Helping aboriginal women starts at home, college panel hears

Yukon College hosted a panel discussion this week on the subject of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

Yukon College hosted a panel discussion this week on the subject of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

Three aboriginal women living in the Yukon told the assembled crowd of about 50 people that pushing for a national inquiry is important, but so is fighting for change at home and in our communities.

The panelists were Nesta Hagar, a member of the Selkirk First Nation who works with the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre; Tosh Southwick, a member of the Kluane First Nation who is Yukon College’s director of First Nation initiatives;

and Angela Code, from Manitoba’s Sayisi Dene First Nation, who moved to Yukon at age 10 and now works for Bringing Youth Towards Equality.

Change starts with individuals, and challenging society’s perception of aboriginal women as less valuable, said Code.

She told the story of a Gwich’in friend who worked for a time at a gelato shop in Vancouver.

A frequent customer asked her, one day, about her ethnic background. “Are you Hispanic? Are you Asian or something?” he asked. And she told him she is Gwich’in.

“Right then, he changed his attitude, and all of a sudden, to him, this older white man, she became almost sexually available or something. He started hitting on her, whereas before when he thought that she was Asian or Hispanic, or whatever, he didn’t do that.”

Challenging that sort of attitude is crucial, said Code.

“The aboriginal peoples in this country is the fastest growing population, and if we don’t do things to empower aboriginal peoples and to support them and protect them, then we’re into a lot of challenge up ahead as a country.”

The important thing is to push for the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women to be at the forefront of Canadians’ minds, said Southwick.

“One of the things that we need to happen in terms of this conversation is for it to be happening regularly, not just with the politicians and the bureaucrats, but at our dinner tables, because it’s going to take all of us to solve it,” she said.

“It’s really scary out there. We’re raising our daughters, our nieces, our cousins, our granddaughters, in a reality where they are three times more likely to deal with this situation for no other reason than the fact that they are aboriginal.

“The considerations that my husband and I have to take into account with our daughter, because she’s First Nations that she faces such a reality, affects all of us. It affects my entire family, it affects my First Nation, it affects all my friends.”

Groups across the country, including all provincial and territorial governments, have asked Ottawa to hold a federal inquiry, an idea the Harper government has steadfastly opposed.

The panelists argued that an inquiry would not only generate discussion, it would come with resources for the groups tackling the problems and have broad implications for federal policy.

But waiting for an inquiry alone isn’t good enough, they said. There’s no reason why Yukon can’t lead the charge and start the discussion here.

“We need to be a united voice,” said Southwick. “All 14 First Nations need to say this is an issue and this how we want to move it forward. And that’s easy to do. If we can personalize it, and we can show that it’s relevant to all of us, and it affects all of us, and that it will continue to, it’s easy to unite the chiefs.

“One of the things I always say when I go Outside is, ‘Man, if we could do it in the Yukon, you guys had better be able to do it down here.’”

Making a change starts with individuals, in our families and in our communities, said Hagar.

We may think we only have one voice, but one voice can be like a mosquito in a dark room, she said.

“We have the power to absolutely change the world.”

And it starts with teaching our children, and learning to treat each other better, she said.

“It’s also really important that we empower each other, and not call each other down and be judgemental. We have to learn to love each other in society as men and women.”

Aboriginal men also have an important role to play, said Yukon filmmaker Dennis Allen, who was a member of the audience.

“As men, we have to start talking to our sons. My son is nine years old right now,” he said.

“It’s always uncomfortable as native people to talk about sex, to talk about anything that’s sensitive. We were trained – when you go back to residential school, that’s where it started – we were trained to be quiet, we were trained not to tell on anybody. We have to break out of that mould, especially as men.”

Changing the world takes individuals who are not afraid to speak up for what they believe in, the panelists said.

“Know that you are utterly important,” said Hagar.

Code mentioned the story of Malala Yousafzai, who was only 15 when members of the Pakistani Taliban shot her in the head for standing up for girls’ rights to go to school. Yousafzai was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy work.

If she can stand up to the Taliban in the face of real threats on her life, “What excuse do we have?” asked Code.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Wyatt's World for Oct. 28, 2020.
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Oct. 28.… Continue reading

Yukon Child Care Board chair Amy Ryder says the board could be playing a bigger role in childcare policy making if they had more financial support from the Yukon government. (Submitted)
Yukon Child Care Board asks for larger role in annual report

The board is asking for a larger budget to increase outreach and advice

Yukon’s clocks will no longer change in March and November but will remain permanently on Pacific Daylight Saving Time. (Courtesy Yukon government)
Off the clock: Yukon prepares to end seasonal time changes

Starting on Nov. 1 Yukon will be one hour ahead of Vancouver and two hours ahead of Alaska

Dawson City as scene from West Dawson. Art Webster, the vice-chair of the Dawson Regional Planning Commission resigned last month over the Yukon governments unwillingness to pause speculative staking. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Vice-chair resigns from Dawson land-use planning commission

NDP warns that not pausing mining activity is the road to a second Peel decision

The opening ceremonies of the Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg on July 28, 2017. The 2021 Canada Summer Games have officially been rescheduled for Aug. 6 to 21, 2022, exactly one year from the date the national competition was originally set to take place in the Niagara region of Ontario. (Canada Summer Games/Flickr)
Canada Summer Games dates set for 2022 but uncertainty remains for Yukon athletes

Yukon athletes continue waiting to get back into schools

A proposed Official Community Plan amendment would designate a 56.3 hectare piece of land in Whistle Bend currently designated as green space, as urban residential use. Whitehorse city council passed first reading on a bylaw for the designation change at its Oct. 26 meeting, prompting an upcoming public hearing on Nov. 23 ahead of second reading on Dec. 7. (Courtesy City of Whitehorse)
Local contractors will be given an advantage on a contract for the design and construction services that will see a new reception building at Robert Service Campground decided city councillors during the Oct. 26 council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local firms will get advantage on contract for new Robert Service Campground building

Yukon-based companies competing for contract for new reception building will receive 20 extra points

Fallen trees due to strong winds are seen leaning on to power lines which caused some power outages around the territory on Oct. 26. (Courtesy of ATCO)
Wind knocks out power around the Yukon

High winds on Oct. 26 knocked out power to Faro, parts of Whitehorse and beyond

The Yukon government is asking for all claims in a lawsuit over the Takhini elk herd be struck by the court. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Yukon government asks for Takhini elk lawsuit to be struck

The Yukon government is asking for all claims in a lawsuit over… Continue reading

The Yukon government has filed a reply to an outfitter’s petition challenging the reduction of its caribou quota to zero. (Yukon News file)
YG replies to outfitter’s legal challenge over caribou quota

The Yukon government has filed a reply to an outfitter’s petition challenging… Continue reading

The Yukon government is encouraging people to get the flu vaccine this year, saying that with COVID-19, it’s “more important than ever.” (Black Press file)
Get flu vaccine, Yukon government urges

The Yukon government is encouraging people to get the flu vaccine this… Continue reading

Benjamin Munn, 12, watches the HPV vaccine in 2013. Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available to all Yukoners up to, and including, age 26. Currently the program is only available to girls ages nine to 18 and boys ages nine to 14. (Dan Bates/Black Press file)
HPV vaccine will be available to Yukoners up to, including, age 26

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Most Read