Tag Archives: Women

Waves Of Controversy When Women Join Traditional Men’s Game

Female players in Meander River, Alta., practice. (Hilary Bird)

Female players in Meander River, Alta., practice. (Hilary Bird)

CBC News, May 08, 2016

The drum beat from ancient Dené songs play out of an iPhone. It is modern access to the traditional practice of hand games — a tradition that is evolving as more women are playing what is thought to be a man’s game.

Cassidy Lennie-Ipana, 13,  kneels on the floor and moves her body to the beat of the music. Her teacher sits in front of her and tries to guess which of her hands holds a tiny rock. Lennie-Ipana only learned this ancient game a few months ago.

“It’s fun to play. You could go for hours playing it. It’s just a guessing game so you never know. That’s what I like about it,” said the Inuvik teen.

Traditionally, eight men kneel side-by-side and face the opposing team. A dozen other men sit behind them, drumming and singing. The players arms wave and move in time with the music. But this hypnotic game has mainly been only for men.

In February, Lennie-Ipana flew with her team from Inuvik to Yellowknife to compete in the Northwest Territories Youth Traditional Games Championships.

Hand games controversy

While, on the surface this event may seem innocent, even cheerful, underneath, it’s extremely controversial. So controversial, the organization that put on these games, The N.W.T. Aboriginal Sports Circle, refused to speak to the CBC. But regardless they’ve sparked a dialogue once considered taboo.

This event marked one of the first times in the territory that women were invited to play.

Many Dené feel that women, especially those who have passed puberty, have special powers that can affect the way the game is played and also affect other hand game players.

“The ancient laws that we have, they’re there for our protection and to preserve our way of life and our existence. And when you start messing around with that then you’re in trouble,” said Dené National Chief Bill Erasmus.

“In English you call it a game. It’s a challenge. It’s a competition. It’s a way of people coming together. It’s very spiritual.”

Women and games

In northern Alberta, the territory of the Dené Tha, women in Meander River have been playing hand games for centuries.

Dené Tha elder Modeste Pierre, says it began when a neighbouring first nation, paddling by the community stopped to trade with the Meander Dené. The Meander Dené bet all of their possessions and even the community’s women on a hand game and lost.

Speaking in Slavey, Pierre says the women in the community, terrified of losing their freedom, pleaded with the other group to let them play for a chance to win everything back.

“The women used magic and their bodies moving to the drum beat distracted the other team. They won and saved the community,” said Pierre.

Since then, there have been women’s teams in this region and young women are encouraged to play.

“Sometimes we play against men so it was pretty cool to be a part of our culture and part of our tradition,” said Kathleen Barry.

Many Dené Tha teams play in tournaments in the Northwest Territories, however teams with women are not invited. Many in the North don’t even like talking about it even becoming a possibility.

“I think men just have excuses for everything when it comes to women,” said Barry.

“We’re the same as them. We’re all Dené. We’re all one.”

While the future of women in hand games in the NWT is much more uncertain, the passion and motivation is the same.

“These rules they bring people together they’re not meant to hurt or harm their meant to make us stronger,” said Erasmus.

Back in Inuvik, Lennie-Ipana says she knows about the ancient rules regarding women and the game.

But she says, regardless, she’s gained a new connection to a part of her heritage she never knew. A new connection to her ancestors that passed down these games centuries ago.


Women Fast To Raise Awareness About Kids In Child Welfare System


Women fast to raise awareness about kids in child welfare system

CBC News

Six women are going without food or water to raise awareness about the number of children in Manitoba’s child welfare system.

The women have set up teepees and lit a sacred fire on the Manitoba legislative grounds and will stay there until Thursday.

The women are there in support of the efforts of The Manitoba First Nations Family Advocate, that was created in June in order to address concerns with how the province handles situations involving First Nations families.

Cora Morgan

Cora Morgan sits by the sacred fire. She will be fasting until Thursday.

“We needed to do something to bring about change,” said First Nation Family Advocate Cora Morgan. “It’s not a protest it’s just to help educate people so that they understand what’s happening right now.”

Morgan said she couldn’t continue to watch children being apprehended, almost on a daily basis, without doing something

The practice of apprehending children and then forcing parents to prove they are fit is backwards and needs to changed, Morgan said.

“Everything that has been happening in the CFS system is reactive. None of it is around restoring families and supporting families,” she said.

Morgan would like to see more supports in place before children are apprehended, as well as efforts to help mothers get their kids back.


Signs display messages of hope near the site where the women will be staying for the next few days.

