IDLE NO MORE: New Generations of Young Women Activists
My name is Widia Larivière and I’m a 29-year-old women living in Montreal, Canada. I grew up in two different cultures: my mother is Anishinabe (Indigenous) and my father is Québécois (French-Canadian). I hold a degree in International Studies and Modern Languages from LavalUniversity in Quebec City and a certificate in Immigration and Inter-ethnic Relations from the University of Quebec in Montreal.
I have been working since 2009 as a Youth Coordinator within the Quebec Native Women Association, a position in which I develop projects for young Indigenous women and defend their common interests. In 2013, I was selected as a Youth Reconciliation Leader for the second consecutive year as part of the Indigenous Reconciliation Project by the organization Canadian Roots. It’s a project in which groups of young Indigenous and non-Indigenous work together leading reconciliation and education activities across Canada, breaking down walls and stereotypes that divide communities. I am also fervent feminist activist for Indigenous rights and I am one of the instigators of the Idle No More movement in the province of Quebec.
How did you get involved in IDLE NO MORE? and why did you decide to start actively participate?
The Idle No More movement was instigated thanks to a collaboration between 3 Indigenous women and 1 Canadian woman who rallied and campaigned against the current government of Canada who adopted, without the consultation with Indigenous peoples, omnibus bills that threatens Indigenous rights, Mother Earth and democracy.
I’ve been an activist for Indigenous rights for many years now and when the movement started, I was highly inspired by the Canada-wide mobilization and solidarity created by these women. The mobilization took a bit longer to start in the province of Quebec because of the language barrier (it’s a mostly French-speaking province and the rest of Canada is mostly English-speaking). That’s why myself and other Indigenous activists decided to create a multilingual section of the Idle No More movement specific for the province of Quebec, so that we could inform and reach as many people as possible in this area. We have now been very active since December 2012.
It is very inspiring to be involved within this movement for many reasons: it is mostly led by women, it gives strong voices to the grassroots population, it renews cultural and identity pride of Indigenous youth, and it brings the Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of Canada closer as they have to work together on common issues like the protection of the Mother Earth and democracy.
How has the problems of the communities you work, there are differences between women and men?
Indigenous peoples in Canada have lived a long history of colonization and oppression. The impacts and traumas of this history still can be felt and seen today: they live marginalization, segregation and exclusion. For decades, high level government inquiries, federal audits and international human rights bodies have repeatedly and consistently pointed to an unacceptable gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in the enjoyment of basic human rights. Despite living in one of the world’s wealthiest countries, Indigenous families and communities in Canada continue to face widespread impoverishment, inadequate housing, food insecurity, ill-health and unsafe drinking water. They also face different types of racism and discriminations.
Indigenous women often face double discrimination: they are discriminated as Indigenous and as women. According to several studies and statistics, Indigenous women are 4 times more likely to experience violence than non-Indigenous women. Also, the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada is disproportionately high: more than 600 Indigenous women have gone missing or have been murdered in Canada over the last two decades. Indigenous and human rights organizations, as well at the United Nations, demand a national inquiry on this phenomenon.
The current injustices that Indigenous women face specifically are due to the patriarchy brought with colonization. Before the Native peoples were colonized by the Europeans, Native communities were, for the most part, egalitarian; women actively participated in social, economic and political decision-makings in their daily lives. That’s why the Idle No More movement is mostly led by women that want to promote the leadership of Aboriginal women, which is not recognized anymore in the current colonial political system.
For you, what means to be a young activist?
For me, being a young activist women means to speak up and take action for my people despite the obstacles that we face as a youth, women, Indigenous, etc. and to create space to empower other youth to do so. Indigenous youth represent the majority of the Indigenous population in Canada; we hold the hope for the future of our peoples. Empowering youth will help bring back balance within the Indigenous communities.
And I want to empower not only myself, but the whole community. Besides the youth, everyone plays a key role in the balance and well-being of our community. For example, youth need to engage a deeper intergenerational dialogue with elders, who provide us guidance, wisdom and traditional teachings.
Who were your main inspirations for a young activist?
In my eyes, even one injustice is already too many. It is impossible for me to see all these injustices and not take action. I am inspired by the power and the resilience of my Indigenous sisters suffering these injustices. I am particularly inspired by the Indigenous women activists who mobilized in the 1970’s to change the sexist and racist articles of the Indian Act, a paternalistic and colonial Government legislation enacted in 1876 and still applied today, that aims the control by the government of most aspects of Indigenous people’s life and to assimilate them gradually. The mobilization of these women led to the creation of, among others, the Native Women Association of Canada and the Quebec Native Women Association, that are now active and recognized organizations.
I might not see all the results of our common efforts during my life but I know social progress happens slowly and gradually. My activism is referring to an Indigenous principle that says that we always have to think seven generations ahead and decide whether the decisions we make today would benefit our children seven generations into the future.