloops Indian Band in B.C.. The student has been doing volunteer work as the youth rep for the Native Women's Association of Canada.

Fraser was also chosen as one of the United Nations' young leaders for sustainable development. Her work at the U.N. revolves around raising awareness of the need for safe drinking water in First Nations communities in Canada.

Fraser said one Indigenous woman who inspires her is Jody Wilson-Raybould, a Kwakwaka'wakw MP and Canada's minister of justice.

Fraser's own advice to other Indigenous women and girls: "Go after your dream. Find something that you're passionate about. Never be afraid. Don't take the word 'no' or rejection personally. Use that as a fuel-driver."

Kakeka Thundersky, Manitoba

Kakeka Thundersky was recently awarded the Everyday Political Citizen Award from Samara Canada for volunteering in her community. (CBC)
An Anishinaabe from the Poplar River First Nation, Kakeka Thundersky is currently enrolled in the education program at the University of Winnipeg and was recently awarded the Everyday Political Citizen Award from Samara Canada for volunteering in her community with initiatives like clothing drives for the homeless.

Thundersky has also spent time volunteering for Winnipeg's Circle of Life Thunderbird House, an Indigenous cultural centre.

Thundersky said her biggest inspiration has been her mother, Raven Thundersky. 

"She was an activist in Winnipeg, an anti-asbestos activist and she did a lot for Sisters in Spirit, for missing and murdered indigenous women, so I had a lot of influence from my mom growing up," said Thundersky.

Lianne Marie Leda Charlie, Yukon

Lianne Marie Leda Charlie teaches political science at Yukon College. (Michael Thessel)
Lianne Charlie is Tagé Cho Hudän, from Northern Tutchone. She is a PhD candidate and currently works as an instructor of political science at Yukon College.

She said she has always been a creative person and has done work in digital collage. She is also helping to design curriculum for Yukon College's Indigenous governance program.

Charlie said one of her biggest inspirations is scholar, writer and artist Leanne Simpson. 

"I love Leanne Simpson. Her work has been integral to my academic career. I love how she carries herself, and how she's pushed the boundaries for creative expression," said Charlie.

Nigit'stil Norbert, Northwest Territories

Ngit’stil Norbert is a Gwichya Gwich’in artist. (Angela Gzowski)
Nigit'stil Norbert is Gwichya Gwich'in and a self-employed artist and activist who graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design with a bachelor of fine arts degree, specializing in photography.

She has been working for years on a new multifaceted project called Beading Heart which will see her travelling by canoe to various communities along the Mckenzie River, to reach out to the women connected to the water in those communities.

One woman who has inspired Norbert is fellow northern artist Gerri Sharpe. 

"She is a community leader. She's warm and understands the importance of healing. She brings us back to community and what that means," said Norbert.

Eriel Deranger, Alberta

Eriel Deranger is a Denesuline climate and Indigenous rights advocate. (Kelsey Chapman)
Eriel Deranger is Denesuline from Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. She works for her community as an as executive assistant to Chief Allan Adam and in communications, educating people about climate and Indigenous rights.

Deranger said she has also been working non-stop to start an Indigenous-led climate organization with an aim to educate people about Indigenous worldviews on climate change and get Indigenous people on board with initiatives to fight climate change.

An Indigenous woman who inspires Deranger is Alice Rigney, a Denesuline elder who lost her Indian status and fought to regain it. 

"She's a badass. A language keeper, a knowledge keeper, a land user, a cancer survivor and a force to be reckoned with," said Deranger.

Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs, Quebec​

Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs is Kanien'kehaka from Kahnawá:ke Mohawk territory in Quebec. (Nadya Kwandibens)
Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs is Kanien'kehaka from Kahnawá:ke Mohawk territory in Quebec. An activist, actor, and more recently a filmmaker, Jacobs started acting when she was seven years old and has been a professional actor for the last decade.

Perhaps best known for her Canadian Screen Award-nominated performance in Rhymes for Young Ghouls, she also just released a film called Sun at Midnight which was shot in the Northwest Territories. She has plans to direct several upcoming short films.

Jacobs has also been cast in the lead in another film this year called Beginnings of my Heart, which she describes as "a native LGBTQ fantasy film."

"Being able to be a role model for my community has been really awesome," she said.

