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Three leaders who embody International Women’s Day | Naomi Sayers

Friday, March 06, 2020 @ 8:53 AM | By Naomi Sayers

Naomi Sayers %>
Naomi Sayers
This International Women’s Day, a day started to celebrate women’s global achievements, is Sunday March 8. Sometimes, success and achievements look different for many. For me, success and achievements mean resisting interlocking systems of oppression to achieve greater equality, not just for women but for those who will come after us. Some of the women at the top of my mind during this day include these three inspiring Indigenous women:

Jody Wilson-Raybould

She is known as the first Indigenous justice minister in Canada, an incredible achievement. This title did not come without its controversies. She resigned from cabinet in February 2019, just a few days after allegations about the Prime Minister’s Office pressuring her into help SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution. Prior to holding this position, she created the Attorney General of Canada’s Directive on Civil Litigation Involving Indigenous Peoples. She elucidates on this directive in her most recent book From Where I Stand containing her speeches as a leader throughout nearly the past decade. When she resigned from cabinet, I was inspired by her decision to stick to her principles and values, and more plainly, her commitment to integrity, doing the right thing no matter the consequences.

Cindy Blackstock

Cindy Blackstock is the leader of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. She is a member of the Gitxsan First Nation and she has over 30 years of experience working in child welfare and Indigenous children’s rights. The society is one of two Indigenous organizations taking on Canada to hold Canada accountable for its inequitable funding practices and treatment of First Nations children. From the society’s website, “The complaint alleges that the government of Canada had a long-standing pattern of providing less government funding for child welfare services to First Nations children on reserves than is provided to non-Aboriginal children.”  

During this case, the Canadian government spied on Cindy; meanwhile, the numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people continue to grow. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal held that Canada must pay the maximum limit of damages allowed under its statute for “wilful and reckless discriminatory conduct” and for pain and suffering from the discriminatory conduct. The Justice Department is looking to settle through negotiations.

Angelique EagleWoman

Angelique was the first Indigenous woman dean of a law school in Canada. Presumably, she is not, however, the first Indigenous woman to leave a job due to constructive dismissal and racial discrimination. She left this post after issues relating to “systemic discrimination and a toxic work environment.” Her lawyer states that the university was “quick to publicize her appointment with donors and the media but was ‘less active in actually supporting her in the position.’ ”

As an Indigenous woman regularly invited to contribute to projects or sit on boards, I can objectively say that institutions regularly benefit from their relationships with Indigenous people, particularly Indigenous women, but provide very little support in their role. She states in another article from June 2019, “There are many Indigenous women professionals who have faced difficult and distressing employment situations that they left or were forced out of.”

She is currently a visiting professor of law at Mitchell Hamline School of Law and is a board member for the Minnesota American Indian Bar Association (Indian is a term regularly used in the States). 

There are many more Indigenous woman lawyers who are doing important work every single day in communities across this country in both cities and smaller communities. I recognize and honour all the ways in which Indigenous women continue to fight for their communities, all the mothers, daughters, aunties, sisters and warrior women providing love, care and support in our own unique ways.

Naomi Sayers is an Indigenous lawyer from the Garden River First Nation with her own public law practice. She is also an adjunct professor at Algoma University, teaching primarily on Indigenous rights and governance issues. She tweets under the moniker @kwetoday.

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