First Nation women I have met over the years in general have always impressed me. My earliest recollections of Native women are positive. My mom and my two sisters always seemed to be strong people who could pitch in and help when they were needed.

In my professional life as a writer, I have met so many strong and capable Native women. Many of our First Nation organizations feature the leadership of these women at all levels. I know many women Chiefs and I see the good work they are doing in communities right across Canada.

Recently, I met with some of these women leaders involved with the Temiskaming Native Women’s Support Group (TNWSG). These ladies are a force to be reckoned with. Over the years, they have worked together to create an incredible facility that offers all kinds of high-quality programs in Kirkland Lake and New Liskeard. I toured their Keepers Of The Circle daycare. I sure wish I had access to a program like this when I was a young child. I watched as children in several age groups played, sang and learned in a safe, Native-oriented daycare. I was impressed by the care of the qualified instructors and the positive feeling of the cozy and creative environment.

It felt really good to see little First Nation children and non-Native children exposed to and nurtured with Aboriginal culture and traditions. It made me feel so happy to see these young children being taught that they should be proud to be Aboriginal.

The facility, which features many learning tools and visual aids having to do with Native culture, is designed around concepts and teachings of the circle and the medicine wheel. A lot of thought was put into developing the facility and in particular the daycare centre.

Aboriginal women like Laura Jean Flood, Anne Batisse, Roberta Oshkawbewisens and Stephanie Wincikaby have been instrumental in developing the facility and its programs including: an early learning program, Canada prenatal nutrition program, diabetes prevention, health and wellness and life skills. Area First Nation women like these special ladies have produced a place where Aboriginal women can find support, life skills teachings and a safe learning environment for young children. It made my heart feel good to see my people taking care of each other. Women really are the backbone of the Aboriginal culture and here in Kirkland Lake and New Liskeard they have provided a shining example of what can happen when our grandmothers, mothers, daughters and sisters organize together.

These days strong First Nation women are making headlines with the courageous work they are doing right across the country. Women like Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence are letting the world know how difficult things are for Aboriginal people in remote First Nations right across Canada. Women Chiefs all across the country are helping to make their communities more successful and positive even in dire conditions. The work they are doing today will provide a better tomorrow for future generations. Aboriginal people really believe that our future generations will blossom and provide the leadership we need to face challenges in this new millennium.

Part of the reason of the successful development of First Nation women has to do with the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA). This not-for-profit organization was established in 1972 to empower and support Aboriginal women and their families in Ontario. ONWA has grown to develop into one of the most progressive Aboriginal organizations in Ontario with a head office in Thunder Bay and satellite offices in Kenora, Dryden, Sioux Lookout, Geraldton/Greenstone, Ottawa, Napanee and Hamilton. They have programs that include Aboriginal diabetes education, healthy babies-healthy children, Aboriginal justice, building Aboriginal women’s leadership, community health outreach, community wellness, employment and training, mental health demonstration, Nihdawain “My House – a place where I live”, policy and research and problem gambling awareness. The many First Nation women across the province belonging to ONWA work on the basis to keep grounded in Aboriginal culture, language and heritage. They believe it is important to share cultural teachings, teach the language and embrace family traditions and heritage. ONWA is also affiliated with the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

I would like to say Meegwetch to the strong and positive Aboriginal women we have working for us all across Canada. They are breaking the trail.