History took place from June 20th through 22nd as the National Aboriginal Women’s Summit took place in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, bringing together a broad cross section of Aboriginal women including First Nation, Inuit and Métis with Premiers and governmental leaders from across Canada to develop an “Action Plan.” The conference, co-hosted by Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams and NWAC, entitled “Strong Women, Strong Communities” was aimed at redressing the political, social and economic disparities between Aboriginal women and all other Canadians.
Says Judy Hughes, President of the Saskatchewan Aboriginal Women’s Circle Corporation and the Saskatchewan branch of NWAC, “It was definitely a very historic meeting or should I say “herstoric” meeting because it was the first time that any of the governments sat down to collectively listen to aboriginal women’s issues.”
The forum was broken down into three themes: health, safety and wellness, being the first, equality, empowerment and strength and balance and honour but the talks were not just about identifying the problems within the communities. Says Hughes, “One of the purposes of the summit was so we could forge partnerships at all government levels, that meant federally, provincially, territorially and also with our Aboriginal government so we could work together on that and many of the issues that we spoke about.”
A number of key recommendations came out of the forum, in particular, the group’s key goal to end violence against Aboriginal women. The issue was discussed in terms of murdered and missing women, gangs and restorative justice. Says Hughes, “we recognised quite early into the conference that we had identified many issues so it was not a case of having to identify them, it was moving ahead on what we could do to better the life situation of Aboriginal women, children and families.”
Another key issue was matrimonial property and evictions, which the summit addressed as an equality right, human rights issue as it connects to violence later on down the road. Says Hughes, “We called for a moratorium on evictions because that is one of the things that have been happening. If there is a breakdown in the relationships or the death of a spouse who happens to be the first nations man, the woman is usually given an eviction notice or told to leave the home because her spouse is no longer there.” Women having to leave their homes or who are left in the predicament of having to relocate due to matrimonial property issues are left very vulnerable and, says Hughes, “it crosscuts into a number of issues for us.”
A number of new research areas were also established at the summit including gestational diabetes in Aboriginals, an area that has not seen much research previously, but is significantly on the rise.
Says Hughes, “another key message was that we wanted all of our governments to know how critical it was that Canada supports the UN forum on indigenous people.” Though the Aboriginal women’s groups met with various government members in regards to the UN recommendations and felt that some of the ministers on hand did support them, says Hughes, “they were more just listening, we did not get too much of a confirmation one way or the other.”
Those who attended the conference agreed to reconvene in eighteen months time to revisit the issues discussed in Corner Brook to examine what kind of progress has been achieved according to the framework of collective desires created at this past summit.
On a federal level, Bev Oda, federal minister for the status of women made an announcement that Ottawa would invest $56 million over five years for family violence prevention programs however the announced funding is slated for reserves only and not for the territories. Oda said that the funding will go to 35 existing shelters and to the construction of up to five new ones, but for the reserves systems only which the Inuit do not use.