Aboriginal Women’s Leadership: Lead-HER-Ship

Note: The essay below was written by Naomi Sayers for the Women’s World 2011 Young Aboriginal Women’s Creative Essay Contest.


Leadership to me is something that women have been doing for ages. I take this word and I break it down into three parts. These three parts make up the word “leadership”, or lead-HER-ship. In essence, leadership is not just a quality; rather it is a role that all women undertake. When looked at from this angle, leadership is rather essential to life because women have been doing this for ages; that is, they have been leading HER ship.

The first part of this word refers to an action, namely, to lead. To lead means to guide a group of people or your own physical self in the right direction; it is to learn how to use the resources and the environment around you. To lead, then is not only to better your own life, but also to better the lives of others. This part of the word leadership is rather easy to notice.

The second part of this word may not be evident, but it is implied by the parts or the sounds that make up this part of the word. This part of the word speaks specifically to women, or in other words, speaks directly to HER: lead-HER-ship. Women are the carriers of life. Even though this part of the word is not as easy to notice, I believe that it is there and that it speaks directly to women.

The third part of the word can be understood in a metaphorical sense. Even though the third part of the word is “ship,” it does not literally mean ship. That is to say, women are not captains or leaders of a ship or a boat. Rather women are leaders in their own lives and the lives of others. Women provide the harmonistic balance and the gentle care that is necessary for life in this world. They provide this balance and care in for themselves and for their own community. Individually, they provide a balance for their own selves by maintaining a healthy mind, body and soul so that as carriers of life, they can help raise healthy babies and ultimately healthy families. At a community level, women, specifically Aboriginal women, are central to a community’s existence. Without the lead-HER-ship of Aboriginal women, communities might not be as balanced. Thus, the third and final part of this word–lead-HER-ship–metaphorically means guiding one’s own ship. In other words, their own life, community, and family, on a well-balanced and cared for journey to a destination that is safe.

When I look at leadership from this angle, lead-HER-ship, I begin to see that Aboriginal women’s leadership is important because it is the woman that helps guide her family and community to a safe destination by providing a harmonistic balance and gentle care to herself, her family and her community. Additionally, it can be seen that from this perspective, Aboriginal women have been providing leadership for years. They have been raising their families in a healthy manner, and helping to provide for a healthy community. Without Aboriginal women’s leadership, it would be hard for a community to be maintained. It is with an Aboriginal woman’s harmonistic balance and gentle care in maintaining her own self to raise a healthy family, which in turns makes for a healthy community that Aboriginal people thrive in. Therefore, Aboriginal women’s leadership is essential to a healthy community, a healthy family, and a healthy self.

Unfortunately, Aboriginal women’s leadership and their roles have been undermined because of the effects of colonialism. These effects of colonialism happen in a historical context. In Canada, the arrival of European settlers and their effects of enforcing their patriarchal views have displaced Aboriginal women out of their important roles as mothers, wives and women in their own community. This displacement happened when the Canadian government forcefully obtained Aboriginal children, placed them in residential schools away from their parents because they considered Aboriginal parents to be ineffective. Also, the Christian Church’s insistence on enforcing patriarchal views onto Aboriginal communities has displaced Aboriginal women as wives because of this removal of their children. Aboriginal women were not considered the strong, central figures that Aboriginal people and their culture considered their women to be.

Aboriginal women have been removed from their roles as strong women in their community with the creation of the Indian Act. The Act has undermined Aboriginal women when it removed their status once they married a non-Aboriginal. Only recently did Bill C-31 come into effect, wherein the bill provided the guidelines for reinstating an Aboriginal woman’s identity that was lost once she married a non-Aboriginal man. Also, the Indian Act did not protect an Aboriginal woman’s right to her own matrimonial property. Organizations and First Nations are realizing this lack of protection when it comes to the matrimonial home and some have remedied for their own situations. Briefly speaking because of the complexity of these issues, this is how the effects of colonialism have removed Aboriginal women from their roles as mothers, wives, and women in their own community. This is why Aboriginal women’s leadership is important. It allows for Aboriginal women to regain their identity and their roles as mothers, wives, and women in their own communities.

Two Aboriginal women that I look to for inspiration are Pauline Johnson and Lee Maracle. Johnson is known for writing about “Indian Life” and Maracle has written about life as a member as an oppressed minority. Both women have also written creative pieces, like poetry. Today, I write poetry and write an online blog where I write about my experiences as an Aboriginal female living in present-day Canadian Society. I write about my struggles, my experiences, and I also write creative pieces like poetry and short stories. These women have written about what life was like for them during their time, and today I write about what life is like for me. My goal one day is to write a children’s book that tells Aboriginal history from a younger generation’s perspective. I want to showcase my artwork in this book, and my interpretation of Residential schools and how that era has affected me and my friends. I also plan to include Residential school survivors’ and their children’s perspectives when writing this book. These women inspire me because of their ability to use writing and education to their advantage—an institution that was once created to remove Aboriginal women from their roles, as mothers, wives, and women in their own communities.

In conclusion, leadership to me is not just a quality; rather it is a also role that women undertake. Leadership is rather essential to life because women have been doing this for ages, leading HER ship. Specifically, Aboriginal women’s leadership is important because it helps Aboriginal women to regain their identity and roles as mothers, wives and women in their own community, which was once undermined through the effects of colonialism. Without Aboriginal women, there would be no carriers of life, no family, and no community. If it were not for Aboriginal women, Aboriginal people would not exist. This is what Aboriginal women lead-HER-ship is to me.

One comment

  1. Great job, Miss Kwe! I have no doubt that you're destined to be a leader. You've already proved how capable you are leading yourself, so it'll be wonderful to see the results when you lead others. They will be in very capable hands.And I love the idea of the book. I hope the idea is not to just tell the history to Aboriginal kids, but to all Canadian kids of all our various heritages.I'm a firm believer that educated our young in the true history of Canada, without sugar-coating the shocking and disturbing parts as has always been done in the past, is crucial to improving the lives for future generations of Aboriginals.I love reading your stuff. You're very inspiring!

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