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This was one of the opening statements at the Saskatchewan Indian Women's Association Conference, by Association President Sadie Cote.
"Where are the so-called heads of the house-holds? The so-called elected leaders of the bands? Some are off to work elsewhere, because of lack of employment on the reserve. Some are at meeting - after - meeting, or workshops called by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians, or by the Department of Indian Affairs.
"Some are in the local bars, having a whale of a time, while we as mothers are trying to keep our homes and raise our children properly. No wonder we have so many juvenile delinquents; very young people turning to drugs and alcohol. There is absolutely no future for the young people to look forward to."
The theme of the three-day conference, February 20th to 22nd, was 'War on Alcoholism', and war it was. Only time will tell whether the battle will continue on the reserves, and mark the women's fight.
Mrs. Cote went on to say: "Many of our good sisters fall on the wayside because they, too, have had enough. They give up in despair and they, too, join the terrible fate of that route to alcoholism.
"Let me shed some light on the issues of what is expected from the mothers on the Reserves", she said.
"We are the mothers who have to accept and not complain about the pathetic substandard housing units, poor heating systems, and no indoor plumbing or running water. We are the mothers who have to contend with the poor health services provided to Indians at the reserve level. We are the mothers that have to walk with a sick child a number of miles in order to see a doctor. We are the mothers that have to go and see the principal or teacher whenever anything goes wrong with our children in school. We are the mothers that are expected to keep our homes clean, and do the laundry for our children with a shortage of water. We are the mothers that are expected to provide and cook nutritious and delicious meals for our families, from the basic need allowance of the social assistance program when the price of all goods are escalating. We are the mothers that must go and sit in the courtroom if one of our children gets in trouble with the law. These are just a few of the many issues we, as mothers, have to put up with, as well as try and resolve with no help from anyone."
So, what course of action must we take? There is only one, and it is a positive one. That is there can be no other alternative. We must seek and demand to be heard and recognized from all local leadership, as well as the Department of Indian Affairs. They must consult with the Saskatchewan Indian Women's Association in all its policies on social developments.
We know the problems and we are willing to assist and make positive recommendations on how changes could be made. We must work co-operatively in the field of social development.
It was not our fault that we were herded onto small parcels of lands, known today as Indian reserves. These small reserves are little better than the concentration camps we read about from the Second World War. But, if we do not try to improve the situation on those reserves, they will be EXACTLY like the concentration camps I mentioned.
Indian Health and the delivery of Social Services in Saskatchewan are two projects which were, and are, designed to address the problems that exist AT THEIR SOURCE. In order to accomplish this task, three-working assumptions were agreed to: (1) A comprehensive needs identification process would be carried out at the Band, District and Regional levels; (2) The Indian people of Saskatchewan would be totally involved and have control over the projects; and; (3) That a comprehensive policy and operations review must be a requirement of each project.
With these assumptions in mind, three general objectives were arrived at: (1) To raise the level of awareness about health and social problems; (2) To develop and implement new programming and approaches to services that will rapidly promote a better quality of life; and (3) To make changes in the existing delivery systems so they are more efficient and more effective in providing the services they were intended to provide.
What we are requesting here from all the departments concerned is a means for the financial resources required to initiate the above projects.
Madam President went on to say that the Federation does not want to recognize the fact that the women are the 'better half' of the organization . . . that the Federation does not want the Saskatchewan Indian Women's Association to get involved or participate in their ventures of promotional developments, as well as economic and social developments.
"They feel", said Mrs. Cote, that we are not qualified or interested in such developments. We are supposed to remain silent and stay at home, and care for the children.
"The Federation, which is comprised of Chiefs and Councillors, think the women belong and should be happy to stay, in the pathetic sub-standard houses allocated for their (respective) families. Well, I say to their thoughts: Absolutely Not!!"
She went on to say: The Executive of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians are a very high calibre of people and are very influential in their seeking for support from the local reserve Chiefs, for some of their high-powered promotional developments, such as SINCO and other related economic developments.
