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The women leading the way 

Gracie Diabo, Michaelee Lazore, and Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer.

Today is International Women’s Day, a global celebration intended to highlight the social, cultural, and political achievements of women. For many in Kahnawake, following the lead of women and uplifting their achievements is second nature, and there are countless leaders, business owners, and matriarchs in the community who continue to inspire the next generation of women every day. The Eastern Door spoke to three women in Kahnawake who are helping pave the way. 

Gracie Diabo – engineering student

In March last year, Kahnawa’kehró:non Gracie Diabo was chosen to be a recipient of a $100,000 Loran Scholarship, which she used to start her academic career at McGill University, where she is currently pursuing a degree in software engineering.  

Diabo said that part of what empowered her to follow her dreams was the support of other strong women in her life, namely her mother, Michelle Mayo-Beauvais, and her grandmother, Lynda Delisle.  

“Just having their presence and support at any of my events or accomplishments has always been something that made me know they were there for me and supported me. It made me want to keep going,” she said. “My mom and my grandparents have always been there, all the way from back in high school and elementary, from when I was playing sports to little things like making me meals or supporting me when I’m studying. Things like that really matter.” 

At McGill, Diabo has also gotten involved in a club named POWE (Promoting Opportunities for Women in Engineering), where she is this year’s outreach coordinator, working to help teach elementary, high school, and CEGEP girls about engineering.  

“It’s pretty fulfilling. I wanted to pass down what I experienced and show other girls what’s possible for them in engineering,” she said. “It’s been nice to talk about my experiences and hopefully inspire more girls to join. We want them to see all of us in engineering and know it is a space for girls as well.” 

Michaelee Lazore – business owner, Sequoia 

Michaelee Lazore first opened her flagship Sequoia store in Montreal in 2004, selling hand-poured soaps. Back then, she would never have expected that 20 years later her company would be selling a range of products and shipping them across the globe to loyal customers.  

“The most important thing to me is the mindset. At the beginning, I went all in and that was probably because I didn’t automatically think that I would fail. You have to have a growth mindset versus a limiting mindset,” she said. “I’ve found I’ve had both throughout my journey, and when I look back, the most important thing is the mindset I’ve had at any time.” 

Lazore is Kanien’kehá:ka from Akwesasne and Paiute from Pyramid Lake, Nevada, but has lived in Kahnawake for more than half of her life. Though she no longer has the flagship Montreal store – many customers now prefer to shop online – she operates a thriving in-person store in town, where she’ll be hosting an anniversary event on March 19. 

“My favourite part is really being able to steer my business how I feel it should go,” she said. “I get to do what I want, because it’s mine. I can take the reins and go in my own direction.” 

Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer – grand chief, Mohawk Council of Kahnawake 

Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) grand chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer was involved in leadership from a young age. She said that as a woman, she felt supported in politics in Kahnawake.  

“The fact that we’re a matriarchal society meant that I didn’t have to endure the mentality of what maybe other women go through in leadership, where they hear that they shouldn’t be in these roles,” she said. “Some women, from what I hear in other First Nations communities in this region, experience these kinds of things, but I didn’t. It was always about what I, as a young woman, brought to the table, and I never felt slighted based on being a woman.” 

For future generations, Sky-Deer said it’s important to prioritize language and culture so that fundamental meanings of the importance of women in society remain understood. She said it’s important to remember the next generation views the current one as role models. 

“To me, that comes with great responsibility. We have such an abundance of women that are doing amazing things in this community, and right now we’ve got to strike where the iron is hot. There’s a lot of opportunity to change the narrative and inform people on the outside about who we are,” she said. “Young people should harness that and get out there to challenge, educate, and inform.” 

evedcable@gmail.com

This article was originally published in print on March 8 in issue 33.10 of The Eastern Door.

 

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.