In a supreme showing of sisterhood and love, Barb Miller and Iris Wright of Grand River Employment and Training celebrated the conclusion of their 2 ½ year long “Six Nations Women of the Grand River Project” by presenting an overview of their research and handing out certificates to participants at the GREAT Theatre on November 26, 2014. As Wright stated, “although this is the end, really, it is only the beginning.”
The project brought together organizations and groups of people that did not ordinarily communicate, with the intent of reviewing the employment barriers to our women, to create strategies to assist in overcoming those barriers.
The initial phases of gender-based analyses resulted in several conclusions that led to the development of a leadership training program and Haudenosaunee cultural teachings workshops. Miller stated that many women indicated not only that they had faced discrimination in the workplace, but that they actually feared discrimination. Findings such as this served as a guide in the development of the workshops.
Miller gave an emotional presentation as she talked about the strength of the women. The participants GREAT sought after for their project were women who identified as under-employed or unemployed. Miller joked that her tears were from her cold medication, but the participants knew the truth.
The women were not unemployed merely from a lack of trying. Through their participation in the project, the women learned that each was working hard to overcome tremendous hurtles in life, common to and understood only by another Onkwehonwe woman. These common struggles allowed them to develop very strong bonds in the group.
The women identified grief from a loss of cultural connection, a history of being victims of violence, the challenges of being new moms and having to make career changes/choices. A couple of women struggled with anger that developed from trying to protect/advocate for their children that had been victims of sexual violence.
Through their participation in the project, the women gained the confidence and skills to start working towards their goals. L. Brooke Johnson was one such success story. She wrote:
“I just wanted to say a big Nya:węh for the Facilitators of this program and to the awesome women who supported each other throughout it!! I just wanted to let everyone know that you ladies gave me the confidence to confront my fears and follow my dreams…and I believe you share in my rewards as well as myself, so high five ladies!! Just got word, I received a writing grant for my children’s books, without the constant encouragement I never would have applied again!!”
Joanne General stood before the large crowd and presented her artwork she had crafted during her participation in the Haudenosaunee culture workshops. General bravely spoke of the art’s meaning and why her certificate of completion was so important to her. She had suffered significant abuse as a child, causing CAS to intervene and apprehend her and her siblings. After going through foster care in non-native homes and being separated from all but one sister, she lost a sense of her cultural roots.
Through her participation in GREAT’s cultural workshops, General was able to commence on her journey to heal that loss. She joked of having never completed anything before, but she left the program with a certificate and a beautiful painting showing that she could finish what she started.
Another participant, Nancee Henry was awarded a $10,000 grant for her proposal to coordinate community volunteers. She spoke eloquently of how her project will bring opportunity to those who have time and skills to contribute and match them with community non-profits that desperately need help but often do not have the resources or time to complete such administrative tasks as develop job descriptions for their volunteers.
The women’s project was funded by Status of Women Canada and Grand River Employment and Training. To find out more about this initiative, call Barb Miller, Project Coordinator, at GREAT 519-445-2222 or view the findings online at www.sixnationswomen.com.