On March 8, 338 young women between the ages of 18 and 23 will each be taking a seat in the House of Commons. Not as viewers of parliamentary proceedings, but as participants.
Daughters of the Vote initiative, an initiative of Equal Voice, is bringing one young female leader from each federal riding across the country to Ottawa to learn about Parliament and the mechanisms of government and to sit in the House of Commons like an MP does every day. The goal of Daughters of the Vote is that these women become equipped to inspire others and that they participate in formal politics throughout their promising careers.
New Journeys reached out to a few young Indigenous women—there are many involved!— participating in the Daughters of the Vote initiative to ask about why they wanted to be a part of it and what they’re looking forward to in their time in Ottawa.
Samantha MacKenzie, from the Garden River First Nation, is a new biology and Indigenous studies teacher representing the Sault Ste. Marie riding for Daughters of the Vote. Leslie St. Amour, a recent McGill grad, is a member of the Bonnechere Algonquin First Nation community and is representing Kingston and the Islands. Harmony Eshkawkogan is representing the Ottawa West - Nepean riding and brings awareness of Indigenous women with mental health issues in corrections into her work. Samantha MacKenzie, Leslie Anne St. Amour and Harmony Eshkawkogan
Why are you participating in Daughters of the Vote?
Samantha: I'm actually not the usual candidate for this program as I never considered law or politics part of my career in the normal sense. I'm a teacher so in a way politics is a large part of my job. I originally saw the program shared by NWAC. I decided it would be a good idea because I wanted to have the opportunity to gain more leadership and political skills and because I saw a need for Indigenous women to be represented in politics.
Recently, I've been learning more about the politics and issues on my reserve. I thought that even though I one day wanted to be one of the people to help solve these issues (member of chief and council if that's still the system at that time) that I didn't know where to start or even where to go to get political training. I wasn't sure I was the right person for the job as politics is really intimidating. I wanted to gain more confidence, and leadership skills and I thought this would be a great way to gain those skills.
Leslie: I’m participating in Daughters of the Vote because I believe it’s important for women to stand in solidarity with each other, across partisan lines to bring more women into politics. Part of Canada’s governing systems is having different perspectives in government however, historically those perspectives have all come from white men. I believe by participating in initiatives like Daughters of the Vote and working to support diverse groups of women in entering politics we can build truly representatives governments.
Harmony: A classmate told me about the event and that Equal Voice was looking for more Indigenous women to apply. I didn’t think of myself as being very political, but wanted to be a part of the experience, like making sure Indigenous women shared their voice, while sitting in the House of Commons and meeting other strong, successful women in Canada.
Why is it important to have more women involved in politics?
Samantha: For starters, half of Canada's population is women but we don't see that reflected in the number of female MPs (which sits at 26%), which I think needs to change. Additionally, there are some policies that more directly affect women than men (reproductive rights is an obvious one) and women need to have their voice represented on these issues and not let men speak for us.
Representation is important for any minority group. It is difficult for young people to see themselves in a career if they do not see anyone who looks like them (I also saw this issue when I was completing my science degree). Traditionally, politics has been a male-dominated career and the more women who are in politics and holding their own then the more young women will be encouraged to be leaders (not worried about being called bossy), and politicians. The same is true for Aboriginal peoples. Additionally, women traditionally held leadership roles in many Indigenous communities. Clan mothers for example. I think that it is time that we start decolonizing ourselves and regain those leadership positions in our governance structures whether it is the Canadian system, chief and council or traditional structures of government.
Leslie: Women experience the world differently than men. We bring to the table these lived experiences which are often not taken into consideration in governments that consist of predominantly men. Women in politics have been some of the strongest supports and initiators of legislation around domestic violence, child care and healthcare because we are often those most directly impacted. By being political representatives we can ensure the needs of women are truly being met.
Harmony: Women in Canada make up half the population but are underrepresented in every level of politics (federal, provincial and municipal). I attended the Toronto [Daughters of the Vote] event at Queen’s Park and toured the Ontario Legislation and learned more about the good, bad and ugly side of provincial politics. I participated in panels discussions with women in politics and realized that women get more backlash from the media and public compared to male politicians just because of the way they look and dress vs. their qualifications. However, I think as the rest of society learns to let go of these gender stereotypes of women being too fragile to handle criticism, more women will begin to realize their potential and that their emotions don’t hinder their ability to handle stressful situations or to make important decisions.
Why is it important to have more Indigenous people involved in politics?
Samantha: It's the same for women as it is for Indigenous peoples. It is great to have allies working with us (male MPs, non-indigenous MPs) but we need to take our place at the table too and speak for ourselves (I had one professor who would rather cynically state that if you weren't at the table then you on the table—as in being served for the meal). When we do that and work with our allies we can move mountains and truly move towards reconciliation.
Often policies affecting Indigenous peoples (and women too) have been made and handed down to us without our consultation and help creating them. It is essential for our voices to go into policy work to ensure they are in the best interest of the people they are about. If we are not involved, has policy-making really changed from the paternalistic system? Reconciliation requires us working together and that will only happen if Indigenous peoples are involved in politics as well.
Leslie: I once had a professor say in lecture, “survival is resistance.” I took this to heart and believe my participation here is reflective of that. My being here and identifying as Algonquin is resistance as is my desire to enter politics. I am resisting the idea that politics is not a space for me. As Indigenous people we bring with us generations of knowledge of our lands and generations of trauma caused by government. When we have more Indigenous people in government and in politics we can work to ensure that our connections to the land, our communities and our nations are protected and revitalized in concrete ways that look beyond tokenistic mentions of reconciliation. We can also work to ensure that the decisions made to help combat intergenerational trauma are what we need. We can insert ourselves into that process and prevent decisions being made for us that do not meet our needs as has been done for decades.
Harmony: Indigenous people make up almost five per cent of Canada’s population but are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, women are victimized and many First Nations children are in foster services. It’s a national shame for Canada as it enters its 150 year anniversary, but it’s been more than 500 years of colonization for Indigenous peoples.
What are you looking forward to most about Daughters of the Vote?
Samantha: I'm very excited for the professional development and leadership workshop day because I want to learn new skills and meet more amazing strong women from across Canada. One workshop is about Traditional Knowledge and I am always eager to learn from elders so I look forward to it.
There is an Indigenous Forum day for the FNMI delegates the first day and I am looking forward to meeting the elders involved and talking with some wonderful Indigenous ladies. The FNMI delegates have been talking online already and we are planning to incorporate a lot of our ideas into the conference if we can. We are planning on bringing hand drums and singing the strong woman song while we march to Parliament to take our seats in the House of Commons on International women's day.
There is also the chance where if you get chosen to speak in front of the House of Commons either about a set topic (in front of the committee for the status of women) or (for a shorter period of time) a topic of your own. I have applied and I hope to speak about the inequity in Indigenous education in Canada. I care passionately about seeing Shannen's Dream come true (as I am a teacher) so I hope to be chosen and get to speak before the House of Commons.
Leslie: I am most looking forward to the relationships I have been and hope to continue to build with other delegates, elected officials and Equal Voice members. These relationships will not only serve me in having friends that will support me, allow me to bounce ideas off them and help me learn, but will allow me to do the same and give back and support other women.
Harmony: I’m really looking forward to networking with other Indigenous women at the Indigenous forum in Ottawa. I also have the opportunity to speak the next day to the Status of Women Committee about violence against girls and missing and murdered Indigenous women. It will be interesting to hear some of the [other participant’s] stories about issues that concern them, specifically within their province/territory.
To learn more about Daughters of the Vote, visit daughtersofthevote.ca.