Gender Equality Week
Celebrating First Nations Women: Dr. Gwendolyn Point
Dr. Gwendolyn Point holds a BEd from UBC, an MEd from the University of Portland, a Doctorate in Education from SFU, and an honorary doctorate from UVic. Dr. Point has also held a number of provincial government and regional posts supporting education, child and family services, and First Nations communities. She is a respected Stó:lõ leader, mentor, and cultural advisor who has contributed her cultural knowledge and experience to numerous books, conferences, workshops, and communities, and earned many accolades and awards. She currently sits on the AFN Knowledge Keepers Council for the BC region.
Read Dr. Point's full bio here
Can you talk a little bit about what you see your role as, and what you are currently up to, and share about some of the roles other women in your family have?
I have been the BCAFN knowledge keeper for four, now going on 5 years. When I began this role the position had the title of “elder” and I didn’t feel like this was appropriate for me because I still had an aunt, an uncle, and a mother in law who were the elders in our family. I didn’t want to step ahead of them. I’m happy with the change to “knowledge keeper”.
Honestly, I have learned so much in this role. There is so much good work being done regionally, provincially, and nationally. My background is in education, where I’ve worked for over 30 years. First Nations are underrepresented in all the professions and it is true in education. Early in my career I was one of three support teachers/staff in a whole school district. I’ve felt alone and like I was the only one who understood the importance of our language and culture, and I had to help everyone else understand this. Today, sitting at the national knowledge keepers council, it is an honour to witness this sacred work. Work is sacred in our language. I’m proud to offer support – moral support, education, encouragement, and a voice for our traditions.
How do you see the role of women in your community evolving?
This is a highlight. In many of our communities in Stó:lõ territory the role of women has come back full force. At one time if you married, women had to move to their husband’s community, resulting in displacement. When I married, my family didn’t want me to move, but I had to. INAC transferred my name from the band list after three years. Today our women have a choice.
Many years later I was asked to move to my home community. But after two generations, I decided to stay where I was. I didn’t want my family to be displaced again. In the case of my daughters, their husbands have come to join them here too. I still go home to my community to do ceremony, though, where I have been appointed as a leader in my family.
Another thing I have seen is that sometimes people view it as a negative thing when relationships and marriages don’t last. But from speaking with young women, I understand that sometimes this relationship breakdown is because the relationship is not healthy or is even abusive, and that these women have had the support and agency to leave. It is good for our women, and men as well, to have the choice to do what they need to do for their own health and safety.
What inspires and motivates you in the day to day?
My grandchildren and great grandchildren inspire me. They are also motivating. I have had a front seat to the work that’s been done and the difference it has made in their lives. My generation is lucky to be here after all we have been through, and we have lost many. I have lots of hope for the future. My daughter says, “As a First Nations mother, hearing my son and daughter saying they are proud to be First Nations is music to my ears”.
How do you practice self-love, self-respect, and self-care?
I wasn’t taught how to receive growing up, because of the unstable realities and attacks on our identity. But I was taught how to work, and I grew up in the berry fields alongside my parents. Through this, I learned to take care of myself and be responsible. This naturally progressed to taking care and initiative for my own health – my mind, body, and spirit.
I exercise every day. I eat well – you don’t need a lot of food, but you need the right food. Our traditional foods are the best, and we don’t require excess salt and sugar. Rest is also important. It is important to be prayerful in our lives. I learned this from elders who taught me ceremony
But the notion of self-love was a challenge for me when I was younger. I went from a band school to a public school where I experienced racism and discrimination. In grade 8 I was hurt, angry, and ashamed of being Indian. Going to university I studied everything about our people in every course I took and learned the recent about the recent colonial history. I was able to realize how strong and courageous our elders and parents were and they were not afraid to do what they needed to do to survive. This gave me back my pride. I compare this to the photos of my graduation from UBC, where I wore traditional regalia. I encourage everyone to remember and don’t give up on your cultural traditions as you go to school.
Can you share some words of encouragement to other women and 2SLGBTQQIA+ individuals?
I say, “thank you” to parents who are supporting their children to live into their true gender identities. “Thank you for supporting your child to be who they were meant to be.”
Too many people have been lost because they could not be who they were meant to be. My grandmother said that we have always had two-spirit and gender diverse people in our communities, and that these people have a special gift. In fact, everyone has a gift, and we will only realize this gift if people can be who they were meant to be. If women leaders are held back, for example, we also lose out on this gift. We must encourage everyone to live in their identities, which also comes with responsibility. We all have a responsibility to take care of ourselves, families, and those around us, and be generous with our knowledge.