President's Message - March 17, 2021

March 17, 2021

Introduction

Last week was International Women's Day around the globe. Every March 8 since 1911, International Women's Day has celebrated the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

It wasn't until 1916 that Manitoba led the way for women to get the vote and run for office in Canada. Of course, it was many years before Indigenous women were fully included in Canada's confederation - and it could be argued that they are still fighting for equal footing today.

Shortly after International Women's Day, I was very proud to give greetings at the Annual General Meeting of the Infinity Women Secretariat, which took place on March 13. The Infinity Women Secretariat connects and empowers Métis women across the province through cultural heritage, employment programs, community engagement, leadership and governance development.

This has made me think about the role of women in Métis Nation. From our earliest days, women have been critical to our evolution as a Nation. When men were away on long trading expeditions, women were the teachers, guides and keepers of our culture for our Youth. They also played an important role in our battles, making bullets, hiding their men from the authorities and protecting children and Elders.

Even in my own childhood, there is no greater influencer of my beliefs and character than my mother. A woman who washed clothing to earn a living and care for her children, she was a pillar of strength who taught me to protect my name and remember where I come from. No matter what was going on around us, she was a source of strength and love that I still keep close to my heart.

The impact of COVID-19 on women

COVID-19 has challenged us all, but it has also highlighted and emphasized existing inequalities in Canada. Women have felt the impacts of the pandemic more sharply than their male counterparts, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledging that the impact has been worse for women - calling it a "she-cession". Employment among women remains about 5.3 per cent below where it sat in February 2020 - just before the first wave of COVID-19 - compared to a drop of about 3.7 per cent for men.

It has also emphasized the plight of women in unsafe homes. Statistics Canada data shows that police calls to domestic disturbances between March and June of 2020 were up 12 per cent nationally, compared to the same period in 2019. The situation is so serious that some have called gender-based violence the "shadow pandemic" of COVID-19.

Add to these challenges the ongoing issues of access to education and safe, affordable and accessible childcare, and it's clear to see that the pathway forward for women - including Métis women - is one full of challenges and hazards.

The role of women at the MMF

Women are key participants within your Métis Government, and their voices are strong and respected. More than half of my Cabinet is women, with Mona Buors, Frances Chartrand, Denise Thomas, Marielle Gauthier, Leah LaPlante, Judy Mayer, Joan Ledoux, Julyda Lagimodiere, Mildred Dorian, JoAnne Remillard and Anita Campbell lending their strength and guidance to our governmental decisions.

Along with being the Minister of Finance and Human Resources, Anita Campbell is also the spokeswoman for Infinity Women Secretariat, an affiliate that ensures Métis women are supported and helped in our communities.

Within the different portfolios and departments of the MMF, women are the dominant forces of leadership - the overwhelming majority of departments are run by female directors who show great strength and dedication in their daily work.

Even my own office is primarily run by women - women with knowledge, experience and expertise, who provide their advice and wisdom to me on a daily basis.

Strong men are not afraid of strong women - they know that a woman's strength does not diminish their own, but adds perspective and balance, creating harmony within the Nation.

How the MMF works to elevate Métis women

Providing a safe place to plan a future is the first step. While I pray that no Métis woman will ever need it, we are in the process of creating that safe space for Métis women and children who need to escape domestic violence. Located here in Winnipeg, we've already identified the site and plan to begin development quickly.

The MMF also recognizes that mothers cannot focus on their own goals when the needs of their children are unmet. From the opening of Little Stars PLAYhouse in Winnipeg, Michif Children's Place in Dauphin and more coming to other locations like St. Eustache and Duck Bay, we are working rapidly to deliver culturally sensitive and appropriate childcare facilities for our children.

When women can think about their own goals, many turn their thoughts to education. Women are well-represented in our Post-Secondary Education Support Program, with women making up more than half of the funding recipients. Going into a number of disciplines from nursing to natural resource management, Youth attending post-secondary education are deepening the expertise and knowledge within our Nation.

Of almost 3,500 Métis people accessing Education and Training supports, 55 per cent are women. Approximately 70 per cent of Métis students in professional post-secondary studies are women. Even in the trades and applied arts at colleges, 53 per cent of students are women. I feel a great sense of pride in seeing Métis women pursue their own professional careers.

Once they've received their education, some Métis women turn their minds to business. We are continuing to see more and more women entrepreneurs, with 58 per cent more women-led businesses since 2018. In the last three years, Louis Riel Capital Corporation has supported 21 businesses with female owners for a total of $3.9 million in commercial loans and 34 businesses with female owners for a total of $1.3 million in non-repayable commercial grants. The $1.3 million in grants have also created and maintained 142 additional jobs in Manitoba.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have also delivered over $4.5 million to 228 businesses with female owners to get through these challenging economic times.

I am incredibly proud of the grit, guts and heart of the Métis women who've chosen education and entrepreneurship as their path forward.

Conclusion

Our Nation has a proud matriarchal history, and by lifting and celebrating that tradition, we can start countering the harsh colonial influence that has caused so many women to be treated as lesser, or created abuse and suffering.

There is no doubt in my mind that Métis Nation would not be what it is today without the many women who have worked tirelessly to advance our cause.

I thank all the women who have guided, supported and taught me throughout my life - my mother, my wife, my granddaughter, my staff, my Cabinet, and female Elders and Citizens.

I would like to take a moment to issue a challenge to Métis women who are active in their communities - you are a greater leader and a stronger voice than you may realize. Don't be afraid to use your influence, engage in politics, or go into business. In doing so, you are joining a proud tradition within our culture - leading families, leading communities and speaking up.

Perhaps, in time, we can teach other cultures about the strength that comes from working together.

I offer my prayers to all of our Citizens, friends and neighbours, and my deepest condolences to those who have been caused to grieve.

 


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