(Courtesy Assembly of First Nations)
Mohawk Council of Kahnawake grand chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer attended a historic meeting of Indigenous women leaders on Tuesday, held at governor-general Mary Simon’s home in Rideau Hall.
Sky-Deer and Simon met with the Assembly of First Nations national chief RoseAnne Archibald and grand chief of the Grand Council of the Crees, Mandy Gull Masty. The hour-long meeting was a first
for bringing together women in leadership positions who made history when assuming their respective roles.
“I was just so honoured to have been invited and to have participated because that was such a historic first meeting,” said Sky-Deer. “Leaving there, I had a new sense of motivation and inspiration.”
Sky-Deer noted how all four women had been sworn in or elected in short succession in July, in a wave of progress with the four leaders gaining the renown of being “firsts”: Simon the first Indigenous person to become governor-general, and Sky-Deer, Archibald and Masty, the first women in their roles.
The topics discussed during the meeting were reconciliation, the healing that needs to happen in Indigenous communities, mental health, and preserving identities, cultures and languages.
Sky-Deer said that Simon spoke of a specific Truth and Reconciliation call to action that she is looking into: the creation of a national monument to honour attendees of residential schools.
“She talked about what that would look like and just asking for feedback in terms of things that are important for our different nation perspectives.”
They discussed elements like it being a place where people could burn tobacco and have ceremonies, and include fire or running water.
Pervasive issues that have gained prominence worldwide, like sexual violence and the pandemic’s effects on our mental health, and the rise in suicide rates among youth, were also discussed.
“Some heavy topics,” Sky-Deer said, but also hopeful ones, too.
“We want to inspire other young Indigenous women that anything is possible. You can achieve anything you put your mind toward, anything you want to work towards.”
Sky-Deer presented Simon with a framed Two Row Wampum. Sky-Deer said Simon appreciated the gesture, as she is still getting accustomed to living and working in the palatial and stately Rideau Hall.
“I was looking around, and I’m like, ‘Wow, you don’t really have a lot of Indigenous art,” Sky-Deer laughed.
They discussed the symbolism of the Two Row Wampum and the need for a nation-to-nation relationship with Canada. “Sometimes, they need to be reminded this is still all of our land.”
Following this meeting, Sky-Deer is hopeful the conversation and potential collaborations can continue and that more women join their ranks in leadership.
“It was just such a positive experience. For myself, being new in this role, the possibility of the doors that it can open and keep on this path of trying to address all of our nations and our people.”
Savannah Stewart is a writer, editor and translator from Montreal currently reporting with The Eastern Door. She is the contributing editor for the arts for Cult MTL and her work has also appeared in Briarpatch Magazine, Ricochet, Maisonneuve Magazine and The Rover. She tweets at @SavannahMTL.