Indigenous

Meet 10 Indigenous women who are following their passions in 2019

Indigenous women are on the frontlines of change for their communities. To celebrate International Women's Day, here are 10 Indigenous women who are following their passions and making a difference.

'If you fail or hit a bumpy road, keep pushing forward,' says hockey player Brooke Stacey

Amanda Reid Rogers has been named UNB's Piluwitahasuwin, or assistant vice-president of Indigenous engagement. (Jordan Gill/CBC)

Indigenous women are on the frontlines of change for their communities. To celebrate International Women's Day, here are 10 Indigenous women who are following their passions and making a difference.

Amanda Reid Rogers

Dakota Sioux, Birdtail Sioux First Nation and Woodstock First Nation

Amanda Reid Rogers has been a fancy shawl and jingle dress dancer her whole life. She was born and raised in Woodstock First Nation and in December, she stepped into a leadership role as the University of New Brunswick's assistant vice-president of Indigenous engagement or Piluwitahasuwin.

Reid Rogers is also working on her master's degree in nursing at UNB, with her thesis focusing on Wolastoqey women and their lived experiences of being descendants of residential school survivors.

She credits her mother, Gail Paul, as being the most inspirational person in her life.

"I'm advocating for Indigenous people and specifically Indigenous women's rights and I remember her doing that work my whole life," she said.

"She sure she gave me a a foundation from which to do my passion and work."

Chief Lady Bird

Chippewa and Potawatomi, Rama First Nation and Moosedeer Point First Nation

Chief Lady Bird is an Anishinaabe artist based in Toronto. Her work can be seen across the city as public murals. (Submitted by Chief Lady Bird)

Chief Lady Bird sits with the Eagle Clan and is a freelance artist based in Toronto. She is also co-facilitating Our Stories Our Truths, which is an art as healing program that connects urban Indigenous youth to mentors in the community.

"I make work about ceremony, stories, reclamation, tattoos, sex, sexuality, language, fashion, cultural appropriation," she said.

"I hope that my work can be a catalyst for reimagining our relationships to the land, each other, and ourselves."

She just finished illustrating her first full-length printed children's book with Scholastic, Nibi's Water Song, written by Sunshine Tenasco. 

What advice would you have for young Indigenous women in your community?

I want young Indigenous women to know that they are allowed to be whoever they want to be. It's OK to be sexual, sensual, loud, demanding, dark, hungry, poetic, messy, fat, makeup-less, fluid, hardened, softened, sad. Resilience doesn't have to always be packaged as soft, gentle, easily-consumed. Healing is messy. We love you for who you are and will support you on your journey.

Melissa Brown

Ojibway-Jamaican

Melissa Brown studied pyschology and sociology at the Unversity of Winnipeg. She took some time off school to chase her dream of getting involved in the cooking game. She is the head chef and owner of Brownee's Urban Bistro (Submitted by Melissa Brown)

Melissa Brown has been cooking since she was seven. The mother of two boys is an emerging entrepreneur who just started a catering company that blends Caribbean and Indigenous cuisine.

She said her company, Brownees Urban Bistro in Winnipeg, is filling a gap by introducing clients to traditional Indigenous cuisine.

"I notice a lot of these agencies that serve Indigenous people and youth, they talk about holistic health, but the one thing they're missing is food and nutrition," said Brown.

While her business right now focuses on catering, Brown is hoping to open a restaurant this year where she will be able to train Indigenous students to cook.

Can you name an Indigenous woman who inspired you?

"My mom, she has shown a lot of strength," she said.

"She taught me everything that I know about cooking. That's where my Indigenous cuisine comes from. She just retired last week. She was a nurse for 20 years."

Nicole Akan

Nehiyaw, Muskowekwan First Nation

Nicole Akan's work is grounded in ceremony. She has been leading a team of Indigenous researchers that are focusing on health related issues and water governance. (Candy Fox)

Nicole Akan is the research manager for the Morning Star Lodge in Regina, a community-based research lab that promotes new Indigenous research methodologies. Akan is responsible for connecting Indigenous researchers with knowledge keepers and people in the community.

She graduated from the Indian Communications Arts program at First Nations University of Canada and worked at CBC Saskatchewan's communications department for four years. She is a mother to a 13-year-old son. One thing that she is proud of is her sobriety for more than eight years.

What advice would you have for young Indigenous women in your community?

"To love one another, pray for one another, lift each other up. Look for those role models in your community who are very supportive and loving."

Kelly Fraser 

Sanikiluaq, Nunavut

Kelly Fraser was one of 12 winners at this years Indspire awards. (CARAS/iPhoto)

Kelly Fraser has been covering pop songs since she was 15 and is using her platform to let the world know that Inuit culture "is still strong and deserves to be heard."

The artist gained a following after uploading a video in of herself singing Rihanna's hit song Diamonds in Inuktitut. Fraser, who now lives in Winnipeg, has performed all over Canada and her second album, Sedna, was nominated for a 2018 Juno. This year, she was also one of 12 people to take home an Indspire award.

She gives credit to the success of artists like Tanya Tagaq and Susan Aglukark for paving the way for artists like her.

Her advice to young Indigenous women who want to make music? 

"Keep practising, "no matter if people say it's not good enough."

Her third album, Decolonize, is set to come out this spring.

