Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Aboriginal women keep their culture alive

Gala recognizes accomplishments

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By all accounts, Marion Meadmore's resumé boasts an impressive list of accomplishments.

In 1978, she became the first female aboriginal lawyer in Canada. In 1985, she was awarded the Order of Canada. To name a couple.

But ask the 75-year-old about being honoured at the 2010 Keeping the Fires Burning aboriginal awards Thursday night and she's rather modest.

"It's kind of surprising," she said. "I've done some things, but never had a chance to look back. An award like this gives you the chance to do that."

Meadmore was one of nine women inducted at the gala this year. The event celebrates female leaders for preserving First Nations culture and serving as role models for younger generations. Each award winner is honoured with the title "Grandmother."

The event, put on by Ka Ni Kanichihk, a downtown aboriginal human services organization, has recognized 63 grandmothers since 2001.

Ka Ni Kanichihk executive director Leslie Spillett said she reads about the gangs and the growing list of missing and murdered women in the news. What she rarely reads about, she said, are those who have fought tremendous odds to keep their culture alive.

"We as an organization involved the whole community to select a group of women who we believe embrace the values and principles and spirit that has permitted our culture to continue to survive," she said.

"We know there are women doing really wonderful things and they get recognized, but there is another group of women that we can go to about finding out who we are as aboriginal people.

"In the face of the greatest odds, they know their language, their ceremonies, their medicines."

Women ranging from Swan Lake Chief Francine Meeches to teachers like Flora Zaharia were inducted.

Zaharia, a Blackfoot from Alberta, has taught in dozens of schools in Manitoba and Alberta. Recently, she has taught at the University of Manitoba and Brandon University and has been spending time at schools on Manitoba's northern reserves.

"I think I just do my best to live according to my convictions, what I feel should be done," said Zaharia. "I like to live the aboriginal teachings: respect, humility, truth, honesty, courage, love, and wisdom.

"I have learned a lot in my life and I try to improve on my mistakes," she said.

Spillet said women like Zaharia embody themselves as role models, encouraging youth to learn about their traditional culture.

"If we're developing and showcasing our own role models, we're illustrating to our younger sisters that aboriginal women, as a group, have strength, capacity, and resilience," she said.

"If we don't have our own icons, it's confusing. We don't know who we are. We get lost."

matt.preprost@freepress.mb.ca

2010 KEEPING THE FIRES BURNING: OTHER INDUCTEES

Madeline Spence, a residential school and TB survivor. Serves as an elder on numerous councils, including the Wuskwatim-NCN dam project.

Grace Ledoux Zoldy, former spokeswoman of Métis Women in Manitoba. Still speaks the Michif, Cree and Saulteaux languages despite her time in the residential school system.

Betty Ross, social worker, counsellor and interpreter.

Marie Bird, residential school survivor who continues to speak fluent Ojibway. Has fostered 33 kids over 20 years.

Beryl Bouvette, former musician who now volunteers for several agencies, including the Indian & Métis Friendship Centre and the Aboriginal Senior Resources Centre.

Anne Lacquette, former mayor of Mallard, Man., now serving on the board of the Parkland Regional Health Authority.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 18, 2010 A13

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