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Indian Women Want A Far Greater Role: Says S.I.W.A. President

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JUNE 1973      v03 n05 p14  
The Saskatchewan Indian Women's Association is rapidly becoming a strong and effective voice for Indian women in the province despite the fact that their organization is only a few years old and beset with financial difficulties.

Their success is due mainly to the dedication of a small core of women who have worked to build up the organization, often without pay and in the face of prejudice, according to S.I.W.A. president Mrs. Isabel McNabb.

The women's main difficulty has been in trying to gain recognition from government but they have also had to contend with some resistance from their own Indian men, she said.

Things now are changing, however, and as their work becomes better known they are finding much more acceptance.

S.I.W.A., which has a core staff of four executive members and 16 field workers, was recently successful in taking over the Homemakers program from the Extension Division of the University of Saskatchewan. The Homemakers program is designed to develop such skills as sewing and cooking.

The S.I.W.A. members also recently completed a 16-week training course in family health counselling, training in such areas as nutrition, family planning and guidance.

These two programs are just a start though and there is a lot more work Indian women can do at the reserve, level, Mrs. McNabb said recently in an interview. "The fact is that these ladies have a lot they can offer to support their men in. doing what has to be done for Indian people."

Mrs. McNabb makes it clear that the women want to work with their men and not against them. "As Indian women we respect our men very much, we want to support them."

"I think, though, that women are now ready to take more responsibility on the reserve. They have proven themselves as assets and as leaders, they've proven themselves in their training and they've proven themselves in the self-respect they have," she said.

Mrs. McNabb sees S.I.W.A.'s role on the reserve as a resource and service organization particularly open to Indian women. On the reserves S.I.W.A. organizes women's clubs distributes information on nutrition, birth control, and environmental health and provides counselling. As a political voice for women, S.I.W.A. has taken strong stands on a number of issues including the Lavalle case, which they opposed strenuously and most recently on the question of alcohol on reserves. Hearing that the provincial government proposed making-the sale of liquor legal on reserves, S.I.W.A. made a number of representations opposing the plan.

Because it is an Indian-women's organization, and insists on remaining that way, S.I.W.A. since its inception has had difficulty in obtaining the funds necessary to carry on. They have been managing from month to month on what funds they could pick up from a variety of sources. Their most recent funds, provided through a Local Initiatives Project from Manpower, ran out at the end of May and as yet no further sources have been found.

The women, however, have worked without pay before and they are prepared to do it again if need be, Mrs. McNabb said. "It has always been a struggle for us but these ladies can by, very determined. The money is not the most important thing, it is the work that they can do."

Mrs. McNabb, the daughter of Senator John Gambler is from Muskoday and has been president of S.I.W.A. since last June. Formerly a teacher's aid with the department of Indian Affairs, Mrs. McNabb took a leave of absence from the job so that she could work with S.I.W.A. to get it off the ground."

A determined woman herself, Mrs. McNabb plans to continue badgering government until they finally recognize that Indian women are capable of helping their people. "After all we've shown them what we can do, I don't see how they can ignore us," she says.

Mrs. Isabel McNabb
Isabel McNabb