Updated: Aug 17, 2021
When will Canada be ready to foster and encourage the inclusion of Indigenous woman in municipal governance, in order to successfully create a thriving, equitable and sustainable community where woman can be valued and appreciated for their strengths, knowledge and experience? It was not until 1918 until Caucasian women could vote in the federal election and in 1929 that women were recognized as “persons” under the British North American Act. However, the right to vote excluded Black, Asian and Indigenous women and it was not until 1960 that all status Indians were given the right to participate in the political process (Brooks, 2018). There is a significant opportunity for municipal governments to play an active role in including and inviting Indigenous women’s involvement in politics to help rectify the systemic pitfalls of Canada’s colonial and paternalistic legislation while also allowing Indigenous women help shape and contribute back to their communities. Key issues facing Indigenous women’s participation in politics is the denial of history, barriers to inclusion, systemic marginalization, social constructs and male-centric systems.
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission outlined 94 Calls to Action and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities identified several key themes as it relates calls to action that related to municipal governance and more specifically the City of Calgary. These included or related to public awareness and training; spiritual healing, culture and arts commemoration; leadership-to-leadership relations; cemeteries and records; athletic development and heritage; basic needs; youth justice and employment; and corporate leadership (Calgary Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee, 2016). Driving initiatives under these reconciliation areas will allow for social, economic and political change, which will not only benefit Indigenous woman, but the rest of Canada. Brooks mentioned that woman make up 50.4% of the Canadian population and the Indigenous population is growing significantly faster than the non-Indigenous population at more than 5 times the non-Indigenous rate (2018). The purpose of addressing or incorporating these areas is to help move Canada in the direction of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and taking a step in the direction of promoting healing, establishing trust and building relationships based on mutual respect. Canada has denied not only the rights, voices and inclusion of women, but Canada has also systemically excluded the participation of Indigenous women through many exclusionary policies and practices of the Indian Act. These exclusionary policies included areas as it relates to applicability of status, education, housing, residential schools, social welfare, and traditional hunting and gathering to name a few. A fundamental starting point is to create awareness and understanding of the history of Canada, because although Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities/peoples are neighbours, we still know very little about each other, and now is the time to open the door to start conversations and create space for relationship building. There are opportunities for municipal governments to implement and incorporate training as it relates to diversity, cultural awareness, Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+) or gender/stereotypes.
Municipal governments play a fundamental role in driving change and removing the barriers of Indigenous women’s political participation because of their locality and ability to tailor programs and services to best meet the needs of community. It has been stated by Jane Jacobs that, “cities have the capability of providing something for everyone, only because, and only when, they are created by everyone” (1961), which implies the need to find opportunities for the direct involvement and contribution of Indigenous women in the development and implementation of municipal services and programming. There are many opportunities to address the inequities Indigenous women face as it relates to missing and murdered Indigenous woman, creating an accessible community, aiding single parenting, reducing poverty, addressing hate crimes, supporting single seniors, promoting female political representation and fostering inclusionary practices. The City of Vancouver states the participation of women in municipal government and community initiatives has a significant opportunity to contribute to economic growth, gross-domestic-product (GDP) and work force diversity and as a result increases business performance and profitability and community well-being (2018). Potential solutions include the establishment of gender equity committees, tailoring outreach and engagement initiatives, training women for political office, addressing housing issues and creating space for women’s issues (i.e., violence, education, safety, childcare, discrimination, family etc.). It is vital that the solutions implemented must be done so in a coordinated, inclusive and deliberate effort that can be sustained over time, to have the most meaningful and lasting impact.
The City for All Woman Initiative outlines an inclusionary framework to help create a climate for equity and inclusion to better respond to needs and aspirations of all community groups, most notably, women. The framework describes the importance of understanding intersectionality, creating meaningful solutions, sustaining impact, creating conditions for change, engaging key stakeholders or representatives, establishing core relationships, becoming accountable and building a welcoming workplace (2015). The core concept of gender inclusion and rectifying systemic pitfalls is rooted in the concept of intersectionality which is described by the process ensuring diversity in experiences of all lived experiences of women who face discrimination, which also considers race, class, ability, age, ancestry and orientation. Municipalities cannot wait for the federal government to drive meaningful change in our communities nor can they continue to operate under the paternalistic system and wait for solutions to be prescribed the by federal government. Municipalities need to understand the importance of taking action, remember the importance of public service and find ways to best meet the needs of the communities they serve.
Municipalities cannot shrink down and become stagnant in hesitance in determining the best approach to address the social, political, gender and economic inequities that Indigenous women face, and instead should consider and ask themselves the following questions: Does the municipality understand the concept of intersectionality? What information is currently available on gender inequities? What current barriers exist with Indigenous women? What policies require review or updates? Are there opportunities for partnerships or collaboration? What are sustainable solutions that can be implemented? The approach will depend on the unique needs of a community and their capacity and resources to implement meaningful change however, the most important consideration to incorporate in the strategy or program is accountability. The strategy or program should be based on participation, understanding and mutual respect, and therefore the importance of establishing a long-term and meaningful relationship is paramount, as the trust between Canada and Indigenous women has been broken and continuously neglected. Much consideration should be paid to understanding what is feasible, necessary and desired by Indigenous women.
It is going to take many years to repair, heal and reconcile the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples however, there are opportunities to move forward in a good way, to co-create and re-define municipal-Indigenous relations. The first step is acknowledgement, followed by establishing mutual respect and pursuing opportunities to work collectively in the best interested of all community groups, most importantly Indigenous women.
Brooks, M. (2018). The Role of Municipalities in Advancing Woman’s Equity in Canada. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/member-states/single-view/news/just_published_the_role_of_municipalities_in_advancing_wome/.
City for All Woman Initiative. (2015). Advancing Equity and Inclusion. Retrieved from https://www.cawi-ivtf.org/sites/default/files/publications/advancing-equity-inclusion-web_0.pdf.
City of Vancouver. (2018). Vancouver: A city for all women. Retrieved from https://vancouver.ca/docs/council/Women%27sEquityStrategy.pdf.
Calgary Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee. (2016). White Goose Flying. The City of Calgary. Retrieved from https://www.calgary.ca/csps/cns/first-nations-metis-and-inuit-peoples/calgary-aboriginal-urban-affairs-committee/calgary-aboriginal-urban-affairs-committee.html.