“We have two mothers fasting with us right now. And they are proving themselves every single day… they’re helping people, they’re volunteering, they’re attending workshops…they are committed to sobriety. And still in the view of CFS they are unfit mothers.” she said.

Morgan acknowledged the Truth and Reconciliation Report on Residential Schools, and the province’s recent apology for the Sixties Scoop, but said the problems are still continuing. There are about 10,000 children in care in Manitoba and the vast majority are aboriginal.

“We have lots of history of the damage that taking children from their parents causes. It’s a vicious cycle. It has to stop. Now we are in a time where we can do something, rather than look back 20 or 30 years for an apology” she said.


Manitoba Chiefs Adopt ‘Family First’ Approach To Address Missing, Murdered Women

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs walks with people at a rally for families of missing and murdered indigenous women in June. (Courtney Rutherford/CBC)

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs walks with people at a rally for families of missing and murdered indigenous women in June. (Courtney Rutherford/CBC)

CBC News

New initiative stems from frustration with lack of action by governments, says Derek Nepinak

Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak says his organization is not waiting for another roundtable discussion or a national inquiry to take action on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs adopted and endorsed a new report they say puts the families of indigenous women at the forefront.

Families First: A Made in Manitoba Approach to Addressing the Issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls calls for a number of recommendations including more culturally sensitive support for families, providing funding for honouring missing or murdered women and research on root causes.

Nepinak says the new approach stems from a frustration with the lack of action by provincial and federal governments.

“Nobody feels any solution coming out of a roundtable discussion where the only outcome is another discussion,” he said.

Derek Nepinak

Derek Nepinak, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, speaks at a TRC gathering in Ridell Hall at the University of Manitoba on Tuesday. (Chris Glover/CBC)

“We’re losing children, we’re losing women and girls — and men and boys for that matter — every week. There is a sense of urgency to this. We cannot sit back. We have to take action.”

The report calls for the appointment of eight representatives called “Families First Leaders” that will be responsible for overseeing the process.

“We are not waiting for the federal government to come and consult us when it is time to do the inquiry, we’re getting ahead of the issue now. We’re specializing our knowledge, we’re engaging in the research,” said Nepinak.

The report was discussed at a general assembly of Manitoba Chiefs held at the Opaskwayak Cree Nation this week.

In June, RCMP delivered an update on missing and murdered aboriginal women that pointed to a strong connection between homicides and family violence. Nepinak says the Family First approach will take a deeper look at root causes of violence.

“When we think of contributing factors or what people will call ‘issues’ — are these really the issues or are they the consequences of living within the systemic and institutionalized violence that exists for our people?” said Nepinak.

According to the report, Manitoba has the third highest number of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada.


2nd Roundtable On MMIW Slated For Early 2016 In Manitoba

Lorelei Williams, who attended the first round table in Ottawa earlier this year, said the first round table 'lacked meaningful dialogue'. (Facebook)

Lorelei Williams, who attended the first round table in Ottawa earlier this year, said the first round table ‘lacked meaningful dialogue’. (Facebook)

By Angela Sterritt / CBC News

Families want more representation, Premier Selinger wants ‘solid commitment from federal government’

A second roundtable on missing and murdered indigenous women is slated for early 2016 in Manitoba. But not everyone is singing the praises of the roundtable, confirmed at a meeting of premiers and indigenous leaders in Happy Valley Goose Bay. NL, on Wednesday.

Earlier this year the first national roundtable on missing and murdered indigenous women was held in Ottawa. The invite-only meeting faced heavy criticism from family members and politicians.

The federal government’s financial commitment to the roundtable was questioned. As well, the government gave a very last-minute confirmation that they would send representatives to attend at all.

Greg Selinger

Premier Greg Selinger says he wants family members to be properly represented at the next roundtable. (CBC)

“The federal government needs to step up, we haven’t seen a solid commitment from them yet,” said Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger from the conference of premiers in St. Johns.

Families who took part in the first roundtable in February say the meeting was just a token and lacked meaningful dialogue. Some also said they felt re-traumatized by the limiting process.

“Only four family members out of the 100 that were invited were allowed to speak at the roundtable,” said Lorelei Williams. Her aunt Belinda Williams went missing in 1978 and cousin Tanya Holyk’s remains were found on the farm of convicted serial killer Robert Pickton. She’s been a staunch advocate since 2011.

Those chosen to speak at the roundtable were each allowed just four minutes to talk, and only on specific topics set on an agenda — which didn’t include stories of the families.

