Progress of Indigenous Women

March 7, 2018 - 12:55pm Updated: March 8, 2018 - 8:30am

International Women’s Day was started by the Suffragettes movement in the early 1900s, with the earliest celebration occurring in 1911.

In particular there was outrage over a factory fire causing multiple deaths in New York in 1908. The cry for “Bread and Roses” is symbolic. The Roses represent women’s desire for better working conditions, and the bread represents the call for sustainable wages so as to be able to feed the families. Now, this day is celebrated every year in March worldwide to acknowledge the contribution of women. Each of us can play a purposeful role in the progress of women. 

With respect especially to the needs of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis women, one way that we can work to advance this progress is by engaging immigrants into this dialogue.

As a South Asian immigrant woman, I have learned to appreciate the distinct strengths and values of Indigenous women in Canada, as well as the distinct needs and problems they face. 

The most challenging factor for immigrant women is finding the time to learn about other cultures.  Encouragement will help newcomers find the time. When I first moved to Canada, in 2002, options were limited for me and engaging with others was tough. I had little time to learn about the Canadian culture in general, let alone Indigenous cultures. But as I became more involved with the community for the last 14 years in Ontario, I realized I was not educated enough about their cultures in Canada. When looking to settle down in a new land, it is often easy to forget to learn about the Indigenous peoples.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada called for providing better information for newcomers about the history of the diverse Indigenous peoples of Canada (Call to Action #93, second last, but not least!).

More education is needed to give new Canadians a better understanding of Indigenous cultures and to engage them in Indigenous issues. This education is imperative so that new Canadians better serve Indigenous peoples and become involved in supporting the progress of Indigenous women. The immigrant’s participation during this process will make a significant difference in the community, and is absolutely necessary for reconciliation.

In my case, the challenges of raising a family, finding a job, and learning to understand the system, deterred me from learning about Indigenous peoples, societies, and cultures. But I now realize that it is extremely important to encourage newcomers to Canada’s society to understand and appreciate the role of Indigenous cultures in shaping Canada’s heritage, and connecting Canadian society to the land. Of course, this is not just important for newcomer Canadians, but for all Canadians as well.

Racism remains prevalent in Canada, even for a fast-paced developed society, despite past efforts from the people who broke barriers for change, activists such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Unfortunately, women often end up being the target of racist attacks. South Asian immigrants need to do more to learn about the oppression of Indigenous peoples, to understand Indigenous cultures and values, and to stand with Indigenous women in the fight against racism, violence, and discrimination.

In my experience, many of my South Asian peers were not familiar with the cultural values or norms associated with Indigenous societies.

Thankfully, the children of South Asian families are educated about the history and culture of Indigenous peoples growing up in Canadian schools. However, those of us who immigrated as adults have to go out of our way to educate ourselves. It is imperative for dialogue to open up, and for public education for newcomer adults to include learning about Indigenous societies, history, cultures, and present conditions.

After moving to Treaty 6 territory two years ago, I was shocked to witness the challenges Indigenous people face, especially the women. Educating ourselves will help us newcomers to assist in the eradication of oppression of Indigenous peoples, especially within the judicial system, rooted in racism within Canadian society. As South Asians have our own history of strong advocates for change, like Gandhi, we are natural allies in the battle against oppression of Indigenous Canadians.

Oppressed Indigenous women can make progress this International Women’s Day, through raising awareness of their problems among the public, and by setting goals to work towards. The thematic discussion of this special day in March provides vast scope to discuss many issues affecting women. The physical limitations of poverty, violent acts against women, damage to self-esteem through the effects of negative media portrayals and stereotypical remarks, are all problems requiring attention in our shared struggle for equal rights.

Awareness can be increased through social media: sharing and posting, on various platforms, about issues affecting women. Raising awareness online is one way to help spread the word and give these issues the attention they deserve.

Working as a legal professional in Prince Albert, I witness everyday the circumstances Indigenous people go through within the community.  There are many ways that we all can become a part of the solution. Through the use of grassroots organizations, we have an opportunity to address the problem of oppression in Canada. By reaching out in the local community to raise awareness of the issues affecting Indigenous peoples and vulnerable members of society, we can journey towards realizing real solutions. Such a journey will be well worth the effort.   

We can engage the immigrant population on a grassroots level to become active participants in this journey. For example, a sizeable portion of immigrants have a preconceived notion that jury duty may be a risk to their lives. We need to educate newcomers that in Canada, this is simply not true.

At this time, we need everyone to participate in their local community and put their best foot forward, so that our nation, Canada, will feel like a home, rather than a house.

As a step in the right direction, our generation must confront the shame and tragedy of racism, in order to end the marginalization of Indigenous women.  Newcomers from South Asia and other parts of the world, especially those of us who are visible minorities, can play a role in raising awareness this International Women's Day.

Let’s make International Women's Day this March 8, 2018 a successful one by engaging immigrants to take action and transform the lives of Indigenous women!

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