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 will support women to take up their leadership roles in the family and in the community.
ONWA will support women’s leadership. To do that we have to ensure that our voices are heard. We have to start by listening to each other first.
To reclaim our voices we must have knowledge. Much of the knowledge we need to be strong leaders is rooted in the cultural teachings.
To hear our own voices we must silence our pain and trauma and find a place for it in our lives that does not hurt us.
Our self-esteem needs to be reclaimed.
When we speak we will have a grounded, balanced, strong, and kind voice.
To achieve our leadership roles we have to break the cycle of abuse that is part of our families and communities. To do that we will, through all of our actions and words, not carry forward the abuse.
We will speak the truth because we will know what the truth is. We will be forgiving and move forward after our truth has been shared. We will not use the colonization behaviours we have learned to hurt others. We will believe in our truth and respect it.
We will expect board members and our Executive Director to reflect this vision of behaviour. When they do not behave in this way we will gently ask them to realign their behaviour.
We will be focused in our work and not exhaust the staff or board. We recognize that any issue we chose to work on, with focused resolve, will support women to move forward in all issues, because all issues are interconnected.
In being leaders in our families our focus must be on the children:
We take up our role for the children and address the child welfare system. We will build a child welfare system that is transformed and recognizes that the shattered, hurt parent needs love, care and attention, just as her children do. We will create new ways of healing families that are based on the cultural teachings. We help each woman change her life for the better.
We take up our role for the youth and deal with the youth suicide. We will be good teachers and guides for our youth and make space for them in our work.
We will trust in ourselves and in each other that we can realize this vision. We will love and care for each other.
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.
Honorary Members: Jeanette Corbiere-Levell (Manitowaning) | Dorothy Wynne (Moosonee)
Dr. Dawn Lavell-Harvard, Ph.D
As a proud member of the Wikwemikong First Nation and the first Aboriginal Trudeau Scholar, I have worked to advance the rights of Aboriginal women as the President of the Ontario Native Women's Association since 2007.
In my role as Director for First Peoples House of Learning at Trent University since October 2016 I have had the opportunity to share my lens on the traditional role of Indigenous women. My re-election as Board President in October 2018 at the 47 Annual ONWA General Assembly was a great honour.
As a full-time mother of three girls I proudly follow in the footsteps of my mother Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, a noted advocate for Indigenous women’s rights. Since joining the Board of the Ontario Native Women Association as a youth director back in 1994 I have been working toward the empowerment of Aboriginal women and their families. I was co-editor of the original volume on Indigenous Mothering entitled “Until Our Hearts Are on the Ground: Aboriginal Mothering, Oppression, Resistance and Rebirth”, and also released a book along with Kim Anderson, entitled “Mothers of the Nations”, and co-edited a book with Jennifer Brant entitled “Forever Loved: Exposing the Hidden Crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada”.
I strongly believe that to heal the damage done by colonization Indigenous women must reclaim their leadership roles within our families, communities and nations.
When we come together in a safe and supporting environment we build an important foundation that ensures past injustice is not allowed to repeat itself. ONWA is a shining example of one such environment. Their website speaks to their work, their successes and their role in empowering Indigenous women across Ontario.
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.