ANTIGONISH: Five local Indigenous people were featured in the panel discussion “Learning Lodge: Honouring Indigenous Women” last week as part of International Women’s Week.
The event, which was hosted by the StFX Anthropology Department and the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services Association, took place at Immaculata Hall on March 6.
Devann Sylvester, of Membertou, a second-year StFX BEd student; Kashya Young, Eskasoni, the first Indigenous woman on the StFX Students Union; Jennifer Cox, Truro, lead commission counsel for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls; Karen Bernard, Eskasoni, resolution health support worker and council member with the Nova Scotia Advisory Council for the Status of Women; and Shane Bernard, Waycobah, who received the Nova Scotia medal of Bravery after pulling a man from a burning vehicle after a collision, all spoke about their personal journeys surrounding the traditions of honouring women.
As the panelist spoke, there was a common theme between each of their messages – building relationships are crucial – whether that’s with an individual, their family, friends, or anybody else in the world.
Cox, who has spent 25-years identifying as a Mi’kmaq lawyer and also served as counsel to the Minister of Justice at the Inquiry into the wrongful conviction of David Milgaard, wanted everyone to leave the discussion knowing the importance of relationship building.
“I’ve seen this with my own practice, as an Indigenous lawyer when I first started practicing law, we weren’t very popular with most of the law firms and legal aids, because they didn’t want to hire Indigenous lawyers,” she explained of having to move out West to find work. “When I came back, some of these folks would [now] hire me and I had an opportunity to work within the justice system here in Nova Scotia and have had the opportunity to get to know people.”
Cox has been able, through those relationships, to actually make changes and highlights one of those changes as being with the child welfare system.
She said relationship building is a crucial part because, pointing out that the poor treatment of Indigenous women and girls, and their families, was because nobody took the time to listen to them and there were no relationships in the community to support them.
“Going forward, one of the things that people need to do is be conscious of that relationship building,” Cox said. “Policies don’t change people, relationships do. Because at the end of the day, we can change all the laws, but until we start building relationships with each other, and we start communicating properly and showing each other the dignity that we should be showing each other, things aren’t going to change.”
For Young, it started within. When she thinks about her own journey as an Indigenous woman, she reflects upon her emotional, spiritual, and intellectual transformation.
“For me sisterhood has been the most positive and powerful influence on my journey into womanhood,” she said. “My sisters have had such a huge impact on my journey, simply being there for me, being honest with me about their experience and sharing their knowledge with me, [and] StFX has gifted me with sisters that I’ll have for a lifetime.”
The role of being a sister is something that has helped Young in many ways to become who she is today, has made her become accountable for who she is, and how she treats people.
“It has helped me embody the seven sacred teachings; love, courage, truth, honesty, humility, wisdom and respect,” she said. “Sometimes it feels like it’s you against the world – I’m here to tell you it’s important to fight back with love.”