Rhonda Lee McIsaac and Rayne Tarasiuk
Gamadis Port Clements hosted the second of the three-part Women’s Dialogue Session which had over 100 women attending January 27 and 28. Women from all communities attended this second phase of the three-part series bringing together women to address issues of importance.
Facilitators began with an introduction to Haida Law and a discussion on how to have a safe, respectful, and open dialogue throughout the event. The importance of the Haida matriarchal society was brought to the forefront and was embraced by the culturally diverse group, but it also brought up questions about ‘belonging’, ‘appropriation’ and the imposition of cultural values.
Throughout the two-days, activities were facilitated to bring awareness and challenge the participants assumptions. To show how the Haida social structure was disrupted by the residential school and 60’s Scoop, facilitator Sandlanee Gid Raven Ann Potschka sent the children to the corners of the room – dispersed and isolated – symbolically leaving the matriarchs and mothers alone in the remains of a fragmented community.
“I’m angry! Why did you send the children away?” an Elder cried from the circle, breaking a very tense silence. More tears fell as the discomfort grew.
Sandlanee Gid, then guided the group through a process of emerging in the present, encouraging agency and action as the ‘social structure’ was reinstated. Personal reflections, questions and solutions flowed from the group as everyone came together in a powerful circle, grounding and reconnecting all participants.
Communications facilitator, Madelyn McKay, from the town of Nelson, was also invited to facilitate at the sessions based on her extensive experience in conflict resolution, peaceful communication and deep listening.
Fifteen challenges emerged in an analysis of discussions held in the morning, and included:
- Intergenerational Mentoring
- Institutionalized Education (Youth & Post-Secondary)
- Employment Opportunities and Barriers
- Judgement & Bullying
- Indian Act
- Self-Confidence, Insecurity
- Physical Space
- Sexism (Community & Workplace)
- Mental Health & Addiction Services
- Holistic Women’s Health
- Women in Management & Leadership
- Isolation, Lack of Communication
For many the highlight of the weekend was the Women Leading Change panel discussion, which brought five women together who are engaged in serious issues across Haida Gwaii. These strong women are Gidadguudsliiyas Kim Goetzinger, Bonnie Olson, Kuuyaang Lisa White, Kii’iljuus Barbara Wilson, and Kiku Dhanwant.
“I don’t think of myself as a leader,” said Dhanwant as she wiped tears from her eyes. “But I guess I am,” she said. “We are all leaders,” was a refrain heard throughout the weekend and on Sunday afternoon, all those in attendence were challenged to come up with a way they will personally take action following the session. Over two days, there were significant personal break-throughs as well as women making new connections, friendships and gaining a better understanding of the interface of Haida and colonial history.
The final dialogue session of the project will be the Haíłzaqv Heiltsuk and Haida Women’s Dialogue Session, taking place February 27-28 at the Howard Phillips Community Hall in Gaaw – 9:30am – 4:30pm each day. A dinner also took place the evening of the Tuesday Feb. 27 from 5-7pm at the Gaaw Old Massett Community Hall.
The Xaayda Haíłzaqv Janaas gud ‘ahl guusuu Haida Heiltsuk Women’s Dialogue Session xaayda Haíłzaqv Jaa.adas gud ad kithguld gud kaakan was inspired by the British Columbia Assembly of First Nation’s dialogue session, where Ga Gwi Ya Marilyn Slett, Chief Councilor, Haíłzaqv Heiltsuk Nation connected with Taaw’ga halaa leeyga May Russ, liljulaawas Babs Stevens, and Florence Lockyer to create a vision of a nation-to-nation dialogue session.