Women lead the December 21, 2012 march on Parliament Hill.

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I was somewhere around Port Arthur, seeing the approaching-edge of a new chapter of Indigenous history we now see unfolding, when the realization began to take hold.

Four women — Sylvia McAdam, Sheelah McLean, Jess Gordon, and Nina Wilson — sparked and ignited a revolution, Idle No More, unseen in our time or perhaps any other, across Turtle Island.

More women — Dr. Pam Palmater, Janice Makokis, Tanya Kappo — helped fan those very flames now sweeping the globe, by means of social media teach-ins and presentations which helped bring the vision, message and understanding further to countless.

And now, in Ottawa, a woman from Attawapiskat First Nation, Chief Theresa Spence — aligned with the concerns which Idle No More spearheaded and brought to the public consciousness — has put her very life on the line to similarly challenge violations to our treaties, sovereignty, and in fact to our coming generations.

Not to mention those equally hardworking, but greatly invisible to the public eye in places reaching from Vancouver to Ottawa.

Do we notice a pattern?

I’m sure many do.

Let us acknowledge such a pattern reflected in the communities and Nations we each call Home.

Who are the pillars of our families that hold us together?

Who are those very sources of strength, heart and vision at the centre of our families?

Who are the subtle protectors and the voices of fire — when either are crucial and needed?

It doesn’t take much time to realize that it is our women.

And if we can all nod, agree and come to terms with the fact that women are the centre of our families, we must acknowledge that women are the centre of our communities, and further — the centre and pillars of our nations.

Now we find ourselves at a very precarious time in our history and legacy, but equally a time of awakening if we seek to understand (and act to change) the track we are on — and have been on in fundamental (and often overlooked and unspoken) ways.

My Relations, it’s time to level.

Long before the 1969 White Paper and the current myriad of Bills put through by Stephen Harper’s Conservative Government of Canada that mirrors the 1969 attempted encroachment, the first of many critical, colonial onslaughts upon our Nations were those which targeted our women.

Because of the strong linkages between the centres of our families, communities, and Nations – “if you collapse the strength of women, you collapse the strength of a Nation” was very much the guiding principle in conscious attempts to off-set such Nation-strength.

Undermining the role, significance, influence and authority was a key step in disempowering our Nations in far-reaching ways.

Stepping back, it doesn’t take much to realize there is an undeniable and inarguable link between our women and the strength of our Nations — most notably, history shows us that when the first has been disempowered, the latter is disempowered. By this very logic, empowering our women will empower our Nations — and it is so very long overdue.

It is no surprise to me that at a time when our collective lifegiver (Ahki, the Earth – and Turtle Island) is being devalued and violated by industry and the frightening era of neoliberalism, our individual lifegivers (our Indigenous women, the keepers and protectors of our lands) continue to be devalued in importance and significance and violated by abuse, colonial legislations that target them specifically, and in a frightening era of too many missing and murdered indigenous women here in Canada.

Again stepping back, it doesn’t take much to realize there is an undeniable and inarguable link between our collective lifegivers and the protectors of her, our individual lifegivers — but most notably, our conscious decisions and choices to respect each.

Yes, respect.

But I truly feel that it must go beyond merely showing respect, life must be breathed into empowering — empowering our collective lifegiver through our best efforts, but also giving our very best efforts to empowering (re-empowering) our individual life-givers, our women.

But how often do we hear about the “Old Boys Club”?

How often have we seen initiatives and progress brought to the forefront by our women, only to be ignored as one of our men (be it a Chief, a Council member, a representative, or a speaker) taking credit, showing disrespect, or simply not acknowledging their central role in such change?

Or how often have our women’s voices been silenced by being spoken over — or even ignored — by our male leaders?

This is not to generalize that we do not have solid and integral male leaders who support our women at every turn and who have been standing strong and supportive to the movement — also quite integral to the growth and impact on our times — but this matter being challenged here is common enough to examine today to envision (a different) tomorrow.

