WSMNO Hosts Finding Your Voice Summit
During the weekend of September 9-11, 2011, over 40 women from all over Ontario attended the Women’s Secretariat of the Métis Nation of Ontario (WSMNO) Finding Your Voice Summit in Toronto. This event built on the work of the Strong Women Summit that the WSMNO organized in March of 2011 and focused on prioritizing strategies to end violence against Aboriginal women from a Métis perspective.
The important work related to ending violence against Aboriginal women was highlighted by MNO President Gary Lipinski in his remarks to open the Summit. He pointed out that the media tends to focus on each incident of violence against Aboriginal women in isolation, rather than showing it to be a systemic problem that needs addressing on a societal level. “This is a provincial and federal priority,” stated President Lipinski, “Information from your conference will assist with discussion at those Ministry tables.”
The key elements of the Summit were leadership development through a “Personality Dimensions Workshop”, a presentation about ending violence against Aboriginal women by Sylvia Maracle, Executive Director for the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres and discussions around setting out WSMNO priorities in the next year.
The Personality Dimensions workshop allowed the participants to recognize their unique blend of strengths and qualities and to appreciate others differences. It also explained how to use this knowledge of self and others to improve interpersonal relations and teamwork “The women left feeling that this was a great tool that they could use,” stated Sharon McBride, the WSMNO Spokesperson, who also facilitated the workshop, “I was thrilled that the women who took the course used this throughout the Summit”
A major highlight of the Summit was the presentation by Sylvia Maracle. Sylvia used storytelling to address the issue of Violence Against Aboriginal Women (VAAW) and shared stories from her own childhood. She explained that her grandmother sometimes spoke of a star shining in the night and this metaphor moved many of the Summit participants.
Throughout the Summit, participants drew on the star metaphor used by Sylvia to describe their plans on how to end VAAW from a Métis perspective. Each tip of the star represented a different method of ending VAAW. These were:
we will talk about Violence against Aboriginal women;
we will honour the power of women and the voice of children and youth;
we will revitalize our traditions and healthy Métis ways;
we will transform our communities by sharing stories;
we will collaborate with all members of our communities and beyond to end Violence Against Aboriginal Women.
Later in the Summit, MNO staff members Shelley Gonneville, Lynne Picotte and Lisa Pigeau provided background on MNO involvement in the “Strategic Framework to End Violence Against Aboriginal Women”, the Sexual Violence Action Plan, Trauma training as well as current and upcoming MNO programs to address VAAW.
The Summit was facilitated by Dr. Kim Anderson, a Métis researcher, writer and educator. Dr. Anderson led exercises that helped the participants identify their concerns and priorities and discuss direction for the future. "The women have really connected with Dr. Kim Anderson and we are honoured that she is back to work with us" stated McBride. Participants were also led through centering and focusing exercises guided by Cindy Gaudet. Women were also encouraged to share their gifts which resulted in the sharing of song, humour and traditional activities.
“The Finding Your Voice Summit was a very powerful gathering of Métis women in Ontario,” stated MNO Chair France Picotte. “The summit focused on strategic solutions to end violence Against Métis Women. It is important for us to be active against all aspects of violence. As Métis Women we need to trust in ourselves, believe in ourselves, be true to ourselves and love ourselves in order to be strong enough to confront any violence that we encounter. Our voice must be strong,” she concluded.