Matriarchs office to address MMIW recommended for City of Saskatoon
- NC Raine | August 05, 2021
The City of Saskatoon may establish an office for Indigenous women to support and advocate for Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people (IWG2S), to answer the Calls to Justice of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
A new report presented to City Council July 19 recommends establishing an Independent Office of the Representative Matriarchs, who will work with other matriarchs, or “aunties” in creating the centre.
The matriarchs, or 'aunties', would fulfill the role of an auntie to anyone who might need support, regardless of age, said Cote. They would provide advice, advocacy and challenge the system itself, she said.
“It is about an Auntie, it is about family. That is something that's very important to Indigenous people and to community, is the importance of family. Where do people feel most comfortable? With family. So I think the concept of a matriarch centre, an 'Auntie centre', will be able to fulfill that vision and that need of a family,” said Melissa Cote, Director of Indigenous Initiatives at the City of Saskatoon.
“What's currently being done isn't working,” she said.
“There's a lot of reports and recommendations, yet we continue to have missing and murdered women, girls, and two-spirit people… We need to think about things differently in order to come up with solutions. This is an innovative solution and is very simple in the sense that it is about an auntie, a family,” Cote said.
The report follows a resolution from City Council in 2019 to identify options for the city to respond to the Calls for Justice produced by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
The new report, entitled “IWG2S Coming Home,” was prepared by Hope Restored Canada, a charitable organization that aims to empower women. If implemented, the IWG2S Centre will work with non-profit organizations and government to offer help, such as an Indigenous search and rescue unit, a centralized knowledge base and a services coordinator offering support specially to IWG2S individuals.
“We know and hear that our community members often feel targeted and or unwanted in many circumstances and interactions with civic services. We know our bodies and our connection isn't valued. We see it, we feel it,” said Jennifer Altenberg, Métis educator and co-creator of Indigenous Young Women's Utopia.
“A matriarchal role within the city of Saskatoon has great potential if done in a good way and not as another grand gesture. It could equalize and amplify the voices of our women in our city. Someone will be keeping track of our girls and the stories we carry,” she said.
If the initiative is implemented, the city would work with an advisory group to determine how the matriarchs, or 'aunties', would be selected. There is no proposed budget or timeline yet, but according to a press release, city administration will bring forward options for operational and capital funding in the 2022-23 Business Plan and Budget.
“Whenever you are creating an Indigenous (public) space, Indigenous people want to feel like they can see themselves. I always say, 'is this a window for me, or is this a mirror?'” Altenberg said. “Having a matriarchal role, Indigenous women and girls might feel safer, and represented, in all types of public spaces.”