Empowerment and self-care the focus at OCF on International Women’s Day

Lisa Osawamick displays mask from Empowering Women Through Art program. The front view represents the way the world sees us. Shannon Agowissa proudly wears the Warrier Kwe t-shirt that is based on a program participant’s design. photo by Lori Thompspon

M’CHIGEENG—Gloria Steinem, the feminist, journalist and activist once said, “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”

The first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1911. The 2018 theme is Press for Progress, with everyone being encouraged to “press” forward and “progress” gender parity. To celebrate International Women’s Day, Ojibwe Cultural Foundation (OCF) in M’Chigeeng First Nation proudly presented a day of activities and discovery that focused on empowerment, self-care and traditional ways of life.

Lisa Osawamick, keynote speaker for OCF’s March 8 celebration, promoted the concept in her very personal and inspirational talk. “It’s quite an honour to be invited to speak here in M’Chigeeng today,” said Ms. Osawamick, “especially on International Women’s Day. It’s about being grateful for our life experiences, and encouraging women to take part in as many opportunities as they can.”

Ms. Osawamick reflected on her current role as Aboriginal Women Violence Prevention Coordinator with the Greater Sudbury Police. She provides outreach and education to local Indigenous women and girls and brings awareness to the community. She also provides culturally appropriate support to Indigenous women or children who have been affected by crime. The initiative is a direct response to the national inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and is a partnership with N’Swakamok First Nation Friendship Centre in Sudbury.

She noted that, “Ten years ago I never saw myself doing this. I never thought I would be a graduate of a Masters degree program or working on the same floor as the chief of police. And 10 years ago I never thought I would see myself self-publish a children’s book.”

That children’s book, ‘Zaagidwin’s Fasting Journey,’ has sold out through two printings already. Ms. Osawamick is waiting for a third and perhaps final edition. She is particularly proud that the story has been translated into Anishinaabemowin. “I’m not a fluent speaker,” she explained. “The revitalization of our language is so important.”

Ms. Osawamick hopes to inspire and motivate by telling her story. “We are planting seeds,” she said, “when we make healthy lifestyle choices and demonstrate the values of education” by becoming educated. “We often struggle as women,” she said.

Ms. Osawamick’s mother, Martina, was a strong role model for her. “She was a single parent, a survivor of residential school, a survivor of cancer. She showed us how to be strong. How to be resilient.”

“I just finished leading a four week program called Empowering Women Through Art,” continued Ms. Osawamick. “We made face masks and decorated both sides. The way the world sees us is the outside, but the way we see ourselves is the inside. It’s about gaining the self-worth and self-confidence to know I’m this beautiful.”

The initiative between Greater Sudbury Police and N’Swakamok is a two year project called Looking Ahead to Build the Spirit of our Women Learning to Live Free From Violence. “We hosted a conference honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women,” said Ms. Osawamick. “We expected 150 people but over 300 attended. The conference focused on honouring the lives of MMIW and was geared to family members mainly, but community also. Many partnerships resulted.”

Shannon Agowissa, Ms. Osawamick’s co-worker, quipped, “Bringing community together. That’s the gift Lisa has.”