"In my short film, I cast a local girl as the lead instead of someone who was an experienced actor. She actually became really interested in acting after that. It's nice to put our community on the map." 

Jacobs has been inspired by many Indigenous women, like filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin, actor and activist Tantoo Cardinal, her mother, aunties and her sisters.

"There's so many women that have come before us, and continue to make incredible art." 

Silpa Suarak, Newfoundland and Labrador

Silpa Suarak is an Inuktitut language advocate. (Fred Catroll)
Silpa Suarak is Inuk from Nain, the the administrative capital of the autonomous region of Nunatsiavut.

The mother of two has been working to revitalize Inuktitut in her community. She also works for the Nunatsiavut government as the language program co-ordinator. 

Suarak helps to produce a radio show in her community called Ilinniakatigennik — or Let's Learn to Speak Together in English — where kids call in to guess Inuk words.

Suarak finished school at Nunavut Sivuniksavut, an Ottawa-based college program that prepares young Inuit for post-secondary education. She's currently helping to develop a master's apprentice language program, which will help connect fluent and intermediate speakers to learn from Inuktitut from each other.

Her biggest inspiration is her grandmother, Eugenia Suarak.

"She understood our history. Looking at where her life was, she only spoke Inuktitut to me, and I was able to understand Inuktitut from her in my younger years," Suarak said.

"Her speaking only Inuktitut to me inspired me to want to only speak Inuktitut to my kids. The struggles that she went through pushed me to go through the struggles that I had as a single mom."

Amanda LeBlanc, New Brunswick

Amanda LeBlanc is vice-chief of New Brunswick’s Aboriginal People's Council. (Supplied)
Amanda LeBlanc, from the Wolastoq Nation, is the vice-chief of New Brunswick's Aboriginal Peoples Council.

A passionate advocate for the rights of off-reserve and non-status Aboriginal people, LeBlanc is also the assistant executive of New Brunswick's only friendship centre, Under One Sky. She says she's excited to help develop the centre and programs for Indigenous youth in the Fredericton area.

One Indigenous woman who inspires her is Kelsey Nash Solomon.

"She is a language revitalizer, an early childhood educator. She took a Maliseet immersion program and ended up creating her own program. Seeing where she comes from and seeing her teach is so inspiring," said LeBlanc.

Killa Atencio, Nova Scotia

Killa Atencio is Mi'kmaq from Nova Scotia. (Felix Atencio-Gonzales)
A Mi'kmaq from the Listuguj First Nation, Killa Atencio works with a youth-focused organization in Halifax called Leave Out Violence (LOVE) and is also working to start a program that aims to bring together Indigenous and black youth.

On top of all of that, Atencio is an artist who does spoken word performances. 

CBC recently highlighted the work she does beading poppies to honor Indigenous veterans and their contributions to the Canadian military.

Riley Yesno, Ontario

Riley Yesno sits on the Prime Minister's Youth Council. (Prime Minister's Youth Council)
Riley Yesno is Anishinaabekwe from Eabametoong First Nation and a high school student who is extremely active in Thunder Bay. 

Yesno was recently presented the Outstanding Youth Award by the city of Thunder Bay. The high school student also sits on the city's board of education and was recently appointed to the Prime Minister's Youth Council, where she is engaged in conversations about equity for First Nations in Canada with a focus on reconciliation.

The woman she is most inspired by is her grandmother, Christine Yesno, a residential school survivor who made a good life for her family on reserve.

Her grandmother also made sure her children would prosper, Yesno says, and taught them their traditional language so that the culture would survive.

Jenna Burke, PEI

Jenna Burke is Mi'kmaq from Prince Edward Island. (David Varis)
Jenna Burke is Mi'kmaq from Lennox Island First Nation, Prince Edward Island. She is a member of the Native Council of PEI, and the Aboriginal Women's Association of PEI.

Burke was also the acting president of the Aboriginal student council at her University of PEI and just recently finished her undergraduate studies there. She was just accepted as one of the top three candidates for the University of Victoria's Indigenous governance masters program.

"There's an elder back home who doesn't get enough recognition for the work that she does, Judy Clark," Burke said about the woman who inspires her. 

"I see her give so much to her community through volunteering. She never says no and she's always there to share a teaching or help someone out. I don't know if she knows how much she means to me, and how much she has inspired me."


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1