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ONWA Celebrates 50 Years Since Incorporation

Updated: Nov 18, 2021

Thunder Bay, ON – On November 17, 1971, the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) was officially incorporated. Today, we celebrate 50 years of ONWA and the Indigenous women’s movement. ONWA is now the oldest and largest Indigenous women’s agency in Canada!

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.

To mark this extraordinary milestone, here is a snapshot of ONWA’s creation and early years:

  • 1971, November 17 – ONWA is incorporated

  • 1972, May – Four key action areas identified through The Ontario Native Women’s Association: Its Foundation, Aims and Objectives report: Care for the Elders in their Home Territories; Concern for Children and Youth; Cultural Concerns; and Social Concerns. Corporate objectives remained in place until 2008.

  • 1972, May – A cross-Ontario convention was held in Thunder Bay to establish the foundation of ONWA and to establish our relationships with all other Indigenous organizations.

  • 1972, December 12-13 – Inaugural Board meeting was held in Toronto with the following Board members: Jeannette Lavell (President), Edith McLeod, Mary Hardy, Ethel Moses, Millie Flemond, Vivian Pepin, Dorothy Lyons, and Valerie Chapman.

  • 1973, October 27-28 – Establishment of seven initial Locals in Squaw Bay, MacDiarmid, Raith, London, Leamington, and two in Toronto. Reviewing the historic minutes confirmed the focus was inclusive of all Indigenous women regardless of their legal status, that the Government has been apprised of our key objectives and linkages set up with the existing Homemakers’ groups throughout Ontario. Immediately there were issues coming forth to the Board from women that were being removed from their Band lists and follow-up support was provided.

  • 1974, May – First Annual General Assembly, held in Ottawa. The agenda included By-Laws, training and employment of Indigenous women, leadership training, nutrition and pre-school, traditional arts, public speaking, and programming. Elections were held to fill five Métis, five Non-Status and five Status positions.

  • 1970-1980 – A decade of research identified needs that resulted in key programming supporting Indigenous women throughout Ontario:

  • 1980 – Ontario Native Women- A Perspective publication by Julie Fels was an in-depth analysis of the women’s needs, based on responses to a confidential questionnaire.

  • 1981 – ONWA leadership lobbied for the Equality clause to be included in the 1982 Canadian Constitution.

  • 1989 – Breaking Free report provided National impact on the extensive abuses suffered by Indigenous women; all research information was from ONWAs confidential questionnaire.

  • 1992 – Grandmothers Council was formally established, to follow the traditional custom of involving recognized traditional women in the Association’s governance process.

  • 1993 – ONWA was fully involved in For Generations to Come: The Time Is Now – A Strategy for Aboriginal Family Healing report from the Aboriginal Family Healing Joint Steering Committee. Report was released and the Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Strategy was set up.

Today, ONWA celebrates 50 years of empowering Indigenous women throughout Ontario. The strong foundation built half a century ago by extraordinary Indigenous women continues to support and serve ONWA as we move forward into our next 50 years.

To learn more about ONWA at

For more information:

Andre Morriseau, Communications Manager

Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA)


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