It was to be my second time going to a Quebec Native Women’s Association Annual General Assembly Banquet. Once again my mother extended an invitation to attend and this time was special. It was the 20th anniversary of the Quebec Native Women’s Association. People from all parts of Canada gathered to join in this celebration of Quebec Native women.

Leading with an opening prayer was Mrs. Mosher, a respected Ojibway Elder from Sudbury, Ontario way. Not only has she been involved with the Native Women of Ontario but Mosher is the founder and director of Cedar Lodge. Cedar Lodge is a said to be a Native place of holistic family healing.

We all then sat down to a great meal and great company. We were seated with other Crees from the Bay. On-hand were Bella Nancy Mianscum, Diane Reid, Ella Gunner, Flora and Marlene Kitchen for the festivities.

The association’s first guest speaker was Janis Walker, the president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada as well as a band councillor in a Nova Scotia First Nation. When she spoke you knew that Bill C-31 didn’t satisfy the needs of Native women. Looking discreetly around the room I quickly saw that her message wasn’t falling on deaf ears.

Madame Jeanne Blackburn, Quebec’s Minister of Income Security as well as Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, spoke rather eloquently and then started talking in her conclusion about Quebec’s sovereignty. I glanced around trying to assess how the audience was reacting. I must admit more than a few looked wide awake. I heard an “oh, God,” and seen one lady putting her translation earphones down. I can only hope that no “faux pas” was committed by this PQ platform-plugging member.

Next was a Native woman who I had the great pleasure to hear once more, called Mary Two Axe-Early. She is best known for her war against the Indian Act’s membership section. Part of the section said that since Mary Two Axe-Early and other Native women had the audacity to fall in love with a non-Native or non-status Indian, they would lose their status. Because of this Two Ax-Early was barred from living on the reserve.

She used to say that if a dog died, it could be buried on her home reserve but she wouldn’t be allowed even that privilege. Mary Two Axe-Early has a long history of being a champion of Native women’s rights and helped in organizing the Quebec Native Women’s Association.

Other speakers included Jeannette Corbiere-Lavell, an Ojibway-Odawa from Wikemikong Unceded Reserve on Manitoulin Island who is the director of the North American Indian Travelling College at Awkesasne First Nation, and Nellie Carson from out west.

Later on I had the pleasure of dancing with Nellie Carson. I found her to be a delightful woman.

Awards were given out to all the past presidents beginning in historical order since the founding of the Quebec Native Women’s Association in July of 74.

They started with Margaret Horn from Kanawake. As well as being the first president she was one of the founders. The aim was to make a non-discriminatory association representing all Native women in Quebec. Regardless of whether or not a Native woman was on the Indian Affairs official Indian lists she could come and join the Quebec Native Women’s Association.

Sylvia Watso is often credited with saying, “There is neither revolution nor evolution without women getting involved.” Mrs. Watso comes from Odanak and replaced Margaret Horn to become the second president.

The third president was also a founding member from Belletere, Abitibi. Collette Gosselin made fighting against discrimination and injustices against Native women her priorities.

She was followed by Monique Sioui from Odanak. During her period in power a Mrs. Georgette O’Bomsawin designed the association’s logo. A survey to determine knowledge and attitudes concerning the Indian Act. Nearly 500 Natives participated. Over 360 of them were women. Most of the respondents thought the Indian Act couldn’t be changed.

Another Odanak resident Evelyne O’Bomsawin became president in 1977. An inquiry was also launched concerning living conditions on reserves and researching health services to Natives. Not only was there a lack of communication and discrimination but the association uncovered instances of forced sterilization of Native peoples. The Native Women’s Association began insisting that interpreters be used in hospitals.

Only curiosity brought Mashteuiatsh resident Bibianne Courtois to an association meeting. She left it as a member of the board of directors and went on to become the sixth president in 1983. Her mandate was to work faster on changingthe Indian Act.

She also wanted guarantees that the Canadian Constitution’s statement of the equality of women apply to Native women as well. Mrs. Courtois was aware of the inequalities Natives have lived in an urban environment, having lost her status by marriage.

During her tenure a socio-economic committee was formed. The purpose of the committee was to handle the family violence among Native families and to look at the question of employment for Native women.

Michelle Rouleau carried on her predecessor’s hardworking steps. Now the mandates included doing something about the problems of violence in the Native environment and to develop protection services. Enlightening government and Native politicians to the reality of Native women’s living conditions and problems related to family violence were part of the association’s aims. They were on their way an expanded role as a social conscience. During this time the Quebec Native Women’s Association was offered a non-voting seat by the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec.

The present president, Jackie Kistabish, is Algonquin. Her forte is expanding on Native women’s needs at a grassroots level. Accomplishments during her tenure included Native daycares going up in the communities.

These aren’t all the things that the Quebec Native Women’s Association has been involved in. It is nevertheless an impressive list just on its own. Thoughout this banquet I learned a lot about the accomplishments of the association as well as had fun.

I hope the next 20 years sees more of the same and happy anniversary to all of Quebec’s Native women.