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Taking back their power

Cree women turn their backs on Ottawa

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Gloria Chocan (right) and her sister Rosalie Chokin at The Forks. Gloria and 10 other Cree women recently held a peaceful protest on Parliament Hill.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Gloria Chocan (right) and her sister Rosalie Chokin at The Forks. Gloria and 10 other Cree women recently held a peaceful protest on Parliament Hill. Photo Store

THOUSANDS gathered, some from as far as Australia and New Zealand, to take in Manitoba's Aboriginal Day festivities at The Forks on Saturday.

The festival, which traditionally celebrates diversity and strength among aboriginal communities, also drew 11 indigenous women from Onion Lake Cree Nation Treaty Women's Secretariat.

Gloria Chocan is among 11 female elders from Treaty Six, all between the ages of 55 and 77, who travelled to Ottawa on June 18 — and then walked away as a symbolic gesture. The women are protesting what they feel are injustices committed against their people by the federal government.

All of the women hail from Onion Lake Cree Nation, a reserve that sits on the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan. They're slowly making their way home by car, stopping at aboriginal celebrations along the way.

Among the beating drums and jingling costumes that populated the fields below the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Chocan explained the reasons behind their peaceful protest.

"It seemed like a far-fetched dream at first," she said. "Then we started talking about trying to get women to start standing up and helping."

"The elders have always been telling us that women are strong, that women are powerful. It's going to take a woman to take a stand, to take the right focus, like they did during the time of treaty-signing."

Chocan said her group didn't ask for anything from the government when they visited Ottawa on June 18. They simply went to Parliament Hill to take a spiritual stand against injustice.

"As women, when we wake up every morning we think of our kids right away. We think of the murdered and missing women, the foster care system, the lack of adequate housing, the education. You know, what can we do to help our young children lead better lives?" she said.

"We want a better education system that's geared toward us, like the French have. We want our children to be able to learn in our languages, but that's not made available for us."

Chocan wore a heavy white traditional costume to the Grand Powwow at The Forks on Saturday afternoon. Its intricate beading and fur patchwork added to the effects of the sweltering heat, which topped off around 28 C.

Chocan began to get dizzy, but her message was clear.

"We needed to go (to Ottawa) and ask the Creator to help us in a way. We needed to get strong, band together, because our men can't seem to get going," she said.

"That's what we went there for -- not to be recognized or anything -- but we did feel the power when we walked away. That's why we said, 'We are not walking to Parliament,' because it seems like every time you walk to Parliament Hill, you're empowering the government -- you're giving up something. So we said, 'Let's walk away and show them that we're taking our power back now.' "

"We're not children anymore. We need to be listened to."

jessica.botelho-urbanski@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2014 A3

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