‘We get to focus on us’: Women’s gathering creates empowerment

A celebration of strength rolled into Fisher River Cree Nation in Manitoba during the first-ever women’s gathering.

Entitled “Strength from the Storm”, the program showered participants from across Turtle Island with teachings, songs and ceremony to remind them of their power.

“Sometimes those storms that we walk through in life are tough,” explains Katina Cochrane, an organizer for the event two hours north of Winnipeg.

“But when you get through it, whatever hardship you’re going through or whatever storm you’re walking through, you get past it and you know that you can do and face anything.”

The gathering was hosted by the First Nation Healing Centre, of which Cochrane is the executive director.

A banner welcomes participants from across Turtle Island to Strength from the Storm gathering in Manitoba. Photo: APTN News

She says women in the community have been asking for – and literally dreaming of – an event like this for years.

“It has a lot to do with being silenced for so long as women, as Indigenous women,” says Cochrane. “And, like, years of oppression and feeling like we don’t have a voice. Our place and our role was taken from us.”

The three-day event was filled with performances by Indigenous women like Juno Award-winning musical trio The Bearhead Sisters, whose empowering voices brought many to tears.

Difficult topics like domestic abuse were tackled through performance art, with support workers standing by for anyone who needed to talk.

Connecting with the land was integral to the experience as women who would shuffle in their ribbon skirts to camping spots in the shadow of tipis once night would fall.

When they would awake, workshops focusing on everything from culture to femininity and the arts had participants busy with learning and sharing with one another.

Making dolls in their own image was a personal and moving exercise. Photo: APTN Newsy

A unique workshop for creating and playing with dolls was a hit for those who wanted to get in touch with their inner child.

One workshop organizer, Wanda Murdock, says the process teaches nurturing and care – an experience some women may not have had as young girls due to difficult childhoods.

“We went through a lot of trauma…growing up,” says Murdock. “This is a teaching, a great teaching of our childhood memories. That we need to learn to play again.”

Boxes of colourful yarn, markers and other craft supplies led to a rainbow of possibilities.

“I’m making myself, the person I wanted to be,” says a cheerful Rosie Colomb of Pukatawagan. “So, I’m making a doll that’s going to be me. From life from childhood to now. And every once in a while I’ll be looking at it, right? Referring back and coming to that reality of life.”

A few of the doll makers remembered learning to do the same activity as children, but said revisiting it now has new meaning as they look back on life.

“This one really touched my heart because the teachings that we have from back home, we were taught but we didn’t pay attention to it,” says Anna May Linklater from Nelson House. “Now that we’re a little bit older, much older…we’re starting to bring out our traditional knowledge.”

Darlene Spence of Nelson House said making a doll of her own reminded her of her mother.

“It brings back a lot of memories actually. She’s passed on already, and I’m sitting here like her teaching is here. She’s here,” says Spence.

Fisher River Cree Nation Coun. Hillary Murdock helped make “Strength from the Storm” possible after Cochrane reached out to her with the idea.

The fourth female councillor for the First Nation, she says a space for women to focus on themselves and their healing is important in their busy lives.

“As women, we put everybody first. Everybody gets put first. We’ll put our kids, we’ll put other people’s health before ours. But here, we get to focus on us, on what we need, what our spiritual needs are. And everyone’s going to walk away with something,” says Murdock.

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