Indigenous

'We stand behind you 100%': Female First Nations leaders voice support for Jody Wilson-Raybould

Female chiefs and First Nations leaders from across B.C. are voicing their support for former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould after her testimony before the House of Commons justice committee on Wednesday.

Women at Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs meeting send message of support

A group of First Nations women rallied at a Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs meeting in Vancouver Thursday to send a message of support to former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC )

Female chiefs and First Nations leaders from across B.C. are voicing their support for former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould after her testimony before the House of Commons justice committee on Wednesday.

On Thursday, a group of 21 women attending a Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs meeting in Vancouver, including elected and hereditary chiefs, gathered to send a collective message to Wilson-Raybould.

"We stand behind you 100 per cent. Jody, you are from here and you are part of us and we fully support you and I think what you did yesterday was brave," said Cheryl Casimer, a Ktunaxa woman and member of the First Nations Summit executive.

"When she spoke, particularly her comment at the end about coming from a long line of matriarchs and that she was going to continue to be who she is, I think that's the statement that's going to go down in history."

Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould arrives to give her testimony about the SNC-Lavalin affair before a justice committee hearing on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday. (Lars Hagberg/AFP/Getty Images)

In her highly anticipated testimony on Wednesday, Wilson-Raybould recounted what she described as a well-orchestrated campaign by senior members of the Prime Minister's Office to pressure her to reach an agreement with SNC-Lavalin to help the engineering firm avoid criminal prosecution.

She told the committee that she believes the sustained pressure was inappropriate and amounted to "political interference" but that it wasn't illegal.

'I was so proud'

As Wilson-Raybould took her seat before the committee in Ottawa Wednesday, First Nations leaders from around B.C. were sitting in the Musqueam community centre, gathered for a Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs meeting. After their break for lunch they delayed further agenda items to watch Wilson-Raybould begin her opening statement.

Many of those in the room would be familiar faces to the Vancouver Granville MP, including relatives from her Kwakwaka'wakw nation and people she would have worked with during her time with the B.C. Treaty Commission and as regional chief with the Assembly of First Nations.

"I watched the testimony yesterday and I was so proud," said Elaine Alec, the women's representative for the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

Alec said she was particularly proud of how Wilson-Raybould testified on her own terms, setting an example for other women in leadership.

The lights were dimmed and meetings put on hold briefly on Wednesday at a Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs meeting so people could watch part of Wilson-Raybould's testimony. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

"They give you five minutes, you let them know you're going to have 30," said Alec, in reference to Wilson-Raybould's request for an extended period of time to make her opening statement.

Looking forward, women at the union meeting said they will be watching for what other information comes out around the SNC-Lavalin matter, and for the way the prime minister and members of the Liberal government treat Wilson-Raybould.

"I believe Trudeau has a lot of questions to answer," said Kukpi7 Judy Wilson.

She was among the people who stayed late after the meeting on Wednesday to watch Trudeau's public response to Wilson-Raybould's testimony in which he said he did not agree with the account of events as described by the former attorney general. 

But for the women speaking in support of Wilson-Raybould, they've made up their mind about whose version of events they believe.

"Jody is not a politician, she's a leader — there's a big difference," said Casimer.

"What I expect is that she be treated with the grace and dignity that she's afforded."

Before meetings resumed Thursday following the lunch break, the women gathered and sang the women's warrior song.

Bob Chamberlin, vice-president of UBCIC, rallied people to send a video message to Wilson-Raybould.

"Puglaas rocks, Puglaas rocks," they shouted, a reference to Wilson-Raybould's Kwak'wala name, which translates to "woman born to noble people" in English.

About the Author

Chantelle Bellrichard is a reporter with CBC's Indigenous unit based in Vancouver. Email her at chantelle.bellrichard@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter @pieglue.