At the 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.
Ontario Native Women's Association (ONWA) Vision
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.
ONWA is committed to using a human rights framework for our work. As our foundation, we use the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). This framework supports Indigenous women’s individual and
collective rights to have their own agencies, to be directly and meaningfully engaged on issues that directly impact them and the reclaiming of their leadership.
Indigenous women’s role as matriarchs (leadership) in their families and communities.
Indigenous women’s identity and inherent rights beyond a jurisdictional approach.
relationships to ensure that Indigenous women have a right to safety regardless of location.
that Indigenous women are the medicine needed to heal ourselves, families, and communities.
Strategic Issues Model
At ONWA, we do not see one person as more important than the other, but rather, we focus on each of our responsibilities as part of the whole. We come together in unity and work towards one vision. ONWA’s Operating Model (below) places Indigenous women at the centre surrounded by our vision, principles, and mandate. Our operating model is reflective not only of our organizational structure but also reflective of the intersectionality of our work as an agency and focuses on everyone’s responsibilities as leaders within the agency.
ONWA in Ontario
As of September 2022, ONWA’s membership consists of 12 Chapters (incorporated organizations providing front-line services) and 21 councils (grassroots groups supporting community development models), representative of ONWA’s four regional directions – North, South, East, West – throughout the province. (This number is likely to increase as ONWA continues to work with communities and expand the membership.)
Reflected in the map, ONWA is currently delivering services and programs in 21 sites across Ontario. 10 of these sites are direct service delivery sites, whereas the remaining 11 are through our Chapter membership organizations.
ONWA recognizes that Indigenous women’s agencies are stronger together as a collective and we will continue to build relationship and capacity with Indigenous women and their agencies as a result our membership numbers may change from year to 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.
Are you interested in joining an existing Chapter/Council near you? Are you interested in becoming an ONWA member?
Contact our Indigenous Women’s Leadership Developer
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.
Board of Directors
ONWA’s leadership is based on a policy governing board of Directors comprising of twelve Indigenous women, including four youth Director positions to ensure the mentorship and voices of our future generation is reflective in our work. All the Directors are elected from ONWA’s membership. A regional Grandmothers’ Council, who are non-voting members of the board, provide advisory and mentorship support to the Board of Directors.
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. She is passionate about ensuring Indigenous women have culturally grounded access to supports, services, and programs that can best help them. This is evident in her role as President of the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) and previous role as Executive Director of Beendigen.
Debra has often been the first point of contact for women leaving abusive and violent situations. She began her work at Beendigen Anishinabe Women’s Crisis Home & Family Healing Agency as Resident Counsellor in 2005, became the Finance/Human Resources Manager in 2009, was appointed the Executive Director in 2015, and retired July 1, 2022. When asked what the focus of her work with Beendigen was, Debra commented, “to end violence against Indigenous women and to empower women.” In her seven years as Executive Director of Beendigen, Debra led an amazing team 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 sat 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.
Cora McGuire-Cyrette is a proud member of the Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek (Sand Point First Nation). She lives in Thunder Bay with her husband, three children and grandchildren.
Cora joined the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) in 2006, serving as Executive Director since 2015, tripling programs, increasing the association’s employment 400% and increasing services to over 30,000 people across the province during the pandemic. Cora champions the rights of Indigenous women to speak on their own behalf as the knowledge holders in their lives.
As a role model in Indigenous women’s leadership Cora was involved in the development of the Ontario Anti-Human Trafficking Strategy, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and currently serves as Chair of the Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services and Co-Chair of the Indigenous Women's Advisory Council of Ontario.
In 2021 Cora was the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) Canada’s Most Powerful Women Top 100, Mercedes-Benz Emerging Leader recipient. The award recognizes women between the ages of 30 to 45 years, who have been targeted for successive leadership positions within their organizations and have a proven passion for learning and innovation.
Her international work includes participation in the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Gender Equality Forum. Cora holds a BA in Indigenous Learning and Sociology from Lakehead University and an MMBA from York University, Schulich School of Business.
Most recently Cora was a Witness for the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples to examine the federal government’s constitutional, treaty, political and legal responsibilities to First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples and any other subject concerning Indigenous Peoples.