There was little room for consensus last week when the Assembly of First Nations convened in Kahnawake.
AFN National Chief Matthew Coon Come wasted no time in lambasting the recently tabled First Nations Governance Act, claiming it ignores the priorities of First Nations, such as poverty and unemployment.
Michelle Audette is likely to agree. As an aboriginal woman in Canada, however, her battle is taking place on two fronts. Michelle is a member of Quebec Native Women. The group was originally founded in 1974 to denounce the inherent sexual discrimination of the former Indian Act. In 1985 the group decided to focus its energies more on family violence within the community – a shift marked by Statistics Canada research which revealed over 80 percent of the women in the Aboriginal community were affected by it.
“We’re also focusing on judicial issues to ensure that women are included in the justice system at every level,” she added. Almost 20 years later, she feels little has changed apart from plain old semantics. “Last spring [federal Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault] told us that it would be impossible to include women’s issues because it was too hard and that it would take too much time,” she said.
Later that year in July they took their grievances to the AFN, and left with mixed results.
“We told them that the minister was rejecting our claims, and we’re looking to improve our situation… They didn’t really say yes or no to what we proposed, but the standing ovation we received after speaking was like consensus; that they would include us in any process. Not only Native women, but any movement that exists across Canada.” Despite the Native community’s increasingly volatile relationship with Ottawa, Michelle feels that there has been significant progress within her community. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Assembly’s decision to adopt a strategy denouncing the Governance Act – with women’s interests firmly in place.