Commemorating and reflecting on the journey of Indigenous women’s leadership
Thunder Bay, ON - Today, the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) proudly celebrates 50 years as Canada’s oldest and largest Indigenous organization. During ONWA’s 50th Annual General Assembly and Leadership Conference this weekend, ONWA is commemorating three generations of Indigenous women in leadership, premiering the ONWA 50th Anniversary Documentary and launching the 50th Anniversary She Is Wise magazine.
At the ONWA, we celebrate and honour the safety and healing of Indigenous women and girls as they take up their leadership roles in their family, community and internationally, for generations to come.
ONWA works to empower Indigenous women’s lives and address the challenges they face, for themselves, their families and their communities. Co-founded in 1971 by Jeannette Corbiere-Lavell, Indigenous women connected, assembled, and an organization was born. Jeannette first blazed a trail by speaking her truth through her battle with the Supreme Court of Canada regarding Bill C-31. Together, Jeannette and ONWA awakened Canada to the challenges and realities of violence experienced by many Indigenous women.
For the last 18 years, Jeannette’s daughter Dr. Dawn Lavell-Harvard has championed ONWA as Board President. An educator, teacher and leader, Dr. Lavell-Harvard has moved the organization to the point where Indigenous women are reclaiming their voices, traditional decision-making roles in their communities, and legitimacy in their own lives. As Dawn steps down, the ONWA legacy is now being passed on to the next generation, further strengthened by Jeannette’s granddaughter Autumn Sky Cooper.
“Carrying the legacy of leadership from my mother, Jeannette Corbiere-Lavell, it has been my mission to support and advocate on behalf of Indigenous women’s rights, always working toward the empowerment of Indigenous women and their families,” says Dr. Dawn Lavell-Harvard, President, ONWA. “In doing so, I hope that I have honoured her and those who have walked with me and mentored me on this journey.”
From a crisis intervention approach in the 1990’s and the start of the campaign to end violence against Indigenous women in the 2000’s, to the Sisters in Spirit and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) movement of the 2010’s, the momentum of ONWA and its mission continues to grow. Through research, advocacy, policy development, and programs at the local, regional, and provincial level, ONWA’s wholistic approach fosters environments in which Indigenous women and girls are respected and their safety is supported.
ONWA provides easy access to inclusive, trauma-informed, culturally based programming and services that are informed by Indigenous women and their immediate needs. This work currently addresses eight areas of focus: MMIWG, child welfare, family violence, sexual violence, justice, health, human trafficking, and housing and homelessness.
“ONWA has listened to Indigenous women for half a century now. We know the priorities and needs of our community and we continue to lead the way in creating solutions to address them,” says Cora McGuire-Cyrette, Executive Director, ONWA. “While our work is far from over, the love, resilience, and strength that Indigenous women hold is creating healing for themselves and their communities.”
ONWA believes when women are healthy, they raise healthy children which builds healthy communities. Reconciliation with Indigenous women includes addressing the issues impacting their lives. The reclaiming of Indigenous women’s leadership, voice and restoration of identity is key to addressing ongoing systemic issues and crises, leading directly to improved safety and wellbeing. ONWA will continue to play an important role as the organization brings critical knowledge, expertise, leadership, and community voice to the table — now and through future generations.
The Ontario Native Women’s Association
The Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) is a non-profit organization that empowers and supports 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, since 1971. 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 wellbeing for all Indigenous women and their families, so that all women, regardless of tribal heritage may live their best life.
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Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA)