A new series of workshops for indigenous women in Fort Smith hopes to challenge colonial structures and empower women leaders through reclaiming traditional cultural knowledge.
The set of four workshops, scheduled to take place July 13-16 at Uncle Gabe’s Friendship Centre in Fort Smith, is intended to weave a web of support and begin to break the hold of colonization on indigenous women’s relationships and positions in the community.
“We hope that the project empowers our female participants to contemplate, reflect on and possibly change their own ideas on their cultural, economic, political and social participation in their communities, as matriarchs and as present and/or future leaders,” said Veronica Johnny, who is coordinating the workshops along with Uncle Gabe’s youth coordinator Amy Harris.
“Basically we see ourselves as discussing the rightful place of women as the matriarchs and leaders of our families and communities.”
The workshops will run from 6-10 p.m. each night, beginning with a feast and followed by discussion, reflection and time for artistic expression, whether it be through writing, music or visual art.
Johnny said the workshops will meld cultural knowledge with life skills development, with the intent to spread healing and empowerment by dealing with topics of grief and anxiety through drumming, learning about the traditional full moon ceremony and other sacred teachings.
“I think a lot of healing can be accomplished through ceremony and I just wish there was more of it in Smith,” Johnny said.
“The whole point of the workshop is to change our thinking from the way that colonial structure has influenced us. Part of the healing and the reconciliation has to do with getting back to old ways of thinking, and part of those old ways of thinking is understanding women’s place as a leader within our families and our communities,” she said.
Though the workshops will prioritize indigenous women and girls, Johnny said anyone is welcome, including men. She hopes to make it an annual event.
For more information or to sign up, contact Amy Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org. Space is limited.
Funding for women’s initiatives
The Fort Smith workshop is being funded in part by a women’s initiative grant from the territorial government.
Ten $5,000 grants were doled out to projects across the NWT, including a women’s retreat program by the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, yoga classes at Gameti’s Jean Wetrade school, capacity building for the Norman Wells Metis Women’s City, Status of Women Council programming, a Men for Change web portal, and a healing workshop for youth affected by intergenerational trauma from residential schools, to be led by the Healing Drum Society this fall.
“These projects are crucial at this time, given our understanding of the impacts of residential schools and the ongoing systematic devaluing of Aboriginal women,” said NWT Premier Bob McLeod. “The Women’s Initiatives Grants provide funding to community organizations, which is one piece of the GNWT’s ongoing commitment to addressing violence against women, particularly Aboriginal women and girls.”