Women Warriors: 5 Standout Indigenous Female Leaders in Canada
Gabriel's successor at Quebec Native Women, Michele Audette, has since gone on to become the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC).
NWAC has carried the battle cry for a national public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women for decades. Until 2010, when the federal government slashed its funding, NWAC maintained a growing database of missing and murdered women that held the government's feet to the fire and raised public awareness of a historic crisis that affects almost every community. As an advocate for aboriginal women across the country, the mother of five hails from an Innu community in northern Quebec and fought against sexist laws in Canada's Indian Act that arbitrarily stripped many Native women of their Indian Status based on who they married. Women successfully fought to have those laws changed in the 1980s.
“My heart beats, of course, to denounce the violence in our communities, and across Canada, for Aboriginal women,” she told Windspeaker after beginning her work at NWAC. “[I’m] always passionate for Aboriginal women’s issues. I think it’s going to be until my last breath. I’ll be fighting, working and doing stuff for my family and for aboriginal people.”
Since capturing the attention of a generation with hit songs like “Up Where We Belong” and “Universal Soldier,” Buffy Sainte-Marie keeps not only packing her rock music with lyrics both politically challenging, romantic and beautiful, but also continuing to pioneer her distinctive digital artwork, and supporting education efforts about and for indigenous people.
Born in Piapot Cree First Nation, in Saskatchewan, the 73-year-old Cree artist now resides in Hawaii, but continues to tour aggressively and show her conceptual artwork—what she terms “digital beadwork”—across the continent, and promoting her Cradleboard Teaching Project, a program to convey accurate information about Native peoples through educational systems.
“It's still art, but it's art with a different tool,” she told Indian Country Today Media Network in a phone interview. “For me, it's very similar to music: You do what you want to do, there's aren't a lot of rules.
Sainte-Marie was profiled in the 2008 documentary Buffy Sainte-Marie: A Multimedia Life, which traces her roots from the Prairies to the burgeoning Greenwich Village folk scene and to today's groundbreaking artwork. She brought indigenous self-determination into the public consciousness with songs like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and, on her most recent album, Running for the Drum, she continues to advocate for her people with songs like “No No Keshagesh,” a warning to those destroying the Earth.
Sainte-Marie was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and her music has been celebrated with a Governor General's Performing Arts Award in 2010, and a Canadian Gemini Award.
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