Stephanie Whitecloud-Brass column

In September, I had the privilege of attending the Strength of Our Women First Annual Awards Gala Dinner hosted by the Saskatchewan First Nations Women’s Commission at TCU Place in Saskatoon.  If it is not the first of its kind for First Nation women, then it is simply the first that I have ever attended.  I sat at the table sponsored by Treaty 4 News however, once seated, the assigned formalities seemed to just fade away; women were catching up and visiting with one another at different tables and some even moved from their original table to go and sit at another.  Before the event started, the air was filled with conversation and laughter.  Once the program began though, the environment changed a bit.  It became calm, peaceful and was the epitome of class.  It was such a wonderful experience to witness an evening of women simply celebrating one another; celebrating one another’s successes, accomplishments, skills, talents and overall, their commitments to wanting better lives for themselves, their families, their communities and most of all, other women.

I admit that when I first saw the advertisement for the event, I thought that I had a pretty good idea as to who some of the nominees would be in the various categories.  I even thought I knew who some of the winners were going to be.  I was sadly mistaken, but in a good way!  Award or no award, we have some incredible First Nation women out there and given the ages of some of the nominees, we are starting to see a new wave of fabulousness generated from our communities!  Inspiring and empowering times, I tell you!

Although every category was great in its own right, the one that was the coolest to watch was the category designated for the matriarch.  To be a nominee in this category, you had to be a woman who represents the head of the family or community.  There were many nominees and pretty much all were described as being the “strength” of both her respective family and community.  To see them all receive the award together was truly amazing.  It was rather emotional and quite powerful because let’s face it, without our matriarchs, where would we be?  I’m not saying this to take anything away from our First Nation men. Their role is just as important, however, there is something undeniably different and unique about this “strength” that these, and many other, First Nation women have.  A resiliency that comes not only from having to endure tough times, but from a place of personal and unwavering sacrifice; sacrificing time, energy, wants and desires for the familial good.

They accepted their shared achievement with humility and grace and it was the perfect way to end a perfect evening.  This stuck with me and recently, I realized why.  I miss my family’s matriarch, the late Stella Goodwill.  I attended the Treaty 4 Pow-wow with my husband and son and expected to run into a few members of my extended family.  And I did.  Some, I hadn’t seen in at least a decade and when I really thought about it, I knew that the passing of our matriarch had something to do with that.  The mother of 13 children and what seemed like a million grandchildren, there were so many of us and despite our differences, she was the “glue” that held us together.  She was the one thing that we all had in common and she was what made us a family.  When she made her physical departure from this earth, I knew that things would never be the same and that was very tough to reconcile.  It has been 17 years since she passed and there is not a day that goes by without thoughts and memories of her.  Whether it was love, patience, time or attention, she gladly gave us whatever she had with the simple hope that we would learn and pass these onto one another and our children.

Seeing those women up on that stage that night, being described in a fashion that was similar to my late grandmother, just reminded me of what I was missing.  At the time, it was sad but it came full circle at the pow-wow because I was reminded of how good it once was.  Our matriarchs are pivotal.  One is not better than the other, they each have their own special gifts to share with their families and communities and I applaud the selection committee for recognizing and honouring this.  This is a category for which there is no competition and as brief as it was, it was a moment that touched me and one I am sure I will remember forever.

Stephanie Whitecloud-Brass is a member of the Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation. You can reach Stephanie at Sunchild Law, her email address is: stephanie@sunchildlaw.com

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