by F. P. Favel for Indigenous Times News
1996 Winnipeg vigil, Edee O’Meara,
Emily Rivers, Cheryl Edwards,
LannaMoon Perrin, Heather Milton-Lightening
Edee O’Meara and her children
March 8, 2015, International Women’s Day was celebrated on the Poundmaker Cree Nation, Saskatchewan, by Anishinabe poet Edee O’Meara with family and friends in a small ceremony around a sacred fire. This fire was lit to honour a woman, Colette Schooner, Indian name Aluusta, a Bella Coola woman who had succumbed to cancer after a brave battle in which she had rejected White Man’s medicine. In her honour, fires were lit across the country at mid-day, including Poundmaker, a Cree Assiniboine community in central Saskatchewan. Aluusta was a 33 year old warrior woman eco-activist who, at the age of 12 to protect her people’s forest, stayed in a tripod she had built on a tall tree. Songs were sung and tobacco was burned for her, and for all warrior women past and present. The prayer extended to all of our mothers, sisters and daughters as well, as it takes a brave person to raise a family.
Edee O’Meara is Anishinabe from Lake St. Martin First Nation, Manitoba. She studied writing at the Enowkin International School of Writing in Penticton, British Columbia, and later became the founder of the Native Youth Movement which began in Winnipeg, Manitoba and has since extended to have many chapters across North America. In 2011 her home community of Lake St. Martin, Manitoba, was deliberately flooded by the province of Manitoba that left her landless and homeless, and she is currently working on a book that recounts this experience.
In March, 1998, Edee sat with Native Youth Movement and supporters to organize a vigil to honour and bring attention to all the murdered Indian women on this continent. This action ended up being named Anna Mae Day, in honour of Anna Mae Aquash, a Miqmaq woman whose body was found in South Dakota in 1976. The FBI had cut off her hands allegedly to send her fingerprints to be analyzed. The discussion around Anna Mae’s life, death, and after death was what sparked the discussions and led to the fire that was lit in the center of the intersection of Dufferin and King in Winnipeg’s north end. The north end, known as, the ‘low track’ where many Aboriginal people had ended up living with many social issues.
They were about 10 young people who created this vigil, one of the very first vigils for missing and murdered Aboriginal woman to take place in this country. The fire was kept going on a very cold night. There were no permits for this vigil yet police did not try and stop this event. The young people felt that permission did not need to be given to honour and sing for all the women that have been murdered with no justice served. “Nobody dared put our fire out,” Edee quietly reflects, “I remember Native Youth Movement worked hard and humbly to raise awareness of this issue. At that time we were able to compile a list of 20 missing and murdered Aboriginal women, these were women we knew or were aware of and at that time there were no databases or reports focused on this issue. Now there are lists and databases across the country and the names of the missing are now well into the thousands. This vigil was not a protest, there were no placards or signage of any sort, it was an honouring, a remembering by the sacred fire…”
This summer, 2015, Edee is planning to host the 20th anniversary and commemoration of Native Youth Movement. “More and more young people are looking to the older generation to lead them, to tell them stories, to inspire them as they move forward trying to help the future generations, that is why I would like to host a gathering sometime this summer.”
Her community, Lake St. Martin First Nation in Manitoba, was deliberately flooded by the province of Manitoba to save the city of Winnipeg in 2011, and Edee along with 2000 other evacuees from other First Nations as well as Lake St. Martin were forced to live in hotel rooms in the city of Winnipeg. Red Cross is responsible for all evacuees’ accommodation and basic sustenance while they wait for home and a land base However, evacuees are not allowed to live, work, or study out of province or they lose their benefits, essentially making them prisoners or wards of the province. Chief Duane Antoine of Poundmaker has granted her symbolic refugee status which allows her the freedom and safety to work on her book in a safe quiet setting, away from her home province of Manitoba and she now divides her time between Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Chief Antoine believes that this evacuation and the flooding of Edee’s Anishinabe people is an international and national issue and transcends any provincial jurisdictions or laws. This is an Indigenous Rights issue, as well as a human rights issue.
At present there is no immediate solution for her people and no one knows how long this evacuation, which was to last 2 weeks, which now is in its 4th year, will last. She is now working with a well-established publisher based in Halifax, Nova Scotia on a book she is writing which tells the story of this evacuation, this evacuation that has destroyed her community and caused great harm to her people. •