‘Raising our Voices’ encourages Northern women to enter politics

Raising our Voices is a New North SANC Services Inc. initiative designed to bring out the voices, “profile and authority of, primarily Indigenous women and marginalized voices,” even to the point of encouraging them to enter the political arena, across northern Saskatchewan, Susan McKenzie, Project Manager for the initiative, said in an interview with the Northern Advocate.

“Certainly, all women, everyone’s encouraged to join,” she said.

Raising our Voices was launched in September two years ago and has spread through many facets.

Until recently there were three co-ordinators, but, one left for other employment. Stacy Ballantyne in Sandy Bay, and Taylor Belanger in Île a la Crosse are the two current co-ordinators for the program. She is seeking to hire another co-ordinator for La Ronge.

One of the major projects Raising our Voices staff has undertaken is putting a focus on supporting the development of leaderships skills, which includes how to change or develop policy.

“We’re going to use an example, a policy that you could bring to your agency if you work for government, or you could bring to an office, that supports paid childcare for status travel,” which would cover a woman needing to pay for overnight travel childcare and all the details involved so that, when the process is complete the participants will have a policy all written out and ready to use.

The program covered includes all of the Northern Administrative District including Stony rapids Uranium City, Camsell Portage.

“It’s such a massive land reach that we have,” McKenzie, who is also acting CEO for New North, said.

Among the initiatives they’ve launched are developing networks and coalitions across the province using different mediums, such as Zoom, local radio chat and exploring women’s perspective on leadership and other aspects.

“We have a really interesting, diverse mix of people participating in our zooms, which is really exciting,” McKenzie said. “We sometimes will have elected, local leadership. We’ve had councillors, mayors. We haven’t had any MLAs participating in our workshops or our sessions, but we’ve had local government … and there some you people, as well, that are interested in sitting on Council, sitting on a board, (or) maybe Northern Lights School Division (NLSD).”

With the broad landscape, the opportunities are varied and diverse. 

“One of our first Zooms with Marcia Merasty. She was a phenomenal speaker and she really spoke to our role as Indigenous women in inspiring and supporting healthy community growth and healthy communities,” McKenzie said.

“She was so articulate when we spoke about that and I think was a really beautiful foundation of kickstarting a lot of what we’re doing.”

Among the topics they’ve approached is personal growth, and “how important it is … if you don’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of a community,” she said

They have also provided workshops in communities and have been developing circles in the communities of women. They have looked at forming a two-Spirit network too.

“There’s networks all across Saskatchewan, but there is no network for two-spirit individuals in northern Saskatchewan,” McKenzie said. “We’ve been having conversations with two-spirited people in the region and trying to really understand what some of the challenges are and what kind of support we can offer.”

They offered one workshop facilitated by photographer Dale Apesis, “he talked about his experience he did a sort of narrative storytelling about his experience as a two-spirited person living in the north.”

Through the event, McKenzie said, she thinks it opened people to the experiences and challenges two-spirited people face across the north.

“More and more communities are developing Prides, which is lovely to see. La Loche has one” as does La Ronge, which involves the three communities, the Lac La Ronge Indian Band (LLRIB), Northern Village of Air Ronge and Town of La Ronge.

They also initiated radio programs called, Tea with Auntie, which involves McKenzie, Ballantyne and Belanger, and “we talked about some of the issues that impact our lives as Indigenous women … we would just have casual conversations and bring up some thinks we’re working on, some of the issues and really share about our experience and encourage community members to continue that conversation in their community.”