Each province was allowed to choose one of three themes: prevention and awareness, community safety, or policing measures and justice responses.

“Everyone wanted to speak, we were all fighting for our voices to be heard. I was shocked. I left crying, others left crying, it was really awful,” said Williams.

But Williams says despite what seemed like a divide and conquer tactic, connecting with the other family members on day one was important. That gives her hope for a second roundtable.

“We talked with family members and loved ones, it was sad to heard the stories but it gave us strength and healing.”

Melina Laboucan-Massimo was not invited to the first roundtable. Her sister Bella Laboucan-McLean, 25, fell 31 stories to her death from a downtown Toronto condo building in 2013. The investigation of her suspicious death remains open.

“Families need to be included in this roundtable from the start in a meaningful way. We need to understand how these decisions are being made. Its ultimately our families that go through this every day, this is a daily reality for us.”

Today Laboucan-Massimo is on her way home to Little Buffalo, Alberta. Two years ago she buried her little sister in a neighbouring community in Sturgeon Lake. Now she is returning for Bella’s memorial. For Melina it’s a reminder of the other indigenous women missing or murdered in Canada, and the struggle to be heard.

Laboucan-Massimo says now that Canadians know there is a problem, solutions need to be sought.

“We can’t continue the victim blaming, as if violence only exists in our communities, we know this is a cross country issue that has systemic roots.”

She says indigenous women want to know how the RCMP came up with its recent numbers surrounding violence against missing and murdered Indigenous women; what the impunity rate is for those who murder indigenous women; and what the rate for unsolved cases is.

Premier Selinger says he wants family members to be properly represented at the next roundtable. In the meantime he says Manitoba will host a justice summit prior to the roundtable to look at preventing people from going missing and murdered.

As for Williams, she has hope the next roundtable will work harder to listen to indigenous family members, and give them more than just four minutes of time to tell their stories.


Winnipeg: Volunteers To Drag Red River Again To Find Missing, Murdered Aboriginal Women

Volunteers search the banks of the Red River Sept. 17, 2014, in the hopes of finding clues to missing persons. (Lyle Stafford For The Globe and Mail)

Volunteers search the banks of the Red River Sept. 17, 2014, in the hopes of finding clues to missing persons. (Lyle Stafford For The Globe and Mail)

The Canadian Press

WINNIPEG – A group of volunteers plan to dredge the Red River again this year, hoping to find anything that will bring closure to the families of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

Bernadette Smith, whose sister Claudette Osborne went missing seven years ago, spearheaded the search last year after the body of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine was found in the river wrapped in a bag.

Volunteers went out on boats with hooks that combed the bottom of the river that flows through Winnipeg, hoping to dig up clues about women who have vanished.

This year, Smith said the operation is more sophisticated. The dragging bars are better made and Smith has bought a boat out of her own pocket.

The group is also fundraising for another boat and rain gear through a GoFundMe webpage.

But the intent is the same — to get answers for the loved ones of those who have gone missing or been murdered. Last year, Smith said seven bodies were pulled from the water.

“That’s the highest ever in a year — four while we were dragging,” Smith said.

“We weren’t the ones that pulled the bodies out but we felt like our dragging efforts had something to do with those bodies being dislodged and those loved ones being brought home.”

Relatives of these missing women often feel helpless, Smith said.

When her sister went missing, Smith said a busload of volunteers gathered to search for her because police didn’t seem to be doing enough. Years later, Smith is still searching for answers.

Getting out on the river gives many a sense of purpose and community, she said. It shows that the lives of the estimated 1,200 missing and murdered aboriginal women have meaning.

“It’s very empowering to be doing this kind of work,” she said. “It’s getting people up off the couch to say I can make a difference.”

For Kyle Kematch, like so many of the searchers, the work is personal. His sister, Amber Guiboche, went missing without a trace in 2010. Kematch quit his job last year to devote all his time to dragging the river.

Every time his hooks hit a snag, Kematch’s heart leaps into his throat. As much as he wants to bring closure to grieving families, “your mind starts going all over the place,” he said.

“I pray that I don’t find her in there.”

The group wants Winnipeg police to do more than just monitor the volunteers from a boat and actually join in the search. So far, police have declined, saying only that they will support the group “from a safety standpoint.”

Both Smith and Kematch said they will continue going out on the river every year for as long as it takes, with or without the police.

“We know that Tina Fontaine’s body wasn’t the first one found in the river,” Smith said. “We don’t know how many are in there. We’re going to continue as long as we can.”