At the age of 85, Elder Mae Louise is still fighting to restore the balance of power once held by Indigenous women. More than half the age of this province, she is not only a major matriarch in Manitoba but one of the most beautiful women I have met. Mae Louise has witnessed the brutalities lodged against Indigenous women over decades and has dedicated her life to heal and empower Indigenous women.
Her resilience and strength are in her bloodline, passed down through the generations to her daughter Jamie Goulet. Together they are a vibrant mother-daughter team and for over two decades helped thousands of women and girls deal with multi-generational trauma. They are the co-founders of the Clan Mother Healing Village and Knowledge Centre which seeks to provide mid to long-term support and education opportunities to victims of multi-generational sexual violence and human trafficking. Their formula for change is simple,” you heal a mother, you heal a generation of children”.
They are working to “re-establish the long-lasting Indigenous matrilineal models of governance and healing that, although have been oppressed, have not been lost” says Jamie Goulet. Their unique land-based healing model will use Indigenous healing methodologies, community living, and community healing to support at-risk women. They hope to be independent of government funding and therefore look to develop programs, products and services that would be revenue generating for the Healing Village and for the women.
Photo: Elder Mae Louise and Jamie Goulet.
“There has always been something missing in these western systems for us and that is the leadership of and support for Indigenous women”, says Elder Mae-Louise. Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls reveals a deliberate gender-based genocide against Indigenous women with roots in Canada’s historical and political beginnings.
Statistically, this province has failed Indigenous women and children. We have the highest number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in this country, in addition to having the highest number of children in care. “It is time we must show them (government and western institutions) the way, they must follow our lead”, says Elder Mae Louise “because their way has stripped us of our power and has been the root of this destruction”.
Historically, European men held power over women, which was not the case in North American/Turtle Island. Indigenous women were central leaders within our Nations and major decision makers within our families and communities. Nothing happened without the consent and approval of the women says Writer/Storyteller Duncan Mercredi, “when we started to ignore our women that is when everything went to shit”, he says, speaking at a Grandmothers Rise Gathering, held February 24, 2020, at the North-end Community Resource Centre, located on Selkirk Avenue, an event organized by Michelle Boivon.
European imperialism set in motion intentional efforts to undermine the power and influence of Indigenous women. This has also been noted through the research of Wendy Grant-John, former Musqueam chief. In her writing she captures senior government officials telling a priest in writing, ‘You need to teach Indian men how to treat their women. Their women have too much power. You need to teach them how to beat their wives”. This is but one example that illuminates the ways in which Indigenous women were stripped of their power, oppressed, and later devalued, leaving a legacy of multigenerational, and intergenerational trauma, abuse, family dysfunction with limited opportunities. “Our women want to do well and be well, but we must work that much harder to reclaim our sense of place, belonging, reverence and leadership within our own communities”, says Jamie Goulet. We must also work that much harder to protect our young women and each other from these ongoing attacks. The fact remains that when our women suffer, we all suffer, especially the children.
Upon personal reflection, I realize how difficult this writing process has been for me. It brought many unresolved feelings to the surface about my own brush against these issues. Growing up in Winnipeg’s North End with a high population of Indigenous peoples made me a prime target for potential exploitation. I recall walking to school daily over a mile stretch between Mountain and Flora and many times over those four years, a car would pull up sometimes asking for directions. “I’m lost, if you could only show me the way for a couple bucks”. I also recall one time when two “friends” asked me to go for a walk, only to arrive at a place behind a bar where men were pulling up looking for girls to hop in their car. “Go on, they said, just get in, we’ll keep an eye on you and we have the license plate”. I was shocked and luckily, they took no for an answer, but I felt heavily pressured in that moment. Yet for them, they were just replicating what they saw happening out their front door. By the age of 15, I had my own stalker. A white male, in a dark blue vehicle driving around watching me from a distance. Was he really watching me I wondered? Why is he always there? After leaving a party at a downtown location, there he was again. Making my way home we ended up walking through the Greygoose bus station…and there he was again. He opened his long jacket to reveal himself. Shocked and scared I ran into the women’s washroom to hide from him. I peeked out of the washroom and there he was sitting on a chair nearby. I stayed in that washroom till morning and walked over the Slaw Rebchuck bridge to my home in the north end. Not long after, my good friend Glenda Morrisseua went missing, and two weeks later, was found murdered. She was last seen walking over that same bridge. If my parents knew any of what I dodged, they would have grounded me forever, but they didn’t’ have to because I grounded myself. I fell into a depression, started going to ceremony and put myself on a path to address some of these issues, like co-founding a play with Red Roots Theatre called Those Damn Squaws which would highlight the racism and exploitation Indigenous women were experiencing. At the time, I didn’t recognize these experiences as attempts of sexual exploitation, stalking, or the beginnings of what could have been human trafficking or worse. For some this is simply how it begins or ends.
Personally, I hate having to tell my daughter and nieces to be cautious out there because of the simple fact they are Indigenous female. This impacts their well-being and their ability to feel at ease in their own skin within their own homelands and we should be mad as hell about this. This violence doesn’t just happen on our streets, it continues in our schools, on social media, in the workplace, and at corporate levels. In 2013, Cindy Blackstock revealed surveillance, privacy and safety issues for activists and changemakers working within systems. Yes, there are consequences for changemakers, but hope is not lost, because we are strengthening and can now celebrate the efforts of our changemakers like Cindy Blackstock and Elder Mae Louise and Jamie Goulet. Despite efforts to undermine the strength, resiliency and leadership of Indigenous women, we are still standing strong and we continue to have strong Indigenous grandmothers showing us the way.
Speaking about these truths will continue to illuminate the challenges we continue to face and the issues we must believe we can create change within western systems and within community. It starts by telling our truth, sharing our stories and charting our own paths, as is the case with the Grandmothers Healing Village. But we cannot do it alone. We need our allies and the rest of Canadians at our side. We need allies like Kristie Pearson who hosted an event January 30, 2020 to announce that the Sons & Daughters of Italy are committed to supporting the development of the Clan Mother Healing Village and Knowledge Centre. All proceeds from their annual Gala on Saturday March 14th, 2020 will go to support the development of the Clan Mother Healing Village. Under the banner of Truth and Reconciliation getting behind this vision is one tangible way to impact change.
Photo: Plans for the Clan Mother Healing Village and Knowledge Centre.
In closing, thank you, Elder Mae Louise and Jamie Goulet, for helping us remember how beautiful and amazing we truly are as women and for showing us a clear path forward. You embody the bonds we hope to re-establish between the generations. The Indigenous led solutions you put forward are a clear path to reconcile the exploitation and violence lodged against Indigenous women.
For more information, visit the Clan Mother Healing Village and Knowledge Centre at: www.facebook.com/clanmothershealingvillage
This is the second in a series of articles by Rebecca Chartrand, where she will highlight some amazing Indigenous women who are sharing in the responsibility to guide our nations back to a place of well-being for our children sake and for generations yet to come.