Women Call for Culturally Rooted Remedies

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By Caroline L. Tait

"What struck me the most was seeing the smiles on the faces of the women as well as the strong feeling of belonging to a spontaneous group that shared many common experiences and preoccupations."-
Christine Sioui, Conference Participant

(MONTREAL) No one at Aboriginal Women of Montreal/Femmes autochtone de Montreal (AWM/FAM) could have anticipated that the 'storm of the century' would hit Montreal and surrounding areas a week before the Wisdom of Native Women Wellness Conference, January 16, 17, & 18.

In the days leading up to the conference, a majority of organizers, presenters and participants were not only without electricity, but many were displaced from their homes, staying with friends or relatives, or living in shelters. At first, organizers believed it would only be a short period of time before things would be back to normal, however as the days passed and the situation deteriorated, it appeared women, inevitable that the conference would have to be cancelled.

"Despite months of preparation we thought we would have to cancel the conference" said Laveme Contois, President of AWM/FAM, "but we went to the women to get their input and received an overwhelming response in favor of continuing!"

"Something wonderful began to happen," said Virginia Thomas, the conference coordinator. "The women responded with so much enthusiasm that suddenly it was not AWM offering a conference to the but the women themselves making the conference their own." By the time the conference finally began, 130 Aboriginal women had arrived, representing over 10 different Nations.

"It really brought Aboriginal women in the Montreal area closer together. We had a huge amount of support from everyone, especially the Mohawk women in Kahnawake who were still without electricity, and from other Aboriginal organizations such as the Native Friendship Center of Montreal and Quebec Native Women" added Contois.

The conference, funded by the Centre d'Excellence pour la santé des femmes, Canadian Heritage and Health Canada, was created to bring urban Aboriginal women together to address their health and wellness concerns. Keynote speakers included Bea Shawanda, who demonstrated the importance of humor in maintaining healthy lifestyles, and Jane Middleton-Moz who spoke on the perpetuation, from one generation to the next of the effects of trauma, such as sexual abuse, poverty and substance abuse. Saturday morning, women on a multi-nation elders panel shared their experiences and understandings about traditional approaches to healing, wellness and spirituality.

On Sunday, young urban Aboriginal women spoke candidly about the difficulties and successes they have had in making the transition from life in their communities to life in the city. Afternoon sessions included smaller workshops on self-esteem and personal empowerment; the healing power of ritual, custom and tradition; coping with stress and cultural identity and its effects.

"We were happy to see a strong representation of young women at the conference, a group AWM wants to connect up with as they tend to be at higher risk for problems such as drug and alcohol addiction, sexual abuse and problems of cultural identity," said Beverly Sabourin, Vice-President of AWM.

In the end, the conference was a huge success for AWM as the organization moves toward its next project, the design and development of an urban Aboriginal women's wellness resource center in Montreal. AWM hopes to open the center in the year 2000.

About 130 delegates attended the Montreal conference.

For further information contact Caroline Tait at Aborginal Women of Montreal, (514) 495-2284; ctait@po-box.mcgill.ca .