They will promise a local Chief a job if he supports the Executive member's pet project. Certain promises and committments are made by individual executive members for political gain, such as awarding of events and political appointments for a number of high paid positions. The hiring of high-salaried consultants who sit on their FAT FANNIES ALL DAY, and WEEKS LONG. I know, because I tried to get a number of these so-called 'consultants' to do some work for me and my executive. . . End Result?? Nil. Zilch. Nothing! THEY HAD NO TIME FOR US.
Far too many of the Federation's high-calibre promotional developments are leaving the ordinary Indian behind. The ordinary Indian having no skills, or qualifications, to ever enter into the employment sector of this economic development project. We need, and want, more industrial skills training that will be of value to the employable Indians. WE DO NOT NEED THE WATERED-
We need better planning and selection of personnel to take on these types of courses - someone that will utilize and further their skills, as well as accept a job, if qualified enough to do so.
The same applies to the Indian women of Saskatchewan . . . we want permanent employment. LEAP projects are a mockery to us and short-term projects in cooking, sewing, baking, arts and crafts, etc. That's an everyday task for us mothers.
"So, what I am trying to say to the Executive of the Federation is to come down from your high kingdom developments and join us mothers at the local reserve level. Take a serious look at the sad situation. Join us in the reality of poverty, suffering and alcoholism and let us REALLY DO SOMETHING for our Indian people. Let us teach them to accept responsibility like everyone else. Let us give them the tools to work with. Let's not put the cutter in front of the horse."
Now allow me to shed some light on the Department of Indian Affairs. The Department is supposed to be the professional developers at the reserve level. After more than 100-years of developing for the Indian people, what do we see on the reserves?
If you haven't noticed, look around when you go home. You will see: substandard houses; homes with no central heating; no running water; for some, no garbage collection, or disposal. One way the Department cannot be blamed for the hardships borne by us, the Indian women, is, they say . . . 'we listen to the elected leaders.' Some, I repeat, of these so-called elected leaders have no intention of ever trying to improve the situation on the reserve. They are there just to amuse themselves by going to meetings, ball, or hockey tournaments. Where is the ordinary Indian?
There is a real trend to build or construct ice arena's for hockey. It's supposed to curb or cut down on juvenile delinquency. But what do we see happen to some of those arena's? They are shut down from Friday after school till Monday, or till the Chief has returned from a hockey tournament.
How much of our Indian monies went to the construction of those arena's? And we see no programs take place. . . just entertaining the senior hockey team. Some Band Council administrations fail because of poorly trained staff. Hiring staff who have no knowledge of office work or staffed by close relatives of the Chief or local councillors.
Many band economic development projects are repeatedly funded by the Department of Indian Affairs because they say, 'We cannot afford to let it down. It will give us a bad image'.
Some Band stores have failed because of poor management. Some band farms have sunk because of poor management, or overemploying a lone enterprise. By that I mean too many people have been hired and not enough returns.
But I ask you. .. why do they (the Department of Indian Affairs) keep funding the same failing enterprises or projects over and over again . . . or year after year?? By repeatedly funding the same failing projects, it does not give the next Indian a chance to go into another private enterprise or project.
The Department must realize the Saskatchewan Indian women have to suffer the consequences when they allow such foolish spending at the reserve level. They must be accountable to all Indians... not just to the Chief and Band Council.
When we approach the department for funds, they should consent and look for better developments. We Indian women have suffered far too long and we demand recognition and co-operation. We must be given the opportunity to plan and participate in the promotions of health, social, educational and economic developments.
Another point raised by Mrs. Cote concerned religion on the reserves. She told the delegates that some young elected leaders have taken it upon themselves to disallow any kind of preachers or priests on the reserves. Mrs. President said: "I have always been of the opinion in this great country of Canada, we are supposed to have freedom of speech and freedom of faith or religion. We may believe or practise any religion we so choose. I have no objection to Indian faith, if one chooses to practise that faith. But we should respect all peoples' denominations and beliefs."
I do hope everyone I have mentioned in this presentation will take heed, because if you do not hear, then all I say to the Indian women of Saskatchewan is to look forward to another 100-years of suffering and neglect. Or, you can join me and my Executive Council for that recognition we are demanding.
We must strive for spiritual developments, as well as other developments...children grow up - regardless of the many stumbling blocks they face.
Thus was set the tone of the conference.