BC Indigenous women put fear aside and become powerful leaders in fight for equality

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Sarah Hunt aspires to be a professor after completing her PhD in geography. Photo by Amanda Laliberte.

Rather than appealing to Canadian laws, Hunt, who is of Kwakwaka’wakwa and Ukrianian descent, said Indigenous people would benefit from going back to their original ways of governance.

Hunt gave the example of two major cases that were launched in the Supreme Court of Canada in the last two years to legalize sex work. “We need to look within our networks, look at a smaller scale, rather than a big national poster campaign or change within the criminal code. Indigenous communities always had that.

“We defined ourselves locally. That’s what it is to be Indigenous, being a people whose culture and identity comes from the land,” the 36-year old, who identifies as a sex worker rights advocate, said.

Hunt said one way that a Native practice was used to change attitudes of violence towards Aboriginal women started in Victoria wherein men pin moose hide to their clothes as a visual pact to stand up against abuse. 

A former outreach worker and researcher for 10 years, Hunt pursued geography as she sees the potential to have Indigenous knowledge grow in the field. She also said she wants to be a leader, knowing that many First Nations people in the forefront are still men. 

“We need to put their voices at the center. That’s what I try to do,” Hunt asserted.

Samantha Grey, of the Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation, still wrestles with her Native background. “I’m very light skin Native and people would say ‘you’re not Native.’ I always resented that,” she said.

Grey was also trained by the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network and the Vancouver Rape Relief Shelter to speak at the UN Commission on the Status of Women in 2012.

After hearing many Aboriginal women’s stories of poverty and abuse, she decided she wanted a job that can make a difference in people’s lives. 

“I was just upset about hearing it.... I would start to get angry and want change,” the 25-year old said. 

Her conviction also came from her own upbringing. “Being raised by a single dad who struggled with addictions really laid the ground work for me, and many people that you talk with in social work have similar backgrounds.”

Samantha Grey with her daughter, Logan Cohnstaedt. Submitted photo. 

Grey obtained a certificate from Douglas College in social service and graduated valedictorian.

She has renewed her reason to fight for change. Grey recently gave birth to a blue-eyed, cherub-cheeked baby, whose father is from the Cowessess First Nation.

Now she wants to sign up for a bachelor’s degree program in social work. 

“I want her to grow up in a world not based on the color of her skin or what she identifies as. That’s what motivates me to do the work.  And maybe one day Aboriginal women would not be four times more likely to get murdered or sexually assaulted,” she said.

 

 

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