Hear them roar

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The modern Cree women’s movement is gathering steam, with all Cree communities now to be represented at the upcoming Annual General Assembly of the Cree Women of Eeyou Istchee Association (CWEIA) in Val d’Or September 18-19.

A major focus of this important new Cree political force is resolutely on the health, welfare and future of Cree children.

CWEIA regional coordinator Holly Danyluk says the organization is committed to promoting midwifery as a way to help bring childbearing back to the communities, and to support Cree fostering and adoptions of Cree kids so that they can grow up in their culture and communities.

In terms of births, Danyluk said she is alarmed at the fact that the majority of Cree births take place far away from family and support structures in Cree territory – almost always in major centres that the mother must be flown to.

She said that the group’s members understand that founding a midwifery program is not their formal area of responsibility because it falls under the health board’s mandate, they know it will happen sooner with sufficient resources if Cree women organize in all communities to push for it.

“As Cree women we believe in bringing birth back to the communities because it brings back a community spirit, community wellness and togetherness. We want to bring the families back together and bring the children to be proud of where they come from,” said Danyluk.

With this struggle, Danyluk said the CWEIA is showing support for the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB) and understands that this issue is not easily resolved.

In terms of the fostering and adoption of Cree children, Danyluk said that they are still very focused on ensuring that children are not being removed from their culture or people while also ensuring that children’s rights and needs are respected.

On this issue, the CWEIA has teamed up with the former Director of Youth Protection from the CBHSSJB, Bryan Bishop, who has written a paper examining failures within the system in Eeyou Istchee and is advocating for the creation of a Charter of Rights for Cree Children.

The CWEIA has taken major steps to establish a formal, legally recognized status over the past year after a pattern of networking on these issues took hold about three years ago. Over the last 11 months the group has elected a board of governors and an Elders advisory committee, attracted a broadly based membership with elected officials in each community, and held events in most communities – all the while preparing to host two major events in the coming months.

Apart from the AGA in September, the CWEIA is planning to end the silence over domestic violence with a groundbreaking Cree Regional Family Violence Prevention Symposium November 9-11 in Chisasibi, jointly organized with the Cree Justice Department.

“For the symposium the people that we want to attract are actual families that have gone through violence in their lives and we want to attract the regional police, youth protection workers, health care workers and the like,” said Danyluk.

While the symposium has not yet been fully planned out, Danyluk said that she and the CWEIA are very hopeful about the potential impact that this event could have on the fabric of Cree life.

Indeed, when the organization was formally established last year, the idea for the CWEIA was not just to be a political organization that advocated for the rights of women and children within the Cree communities but also one that could offer something in terms of mind, body and spirit.

“In the past year we have met a few times and we also had a board governance training workshop for all of the board of directors and a couple of the Elders advisory committee and we developed our mission statement and our vision statement.” said Danyluk.

Over the last nine months Danyluk traveled to every single community to meet with Cree women and their families to get a grasp of what the public would like to see the CWEIA do with its time and budget. The CWEIA elected a local board for each community consisting of five members, a president, vice-president, an Elder representative, and youth representative.

Local boards will help the CWEIA track issues that arise in each community and ensure ongoing communication between the organization and the regions. In keeping with this, one of the projects that the CWEIA have embarked on is a regional fitness challenge geared at not just getting bodies fit but the whole being.

Starting off with pilot projects in both Chisasibi and Mistissini in August, the CWEIA have begun offering a program known as the Resist-A-Ball class. It’s a lunchtime activity that Danyluk participated in when she worked at the National Women’s Association of Canada to deal with stress in a holistic approach. She has managed to hire the same trainer from NWAC to start up the programs in the communities and also train others to run the program in the future.

“The fitness program will cover the mental, the physical aspects and the emotional aspects of the women and how it is important to balance these aspects in life,” said Danyluk.

Each woman will receive a workout schedule tailored to a pace that is best suited to the woman and her available time. The program also helps raise awareness about fitness and wellness. Should the project prove successful in Chisasibi and Mistissini, the CWEIA will work on bringing it to every community.

This project is a good example of the kinds of projects and areas for advocacy within the organization.

“The four areas of focus for the CWEIA are: to provide the tools for us as Cree women to establish ourselves within Eeyou Istchee and to allow a voice for all women within all of the Cree communities. The other objective is to discern specific problems that women face in the Cree communities relating to the status of women and equality. We also want to promote and support the initiatives of different various projects to foster the wellbeing of women. The fourth is to encourage and ensure that women have physical integrity and to promote safety in their lives,” explained Danyluk.

These goals will be debated and fleshed out at the September 18-19 AGA in Val d’Or at the Hotel Forestel. Though Danyluk said that this will be the standard annual meeting for the CWEIA, they are all excited about the event as they will be sponsoring all five board members from each of the Cree communities as well as members of boards that they have also created in Chibougamau and Senneterre so that they can include urban Crees at the event. While the CWEIA can only afford to sponsor each of their individual board members within each community, all Crees are welcome at this event.

The AGA will also include an awards presentation for women within the Cree communities to acknowledge their work on behalf of Cree communities. “We are looking to celebrate these women who have contributed to their communities in various capacities, including business and entrepreneurship, health and fitness, education, arts and culture, politics and public service. We will also have Elder’s contributions award and one for youth contribution,” said Danyluk.

Former NWAC president Beverley Jacobs will be the keynote speaker.

For more information go to: www.cweia.org

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