By Lynda Powless
On her father’s 73rd birthday Justice Minister and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould received the inaugural National Indigenous Women in Leadership award from the Canada Council of Aboriginal Business (CCAB) in Toronto.
“I am incredibly honoured to be the inaugural recipient of this award,” she told the audience. (Watch video)
After watching a short video of her father Chief Bill Wilson, and his now well known face-off with former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau during negotiations that led to Section 35 protecting indigenous land and treaty rights being inserted into Canada’s Constitution, Wilson-Raybould told the audience “rights don’t self actualize.” They take work, she added.
She said there is debate about whether Section 35 is a full box of indigenous rights or an empty box, or how self government might be expressed, but “Section 35 did entrench the rights, but the promise of Section 35 has yet to be fulfilled.”
Honourable Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould poses with the award flanked by TD representatives and CCAB’s JP Gladu. (Photo by Lynda Powless).
She told the audience, “this is our time. We have much work to do.We are on a path of reconciliation but we are early on that path.”
Ironically the country’s top lawyer, and first recipient of an indigenous leadership award comes from a traditional leadership background built on female lines, and concensus decision making, not majority rules.
A Kwakwaka’wakw Nation member from northern Vancouver Island, she comes from a strong matriarchal society.“We are very much a matriarchal society.Descent is traced through our women, property traced and inherited through the female line and it is in that context that I developed my understanding and sense of responsibility with respect to leadership.”
She said she grew up knowing who she was, her culture and values, and understood the laws of her nation’s “Big House and how we conduct ourselves.”
Her grandmother was a strong supporter of the advancement of aboriginal indigenous rights and the equality of life for indigenous people. “It is her guidance in terms of upbringing that I hold today as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.”
Dakota Brant a partner with her tiwn Jesse Brant in Sapling and Flint Gallery at Six Nations welcomed the Justice Minister to the homelands of the Haudneosaunee in downtown toronto with a small gift, a Haudenosaunee designed scarf. (Photo by Lynda Powless)
Dakota Brant a partner with her twin Jesse Brant in Sapling and Flint Gallery at Six Nations welcomed the Justice Minister to the homelands of the Haudneosaunee in downtown Toronto with a small gift, a Haudenosaunee designed scarf. (Photo by Lynda Powless)
Minister Wilson-Raybould explained “Our big House and teachings of my grandmother and people, unlike federal and provincial political systems, we didn’t have any political parties, rather we function by way of consensus. We meet, debate issues and seek general agreement, that decisions that we make in our community are well considered and span the test of time.”
She said “in our traditional system, men, are always the chiefs. We are hereditary. Our role as women was, and still is, to guide the chiefs in terms of the laws and customs of our Big House. My grandmother use to joke that when it came to the respective roles of men and women, women were simply too busy and too important to be chief.”
She said “in our culture, everybody in our community has a role to play and in playing that role to the best of their ability ensures the community is functioning to the best of its ability, that it functions well and the way it should, I call it balance.”
She said with both her grandmother and father strong advocates of indigenous rights in Canada she never questioned who she was, or what path she would take. “It was a fact that I would go to university and study law and justice. It was something that was predetermined. It was something I was raised to do and taught. I was raised to ensure that we use our skills and ability such as they are and to contribute back to the community, to contribute to public service.”
She said in reflecting on how far the country has come she reflected on the famous video between her father and Prime Minister Elliott Trudeau.
“In reference to that video, was the response that when my father talked about that my sister and I were lawyers or that we were going to be prime minister, but what was really interesting was when he said we were both women, it received the loudest of laughter.
“Unbeknownst to the people in that room, then Prime Minister Trudeau’s son, now the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau would appoint the first gender balanced cabinet in Canadian history.
Unbeknownst to the people in that room would the daughter of that guy sparring off with Prime Minister Trudeau would become the 50th Minister of Justice, and Attorney General of Canada and the first indigenous person to hold that position.”
She said, “what an incredible transformation we currently are in.”
Wilson-Raybould is a Liberal Member of Parliament for the riding of Vancouver Granville.
She said the CCAB Indigenous Woman in Leadership award reflects what is happening on the ground in First Nations communities.
“This award reflects what we all know to be true in this room. That indigenous women have been and continue to be the driving forces within in our communities, sometimes at the forefront, but most of all working behind the scenes to ensure the community functions properly.
She said it is typical for women to turn up for band meetings or to participate in
committees or working groups at a much higher rate than men do.
“We still might not have the numbers in terms of chiefs and council but we are making improvements in that regard but we are always working on important issues in terms of rebuilding our nations and supporting governance reform and moving forward to improve the lives of our community.”
Minister Wilson-Raybould said it is important to ensure indigenous women and girls continue to see their potential. “We must continue to ensure indigenous women and girls are able to see themselves in positions of power and to know that they can make an impact. In the case of Indigenous women we are playing ever expanding roles in transforming our societies.”
She said as a former BC Regional Chief, and councillor in her home community she sees “we spend far too much time in conflict and are not collectively, in my opinion, focused enough in building a future together. This must change and this is the work I, and our government are committed to do.”
Earlier this year Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced, as part of his government’s renewed nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, a working Group of Ministers, chaired by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould will review laws and policies related to Indigenous Peoples with the aim of ensuring the Crown is meeting its constitutional obligations with respect to Aboriginal and treaty rights; adhering to international human rights standards, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and supporting the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.
“It is an all government approach based on the Recognition of Indigenous Peoples and Rights, to address the colonial legacy in a substantive way that will fundamentally mark this time as one of the most important in relation to Indigenous Peoples in Canada.This is not rhetoric. It is absolutely real,” she said. “Sometimes I think, be careful what we you ask for you, you might just get it”
Minister Wilson-Raybould will chair the cabinet working group “that she says will work with partners, experts and Indigenous leaders to assess statutory changes needed to best meet our constitutional obligations and international commitments with respect to indigenous people.
“Our goal is to make the systemic and transformative shifts long overdue and which will set out a new path and that breaks past patterns and secures a new future for Indigenous People and in doing so, transform the future of all Canadians
“This is not something to be afraid of, but something to be embraced. As our Prime Minister has said we are strong because of our differences not in spite of them.”
She said the committee will take a principled approach and build on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and 94 calls to action contained in the Truth and Reconciliation report, and she said “I think very importantly will take a concerted effort, a real look and build on the recommendations that came out of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.”
She said there is work as well at the community level.
She said the role of indigenous leaders is shifting with less time spent on advocacy work and more on governance. On issues of community and social development, stewardship of the environment, economic growth and fostering a better future for generations to come and it is in these roles that indigenous women have played and will continue to play meaningful roles in every aspect of community, and I don’t just mean in terms of elected positions.”
She said Nation rebuilding is the work ahead with indigenous peoples providing their own solutions, organizing, governance, and where the role of the federal government is to support work and move away from the current role of administering Indian Act bands and Indians living reserve.
“To this end I firmly believe the recognition of indigenous rights and economic growth are fundamentally connected.They are a sure path to economic growth not just for Indigenous people but for all Canadians.”
“Where people are empowered, governance is strong, respected and successful there is increased economic opportunity and growth.”
The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business launched the Indigenous Women in Leadership program to recognize and honour accomplished and committed women from First Nations communities.
“We are very much a matriarchal society where women have always been the fire keepers and really important in our communities,” said council president and CEO Jean Paul Gladu. But the introduction of colonial systems and the Indian Act brought a male-driven approach that has left many women “disempowered up to today,” he said.
“The same can be said about corporate Canada, where most of the executives are white men. We need to break outside of that.”