On Jan. 24, despite the freezing rain and slippery walkways, Francyne Joe gave a presentation at Mount Allison about the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC). Joe is the interim president of the NWAC and is from Shackan First Nation. Her presentation was the most recent iteration in the President’s Speaker Series’ Year of Indigenous Knowing.
Joe began her presentation by acknowledging that we were guests on the unceded territory of the Maliseet and Mi’kmaq people. She went on to describe what the NWAC is and what it does.
“Since 1974, the NWAC has been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada as a national organization representing Indigenous women across Canada,” Joe said. “We are the national voice that brings the concerns of our members to the political forefront both nationally and internationally.”
Joe said the NWAC mandate is to advance the well-being and equality of Indigenous women through advocacy, education, research and policy.
“In the past, the NWAC has advocated for voting rights for off-reserve women, C-31 status [a bill that amends the Indian act to follow principles of gender equality under the Canadian charter of rights and freedoms], rights of women who have married non-Indigenous men and lost their status, and for the missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW) and girls across Canada,” Joe said.
Some issues that the NWAC is still working on include MMIW, climate change, housing, education and health. “Indigenous women across this country, across Turtle Island, have been knowledge keepers, educators, healers, leaders, warriors and mothers,” she said.
Joe used an example of a recent trip to Whitehorse, YT to show how Indigenous women experience climate change and the economic hardships that accompany it.
Joe said she talked to some of the elders there and was told how climate change has affected their tanning and stretching of hides.
“It is not cold enough for it to help them and they are actually finding that it is leading to degradation of hides, which is then leading to less economic opportunity for the women up there.”
During her presentation, Joe not only talked about her work with Indigenous issues, but also about her personal experience, specifically about the effects of residential schools on her family.
“My uncle went to residential school at Saint George’s from the age of six until he left at age 17,” Joe said. “I did hear one time, when he had too much to drink, a story of what he went through and until then – I was nine – I did not understand the pain that he went through at Saint George’s.”
“It is hard when you are doing these types of events. What has made it easier is when you talk from the heart. I talk about my uncle and it is a tough talk, but it is real,” said Joe. “I am asking all people, especially Indigenous women, to use their voice[s]; say something and, if you can, participate in some sort of leadership role,” she continued.
“Each of us has a certain role and we need to keep our skills together – pass them onto our children. And if something isn’t right, say something. Use your voice.”