We call on Indigenous women across Ontario to take up their leadership role in the family and in the community
The Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) is a not for profit organization to empower and support all Indigenous women and their families in the province of Ontario through research, advocacy, policy development and programs that focus on local, regional and provincial activities.
Established in 1971, ONWA delivers culturally enriched programs and services to Indigenous women and their families regardless of their status or locality. We are committed to providing services that strengthen communities and guarantee the preservation of Indigenous culture, identity, art, language and heritage. Ending violence against Indigenous women and their families and ensuring equal access to justice, education, health services, environmental stewardship and economic development, sit at the cornerstone of the organization. ONWA insists on social and cultural well–being for all Indigenous women and their families, so that all women, regardless of tribal heritage may live their best life.
At the Ontario Native Women’s Association(ONWA), we celebrate and honour the safety and healing of Indigenous Women and Girls as they take up their leadership roles in the family, community and internationally for generations to come.
Our Guiding Principle
ONWA’s guiding principle is that all Indigenous ancestry will be treated with dignity, respect and equality; benefits and services will be extended to all, no matter where one lives and regardless of Tribal heritage.
Indigenous women are the center of our community, the heart of our families and the strength of our beliefs.
Against a backdrop of violence, poverty, injustice, and systemic racism, Indigenous women needed their
voices, their wisdom, and knowledge to be heard. Founded in 1971, ONWA exists to support and empower
Indigenous women to be heard. Our role in the community is to provide vital support and programs for
Indigenous women and their families.
We at ONWA take our responsibilities very seriously. Every member of the team plays an important role in
the work we do. In the true nature of Indigenous women’s leadership, we do not see one person as more
important than the other, but rather, every person plays an important part, as we come together in unity and
work towards one vision.
Board of Directors
ONWA has a policy-making Board that is committed to creating an open and supportive Board environment to facilitate open and respectful discussions. The Board of directors follow a Governance Policy that provide a framework for the way in which governance is carried out within ONWA.
Our Board is comprised of sixteen (16) Indigenous women; each of the four regions has four representatives, one of which must be a youth. ONWA has two (2) honorary members and a regional Grandmothers’ Council that is comprised of non-voting members of the Board that are present at Board Meetings and the Annual Assembly in a support and mentorship role.
Vice President/Youth Director
Honorary Members: Jeanette Corbiere-Levell (Manitowaning)
Debra Vermette is Dakota from the Wahpeton Dakota Nation located just outside of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Starting out as Resident Counsellor in 2005 at Beendigen Anishinabek Women’s Crisis Home & Family Healing Agency, many times Debra has been the first point of contact for women leaving abusive and violent situations. She became the Finance/Human Resources Manager at Beendigen in 2009 and was appointed the Executive Director in 2015.
When asked what her job is, Debra says, “to end violence against Indigenous women and to empower women.” For the past six years, her job as Executive Director has put her in the position to lead an amazing team that is committed to working with Indigenous women so they can lead lives without violence, reclaim their power and culture, and take their rightful place in their communities.
Debra currently sits on the board of the Aboriginal Shelters of Ontario (ASOO). ASOO works collaboratively and supports Indigenous Shelters across Ontario in addressing and ending family violence.
Debra holds a Business of Administration degree and an Honours Bachelor of Arts (Psychology) degree from Lakehead University. She also holds a Post-Degree Human Resources Management certificate from Confederation College.
In her roles as Executive Director of Beendigen and President of ONWA, Debra is passionate about ensuring Indigenous women have access to supports, services, and programs that can best help them and that are grounded in Indigenous culture.
As the Executive Director of the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) I am proud of the work we do on behalf of Indigenous Women and families in Ontario. My knowledge has grown over the years as have my life experiences and personal growth leading this extraordinary organization.
My undergraduate degree in Bachelor of the Arts, with a double major concentration in Indigenous Learning and Sociology from Lakehead University has supported my passion for creating safe spaces for Indigenous women and families in our communities. Bringing forward the original teachings keeps me grounded in our culture and is a driving force in my work
As lead Manager of the Summit to End Violence Against Aboriginal Women, the foundation of the Strategic Framework to Ending Violence Against Aboriginal Women in Ontario, to addressing human trafficking of Indigenous women and girls while creating strategies for the elimination of human trafficking, my role as ED keeps me front and centre of the issues affecting Indigenous women and families in Ontario.
I have participated at numerous provincial and National tables to create policy change, address systemic discrimination and advocating for gender equality and equity. This includes participating at the National Roundtable for Missing & Murdered Indigenous women, National Indigenous Women’s Summit, Provincial Summit on Sexual Violence and Harassment, Joint Working Group on Violence Against Indigenous Women, Indigenous Human Trafficking Committee, Urban Indigenous Policy Engagement Table, Indigenous Housing Strategy, Special Priority Policy Table, Ontario Indigenous Housing Support Services Board of Directors and the Urban Indigenous Health Table.
These are some of the areas that I have successfully championed through a culturally relevant gender based analysis.
I am confident that our website will open a window of understanding for you into the programs, services and work that ONWA is engaged in throughout the Province of Ontario throughout the year.
ONWA membership is based on the establishment of either Chapters or Councils within the province of Ontario. Membership provides Indigenous women the support, capacity development opportunities, and visibility they need to further enhance their lives. ONWA Membership provides Indigenous women within Ontario the opportunity to collectively influence both national and provincial policies and legislation as it relates to issues that affect them.
Chapters are incorporated organizations, and Councils are non-incorporated grassroot women’s organizations. Chapters and Councils are registered by regions (North, East, South, and West) based on the Medicine Wheel so that the voices of Indigenous women are heard from all four directions.
Any previous Local or new group of Indigenous women whose organization is registered and in good standing as an Incorporated group through the provincial or federal government will be eligible to become a full service delivery site of the ONWA. Chapters will be required to enter into a MOU with the ONWA in order to strengthen clarity and accountability in the relationships.
A grassroots group of women, who chose not to become an incorporated body, but maintain a presence to provide supports, educate and advocate for Indigenous women and/or children in their community. These groups can also be in the process of becoming an ONWA Chapter.