Gender Equality Week Feature: BCAFN Staff

Posted: September 22, 2020

Tag(s): First Nations Women

Gender Equality Week

Celebrating First Nations Women: BCAFN Staff

How do you see the role of women and gender-diverse individuals in your community and how is it evolving?

Sophia Iliopulos
I think that many women, 2SLGBTQQIA+ individuals, and people of colour (POC) have a lot in common: we have worked over generations to advocate and fight for equal rights to that of our counterparts as a result of a tumultuous history of oppression. I think history has shown us that these actions move great lengths when we are a community full of a diverse set of perspectives and rich with allies.

I believe that both at the global level all the way to the local level, humanity is reaching a turning point and that the concept of equality, and the policy and legislative frameworks working to advance this equality, are genuinely shifting in an inclusive direction. 

There is no coincidence that an unprecedented number of women, 2SLGBTQQIA+ and POC are entering into leadership roles as community leaders and are reaching as far as high political offices where they have the power to be effective changemakers. This representation is key to keeping the momentum alive.

Diverse leadership at the community and global level is on the rise and I am so excited to not only be a part of that change, but to see the strides we all make for our future generations. 

What inspires and motivates you in the day to day?

Maureen Buchan
My children inspire me every day. They motivate me to be more patient, and to be more present. Often as a single working mother, the details and the pressure to provide and to work and to contribute can become all encompassing, so when I pick my children up from school or when I wake them up in the morning, it provides moments for me to re-center myself, put my phone down and to focus my energy and effort on their happiness and their needs. This refocusing has provided space for me to be thoughtful, considerate, and attentive. We get to connect and bond over mundane and exciting things, making pancakes or watching “Friends” or working our way through homework together. Having a daughter has also brought special attention and care to the efforts I place in raising a strong, resilient indigenous woman. There are distinct cross sections of knowledge, learning and experience in my work life that have informed how I raise my daughter and I bear witness to this daily. 

Joanna Prince
Hearing about mistreatment of women on jobsites is very upsetting that this is still happening and often these women get pushed out because they don’t have anyone in their corner to support and ensure their rights are met. But I am also inspired that communities recognize gender roles for their strengths within the community and some matriarchal led communities are returning to this traditional practice recognizing that gender roles have specific purposes within their community and acknowledge these gifts/blessings from their birth, to their rights of passage and into their adult years.

What has been a challenge you have experienced as an Indigenous woman, and how did you work through, or overcome this challenge?

Maureen Buchan
A challenge I have confronted as an Indigenous woman was the experience of lateral violence and harassment. This was a hard and challenging experience as the dynamics of the situation I was placed in were difficult and the possible consequences of any action could have resulted in hardships for me and my family. In overcoming this challenge, it was clear to me that I needed support. I placed confidence in a few others to share my story and we were able to confront and address the challenge. I learned many lessons from this and one of the more important lessons was that it taught me the need for a small but strong support system of fellow Indigenous women who understand, support and love me. Having these connections and friendships is very significant in keeping me grounded and helping me navigate life and all the ups and downs that come with it.

Annette Schroeter
I have experienced an amazingly full and diverse working, social and cultural life that I believe would have been much narrower and small without the deeply rooted presence of other women. Periods of my life have been frustrating and emotionally fraught with occasional barriers and rejections that were thrown my way, but I learned to take the time to accept, reassess and then pivot and try new roles or experiences. As a result, my life has been an adventure and I’m so grateful to the many women who have come, and sometimes gone, in my life, and who took the time to take me under their wing and provide teachings and mentor me. So many women - friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances who supported me and lifted me up and who gave me the strength, courage and motivation to push myself through some tough periods… but who also celebrated with me when I overcame hurdles. One of the most important and profound actions that a woman could undertake for a joyful life, and which will profoundly influence your choices, is to develop and cultivate a wide network of women and imbed them into your life as a web of constant interactions. Open yourself to the friendships, teachings and support that will help steer the course as you paddle your canoe.

How do you practice self-love, self-respect, and self-care?

Maggie Mills
I practice self-care by ensuring that I set aside time to interact with other women and members of the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community. Spending time with other people who have similar lived experience is something that I find rejuvenating; honouring others is crucial to feeding my emotional wellness and propels me on my own journey. At same time, solitude is an important component of my self-care practices. Solitude allows me to reflect on my values, actions and engage in introspective writing which sometimes takes the form of poetry. I ensure to be gentle and kind with myself during this process as an affirmation of self-love and respect. Other ways that I try to respect myself and the land that I live on by making a concerted effort to eat with the seasons and connect with nature as much as possible.

Can you share some words of encouragement to other women and 2SLGBTQQIA+ individuals?

Maggie Mills
Words of encouragement that I would share with other women and 2SLGBTQQIA+ individuals are that you are always enough. Sometimes, people in these groups, myself included, struggle with not feeling woman enough, queer enough, femme enough… the list goes on. You are exactly how you are supposed to be. Of course, it is healthy to engage in personal development, but I believe that sometimes personal development and identity can become conflated. Your identity is never something that needs workshopping. It may be something that changes naturally over time; however, you are not obligated by any means to fit into a neat box cut out for you by society, friends or family!

How can men become allies and practically support gender equity?

Joanna Prince
Men can ensure they are not bystanders when hearing other men/boys put women down or mock them for being a woman/girl. Each gender typically has strengths that should be honoured and men have been "protectors" of their families and friends. We need to welcome this practice and remind those that have not been accustomed to a "gender equality" approach that comes from respect and honouring one another. These men have sisters, daughters, aunties, mothers and grandmothers and need to acknowledge that ill-treatment of women has a ripple effect that can impact generations.

Sarah Froese
It is important to acknowledge that the struggle for gender equity is not just a woman’s issue that can siloed or made the sole responsibility of special teams of advocates. Gender equity is an all-of-society issue that impacts everyone, and when women and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people experience equity, everyone will be better off. I think people can become allies by doing the sometimes-difficult work of staying connected with yourself – your true identity and working though our own experiences. On the other hand, being rooted in our identity helps us to see everyone as fellow humans and have greater empathy. So often, hurtful behaviour directed at others can mean there is more going on underneath the surface. I think we need to balance care and compassion for one another in light of this, but also ensure we hold people accountable for their words and actions. This means calling out discrimination, racism, sexism, and lateral violence in respectful ways, in particular if you are in a position of power.

Check out the BCAFN staff biographies here

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