I believe that the attacks upon Ahki (our collective lifegiver) and Turtle Island, as well as the consciously-targeted viciousness toward our coming generations and the very foundations of our Nations, are such matters where the solutions will be charted by our women and birthed of connections to each — connections that outshine any matter of election, intention, or entitlement.

It is not only appropriate — but critical and necessary — that we begin to listen to our women in how we chart our course upon these harsh waters if we wish that unprecedented times of challenge are to become times of envisioned opportunity and integrity so overdue.

To our men…

I write this to you today and I truly hope what I’ve written above has framed my sincere challenge to you in a way that is crystal-clear in not only the reason, but the need for such a fundamental change to come occur.

My Brothers, it is time to do what we can, with good hearts and good minds, to re-empower our true leaders — our women.

My Brothers, it is time to forever fracture the legacy that undermines the role, significance, influence, and authority of our women in our families, communities and Nations.

My Brothers, it is time to break apart the “Old Boys Club,” step aside and create space for the direction, the role, the significance, the influence and the authority of our individual lifegivers to take root into the protection of our collective lifegiver, our coming generations and our Nations — our women have a connection and central keystone to each that we can only hope to understand.

My Brothers, it is time to begin listening to and hearing our women, respecting our women and their direction in every capacity, from the frontlines of leadership to within our own homes, and to directly challenge where such things are undermined.

My Brothers, it is time to take our cues from our lifegivers and pick up our traditional responsibilities — and if we are unaware what they may be, take the time to ask and adhere.

My Brothers, it is time to acknowledge the Clan Mothers and our women who hold inherent jurisdiction over the land, to support why they are standing up to lead this movement because the land and water is under assault, and to respect and support the sacred duties to protect each.

My Brothers, it is time — and that time is long-overdue.

By standing beside our women as supportive sons, supportive partners, supportive brothers, supportive cousins, supportive nephews, supportive grandsons, supportive relatives, supportive co-workers, supportive leaders, and supportive friends — come what(ever) may — we walk beside our ancestors and stand beside our unborn, as well.

By standing beside our women, we walk true to the Native Pride of which we speak.

To my Brothers: today I implore you, I beseech you, and in fact I challenge you that in these times so unprecedented — ‘et’s support, love, respect, and help re-empower our women in an unprecedented way, as lifegivers, as our direction and as our leaders.

To my Brothers: it is not only sharing in the consequence that will bind us together in an indivisible and unbroken community, but sharing in the common source to us all. Meaning; it is not only in the prevention of negative impacts upon Ahki and our Nations that will bind us together, but by the simple acknowledgement that no matter our age, our Nation, our community, our heritage, our political compass, or where we call home — we have all come from a womb.

In this way, firmly standing beside our women and restoring that respect and reverence has a very genuine and great potential to heal our past divides, prevent future division of unity, and finally bind us together in unbreakable community upon not only a common and shared threat, but the common beginning we share which we all can (and must) respect.

The writing is on the wall and the road is very clear.

What have we witnessed in times of unprecedented change?

Four women ignited the spark that is illuminating our world.

More fanned the flames which continued to spread its warmth.

Another now puts her life on the line to protect the life pulsing within our Nations, our Treaties, and our coming generations — following the central vision of Idle No More.

And in Ottawa, women led the way in the march to the Parliament — just as it should be.

“And strong women will re-create strong Nations…”

It doesn’t get any more truthful than that.

May we know, may we acknowledge, and may we fully understand…

Our lifegivers give life to leadership.


Robert Animikii Horton, “Bebaamweyaazh”, an Anishinaabe member of Rainy River First Nations of Manitou Rapids (Treaty #3 Territory) and from the Marten Clan, has built a reputation as a progressive and outspoken activist, contrarian writer, and a respected orator on an international scale speaking. He is a sociologist, social and political activist, spoken-word poet, and a supporter and organizer of Idle No More in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

This written work on the topic was prepared and written at the recent request of the Idle No More founders.