Brooke Stacey

Mohawk, Kahnawake

Brooke Stacey is a professional hockey player in the Swedish Women's Hockey League. Stacey said she hopes to play closer to home in the Canadian women's hockey league (CWHL) or the National Women's Hockey League in the United States. (Submitted by Brooke Stacey)

Brooke Stacey is a 22-year-old professional hockey player currently lacing up her skates for Linkoping Hockey Club in the Swedish Women's Hockey League.

Prior to moving to Sweden earlier this year, Stacey played for the University of Maine Black Bears and competed in several international tournaments with Canada's national development team.

Stacey's contract with Linkoping ends at the end of their playoff run. The team is currently preparing for finals, a five-game series, that starts on Wednesday against Lulea. When she returns to Kahnawake, Stacey said hopes to play closer to home in the Canadian women's hockey league (CWHL) or the National Women's Hockey League in the United States.​

"It's very important to go after what you want," said Stacey.

"It's hard sometimes because family is always at home but they will always be there when you come back. If there's an opportunity to pursue a dream away the reserve or even on the reserve, always strive to reach it and if you fail or hit a bumpy road, keep pushing forward."

Elaine Alec

Syilx and Secwepemc

Elaine Alec is the UBCIC women’s representative and a partner in an Indigenous community planning firm, Alderhill. (Deborah Kuhl)

Growing up, Elaine Alec didn't fashion herself a feminist. But today, the Syilx and Secwepemc community planner and mother dedicates much of her energy toward creating spaces safe for women so they can rise to their full potential.

Alec has been volunteering as the women's representative for the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs since 2017. She said at the core of what she does is listening to people in community and taking direction from what they share with her.

She said what she's heard across the board is "we need to start in community and do this in community."

Today Alec is working on creating a women's council within the union. The vision, she said, is to provide a link between what women in communities want to see happen and the work on the chiefs' council.

Alec is also working on finishing an Indigenous-focused guide to addressing sexual harassment and sexual violence.

She said her passion for women's safety is based on her lived experience with sexual violence, trauma and her subsequent healing journey. She said she has seen firsthand the power of sharing her personal story and how that can create a safe space for other women to disclose their own.

"When you see women finally feel OK about sharing their story and the relief that they have, that they're not alone... what it opens up for them — that look of hope in their eyes — that's what drives me," she said.

What advice does she have for other women on International Women's Day?

"Push past the fear," she said.

"There's going to be a lot of things that are really scary, a lot of times where you're really unsure and your hands are shaking and your guts are all tightened up… When you feel that, … that's when you have to stand up and say something, no matter how scary it is."

Kluane Adamek

Kluane First Nation

Kluane Adamek is the Yukon regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations. (Submitted by Kluane Adamek)

When Kluane Adamek, 32, became regional chief for Yukon at the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) last year, she become one of the youngest women to ever sit on AFN's executive committee.

Adamek is a citizen of the Kluane First Nation, with Tlingit, Southern Tutchone, German and Irish ancestry. And though she's young, she's got a wealth of leadership experience.

In 2013, she founded "Our Voices," a collective aimed at revitalizing cultural identity and fostering leadership skills among young Indigenous Yukoners. She also served as an advisor to former AFN national chief Shawn Atleo.

Adamek said Indigenous people in Canada are facing many challenges, but persistence is key.

"I think about my former colleague Shawn Atleo [who] would often say, 'we need to smash the status quo' ... we know this doesn't happen overnight," Adamek said.

Jacquelyn Cardinal 

Nehiyaw, Sucker Creek First Nation

Jacquelyn Cardinal splits her time between three organizations. But all of the work remains the same - build bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Edmonton. (Amy Kennedy)

Jacquelyn Cardinal is the co-founder and managing director of Naheyawin, an Edmonton-based consulting agency that serves as a bridge between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. She is also the co-president and director of Social Awareness, a group of companies that aim to promote Indigenous prosperity through technology platforms.

"The question of how do we grow up side by side with non-Indigenous peoples as brothers and sisters is one that's very close to my heart," said Cardinal.

While her work is primarily focused on reconciliation, Cardinal would love to work more with Indigenous youth in the future.

"I'm really excited to invite others to fall in love with our Indigenous systems, with us," said Cardinal.

"Working with First Nations people on reserve as well as in the cities and trying to bring in non-Indigenous people so that they can understand their role in the treaty relationship that we have, and and be excited to imagine the future with us in a good way."

Catherine Lafferty 

Yellowknives Dene First Nation

Northern Wildflower is a memoir by Catherine Lafferty. (Fernwood Publishing)

Catherine Lafferty is a councillor with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation in N.W.T., a communications officer for the Akaitcho Treaty 8 Negotiations, a mother and she sits on the Det'on Cho Corporation's board.

She also published a memoir this year: Northern Wildflower.

"I am very passionate about empowering my community and the youth especially and bringing back our culture and our pride in our culture, and our pride in ourselves that's been lost through colonization," said Lafferty.

She said growing up she thought that there were certain things "only men were supposed to do." But that's not the case.

"Don't be afraid to speak up and speak out and stand up for yourself," said Lafferty. "Once you do it a few times it gets easier."

Her grandmother, Alice Lafferty, raised her.

"She taught me patience. She taught me unconditional love," said Lafferty, who cites her grandmother as her greatest influence.

"She grew up in the bush. She was tough."

Lafferty's second book, this time a work of fiction called Land, Water, Sky, will be available in spring 2020. 

With files from Chantelle Bellrichard, Jessica Deer, Rhiannon Johnson, Sidney Cohen, Paul Tukker and Jamie Malbeuf

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