Though the idea of forming an organization to further women in terms of equality has been rattling around the Cree Nation for decades, the movement has now gained the means to move forward as a real entity.

The Cree Women of Eeyou Istchee Association (CWEIA) finally became incorporated last January, acquired funding and elected a new board of directors, and is now ready to carry out its mandate.

“We are starting out by promoting equal opportunities for women within the Cree Nation in everything from business, opportunities to work in politics and whatnot,” said Holly Danyluk, the association’s newly hired regional coordinator.

The group is modeled similarly to Quebec Native Women Inc., but is instead for Cree women in the north and will focus on the needs of the women of Eeyou Istchee. The idea is to further the advancement of Cree women and to provide them the tools to do so while also allowing a space for Cree women to voice their concerns.

This mandate will be carried out first by individual visits to each community that Danyluk will be making in the New Year to assess the needs of each individual community. This will be done through public meetings and the events will give the CWEIA the opportunity at the same time to increase its membership.

According to CWEIA president Doris Bobbish from Chisasibi, the incorporated association has been a long-time dream. Bobbish said that she has attended many annual meetings for the Cree women within Eeyou Istchee since the ’90s but the group did not have the mandate, goals or funding behind it that it does now.

The CWEIA will now be able to carry out its mission with the two-year funding agreement it was able to reach with the Grand Council of the Crees and Quebec Minister of Culture, Communications and the Status of Women.

Joining Bobbish on the board are vice-president Annie Mark Blacksmith from Mistissini, youth representative Judy Nakogee from Mistissini, and Elder representative Irene House from Chisasibi.

In order for the CWEIA to meet the needs of the community’s female Elders and draw on their wisdom, the association has also elected a specific Elder advisory committee that consists of Maria Kawapit of Whapmagoostui, Nancy Danyluk of Wemindji and Nellie House of Chisasibi.

The association is not only looking to further the lives of women in the Cree communities, it is also looking to champion two specific issues that affect their lives dramatically: birth in the communities and violence against women.

“In recent years there has been just too much violence in the community and the women want to make that change for the betterment of their children. There was the murder of Minnie Natachequan and her two sons in Whapmagoostui last year. This was one of the reasons for women to step up and take control of their lives and their children’s lives,” said Danyluk.

In light of this, the CWEIA will be looking at starting an anti-violence against women campaign as well as groups throughout the communities to support this endeavour and support women.

According to Bobbish, the association is presently working with the Cree Justice Committee and in the process of putting together a proposal to request funding to hold a symposium on violence.

Midwifery is another area that the CWEIA wants to explore, particularly in light of the proposed birthing clinic in Mistissini. The association has already passed a number of resolutions within the group and it has sent this to the Cree Health Board (CHB).

According to Bobbish, the CHB is going step by step at the moment to explore the feasibility of the pilot project.

The CWEIA will be attending a meeting in December with professionals who specialize in the area of midwifery and with Inuit groups that have managed to send members of their own communities for training so that they may drawn on their expertise, knowledge and experience.

“We want to bring out babies at home because we need to feel connected as parents and grandparents and Elder women, they all need to be involved,” said Bobbish.

For the time being the CWEIA is setting up a website so that members of the Cree Nation can fill out the forms to become full-fledged members. According to Danyluk, the site will be up and running in the next few months.

In the meantime, those looking for more information or to join the group can contact Holly Danyluk at , or call 819-684-1691 or join the CWEIA’s Facebook page.