A new federal accord recognizing the Native Women’s Association of Canada as “full participants in decision-making processes” was inked in Ottawa Friday by Crown-Indigenous Relations minister Carolyn Bennett and member representatives of the association.
According to Bennett and NWAC president Francyne Joe, the deal represents an important plank in the federal government’s reconciliation process with Canada’s indigenous people and allows NWAC to “assist the development and design process of programs, services, policies and laws.”
“It’s very exciting, this is a major event for the native women of Canada,” said Mabel Brown, association director for the Northwest Territories. “I’m so happy that this has happened after doing a lot of work for people who have been affected.”
Brown said that violence against indigenous women and girls has impacted many families in the territories and she hopes the accord will bring some positive changes.
“Now that we’ve reached this far, now we can work on the younger people and bringing more education opportunities,” Brown said. “The accord has been signed and there’s hopefully going to be more funding available for more social programs for the region.”
Joe declined to discuss past acrimony between the Ottawa and the NWAC and described the accord as a fresh start.
“Today is the start of a new relationship with this government,” Joe told NNSL. “This is where Indigenous women, girls and diverse peoples will now be sitting at the tables discussing those issues that are affecting us, as individuals and as communities and nations.”
“At this point, we want to discuss how this government is now listening to Indigenous women’s voices,” she said.
According to Justice department statistics, Indigenous women and girls make up four per cent of the population but account for 10 per cent of all missing women in Canada. On the flip-side, Indigenous women represent 38 per cent of all women incarcerated in Canada.
In an interview, Bennett said the accord will allow Indigenous women to play an active role in “being the voice for grass roots, coast-to-coast-to-coast.”
“It’s really about the Native Women’s Association developing their strategic plan in terms of the health and well-being of Indigenous women and girls and gender diverse across the country,” said Bennett.
Under her government’s rubric of gender equity, Bennett also views economic development, particularly mining in the North, “and those non-traditional jobs for women” as one way to improve outcomes for Indigenous women. “It’s huge and I think this is what president Joe is really focused on – economic empowerment, but it’s also training and education,” said Bennett. “It also means childcare, transportation back and forth to your community – all of these wraparound services that allow women to get the training or education to get those great jobs.”
Joe said violence against women is not just physical violence, “but social and economical violence.”
“We want to see women taking their rightful stance, taking on jobs that can create a better economic lifestyle for their children and themselves,” Joe said. “So that they no longer have to feel that they don’t have the power that we were all given naturally. So what we are going to see by the federal government is better programs, created by our own communities to address these needs.”