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This seemed to be the general consensus at the first Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) Women's Leadership Assembly. Held in Saskatoon in March, the two-day conference highlighted the role of women in the Saskatchewan First Nation political arena.
The Assembly was organized as a continuation of the development of the FSIN Women's Secretariat. It is seen as an opportunity for the Women's Secretariat to take its first steps towards self-determination and become a collaborating force with the FSIN.
One of the mandates of the Women's Leadership Assembly is to make sure that First Nation women have a voice within the FSIN structure. Traditionally First Nation women had a strong voice in politics. However, the implementation of the Indian Act changed that. First Nation women were subjugated to a largely passive role in the shadows of their men.
Not content with this role, women have begun to assert their voices over the years. In 1960, Alpha Lafond was elected to the position of Chief of the Muskeg Lake First Nation after previously serving as a Councillor. She became the first woman in the province to attain this political high. Following her two-year tenure as Chief, Alpha Lafond remained a Band Councillor for 20 years.
Her ground-breaking achievements were soon followed by other women who were elected to leadership positions. In 1966, Delia Opekokew became the first woman elected to the Executive of the FSIN as Secretary. Inez Deiter was elected to this position in 1968 and Cathy Merasty in 1973. Since then, women have successfully taken on leadership roles throughout the FSIN.
As special guest speaker for the assembly, Provincial Court Justice Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond stressed the importance of women's contributions in politics. "Participating in politics should not be off limits to women, she said. "We must see women on the Executive of the FSIN." She went on to say, "The FSIN has a good history but it will not have a great future unless women are involved."
Women are now taking more visible roles in the FSIN. Patricia Deiter was able to force a third ballot in the race for Fourth Vice-Chief of the FSIN in the October 1997 election. She ultimately lost the vote to current FSIN Vice-Chief Lawrence Joseph. And two of the FSIN's institutions are headed by women: Linda Pelly-Landrie as President of the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre and Joan Greyeyes as President of the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies.
(continued on page 25)
top: Senator Marie Kay and Senator
Alpha Lafond seated at the Head Table;
right: Councillors attending the
Women's Legislative Assembly
Maria Linklater, Band Councillor for the Thunderchild First Nation, supported these ideas. She believes that with the guidance of Elders, healing and resolution to these issues and many others is possible in a culturally appropriate way. "We need to be recognized as we nurture life and for every problem that we have, we have a solution."