‘This is just the beginning:’ Wahpeton Dakota Nation works with Congolese advocate for women’s empowerment

Hero Women Rising founder and executive director Neema Namadamu (left) and Wahpeton Dakota Nation citizen Lois Standing (right) give each other a hug on Dec. 5, 2019. (Lois Standing/Submitted)

“Our young girls are going missing, being stolen. Every day I think about these people who do this.” – Maureen Walker

A Saskatchewan First Nations community has joined forces with an international peacemaker.

Neema Namadamu, who’s from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and her team are coming to the end of their week-long tour speaking to women in Prince Albert and area. Namadamu first stopped at Wahpeton Dakota Nation (WDN) on Thursday, which organized the tour.

About 50 people gathered in the community’s school gym for a women’s luncheon. After a prayer, honour song and dance troupe, speeches highlighted both the strengths and struggles between cultures.

WDN councillors Stephanie Bird and Maureen Walker gave opening remarks.

“That’s our topic today, is the empowering of women and what our goals are as women in our community and we learn from each other. We help, try to do our best to help each other when one is struggling,” said Bird.

Wahpeton Dakota Nation Coun. Stephanie Bird gives opening remarks at the women’s luncheon with peacemaker Neema Namadamu on Dec. 5, 2019. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

Walker emphasized the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) epidemic in Canada. The final inquiry into MMIWG released in June lists 231 calls for justice.

According to a 2017 Statistics Canada report, Aboriginal women and girls reported experiencing violent victimizations at a rate 2.7 times higher than non-Aboriginal women and girls.

“Our young girls are going missing, being stolen. Every day I think about these people who do this,” said Walker.

Wahpeton Dakota Nation Coun. Maureen Walker gives opening remarks at the women’s luncheon with peacemaker Neema Namadamu on Dec. 5, 2019. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

Namadamu said females are inferior in the DRC, often being forced into marriage at the ages of 14 or 15. Topics revolving around women and girls, such as having a period, are usually secretive. They have to stay home from school or work because they don’t have access to feminine products.

The partnership came about when The Four Cups co-founder and visionary Faith Green connected with people from Wahpeton Dakota Nation while in Minnesota this past summer. She met WDN citizen Lois Standing and Wahpeton Developments CEO Robert Fincati.

“We said ‘What if we could bring two cultures from across the world together and we could in any way support the building capacity, building connections, bringing in funding, anything we could do,’ so it was Robert Fincati who opened the door for me to be able to meet all of you.”

Green introduced the community to Namadamu and her non-profit organization Hero Women Rising. It runs several programs for women in the DRC, helping them to stay in school, use technology to share their stories and plant trees, to name a few.

The Four Cups co-founder and visionary Faith Green speaks at a women’s luncheon at Wahpeton Dakota Nation on Dec. 5, 2019. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

“I met Faith back in June and it just hit me earlier that this is actually happening now,” said Standing, who emceed the meeting. “We’re hoping in some way we can connect and keep building, but that has to come from the community, so the next step would be for us to get together as women of Wahpeton.”

“This is just the beginning.”

After visiting WDN, Namadamu met with those at Carlton Comprehensive Public High School, the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) Women’s Commission and the Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre in Saskatoon.

“We are one. We have one globe, one community,” said Namadamu speaking at the public meeting with the PAGC.

“When we talk about sister communities, it’s not really sister communities—it’s a global community.”

This is the Daily Herald’s second story about a partnership between Hero Women Rising founder and executive director Neema Namadamu and Wahpeton Dakota Nation. For an article dedicated to Namadamu’s background, click here.