"Bullying, Cyber-bullying, jealousy, hate, greed, lies, arrogance, searing self-absorption, destructive "power over" mentalities  are wasteful pursuits and causes the female heart to fall to the ground and the world to shatter that much more.  It is beyond healing, beyond human conscience when women fight with each other.

We are Mother Earth's heartbeat, the life-givers, it is our responsibility to bring peace, harmony and balance back to the world. This will not happen if we continue to find fault with ourselves and perpetuate it on our sisters. Remember sisters, as the Cheyenne say , when the hearts of the women are on the ground, all the weaponry in the world will not save the earth. Wilwilaaysk, All my Relations"

(Shannon Thunderbird, Coast Tsimshian Elder)



"The woman is the foundation on which nations are built. She is the heart of her nation. If that heart is weak, the people are weak. If her heart is strong and her mind is clear, then the nation is strong and knows its purpose. The woman is the center of everything."

(Late Elder, Art Solomon (Ojibwe), For the People: Teachings on the Natural Way)

COMMENT: Pretty words do not always add up to reality for Native Women!



 "When the white man discovered this country, Indians were running it. No taxes, no debt, women did all the work. White man thought he could improve on a system like this."


"A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. Then it is finished no matter how brave its warriors or how strong their weapons."  (Tsistsistas, Cheyenne)


"Before the men could go to war, it was customary for the women to make the moccasins. If the women did not want war, they did not make moccasins. "





By Shannon Thunderbird, M.A.

Coast Tsimshian First Nations Elder



Aboriginal history is clearly delineated between Pre- and Post-European contact. In pre-contact history, the egalitarian nature of original Aboriginal societies which underlay all cultural references meant that women and men were of equal status. Indeed, what is refreshing about this reality is that no one had to endlessly talk about gender issues, everyone simply did what they were good at in order to further and protect the communities. Recognition of the matriarch as a natural and equal leader gave women powerful voices in the decision-making processes of day-to-day tribal life.


Women created stories, songs, prayers and ceremony in a time when there was no written language for Indigenous people. We sang and drummed on our "female relatives" to remember language, to teach our children, to heal hearts, to honour nature, our communities, notwithstanding both women and men. Men respected and respected us in our role as cultural guardians, and our world view was sustained for a millenia. No one had the time, in other words, to wallow in false ideologies.


It is the cultural references that we create that we call traditions. Traditions are immutable, in other words, they are not supposed to change. Yet for Aboriginal women in post-European contact times, starting approximately in the fifteenth century when the first Europeans began to arrive, negative changes for women were and are legion. In many respects, traditions are codes of conduct. Therefore, anyone who sees the joy in her or his culture should seize all manner of what is represents. If a drum is part of the equation, no matter its size, there should be no argument, not even a comment because it is not a question of power-over mentalities which never existed in the tribes in the first place. It Simply IS.


Unfortunately, lack of knowledge gives naysayers fuel for opinions that are not only based on faulty logic but dishonours thousands of years of Indigenous living.


Only as post-European contact belief systems began to insinuate their patrilineal stances into Native communities, clearly placing the male above the female, that things drastically changed for women. It has only been in the late 20th and 21st centuries that women have been regaining their equal place in their communities. This has been demonstrated all across Turtle Island by the act of women "taking back the drum", a metaphor for advocating and demanding our historical right to play the big drums, and to live our culture wherever, whenever and however we do choose.


Anyone who has to comment on freedom, peace, salvation, gender issues, gender equality in a relentless fashion will never find it. Sadly, Indigenous women continue to be the most marginalized citizens in North America. I have great sorrow for those sisters who choose or who are forced through violence to support the chaotic actions of men who would prevent them from coming into their own power. Those of us at the big drums have an honour song for them and for all people who have lost their voices.


No one has the right to claim ownership, for the simple reason that the drum is a universal (global) female symbol of healing, harmony, dignity, honour, respect, humility, love, trust, courage and wisdom. Moreover, since before recorded time, women across the world have played drums, kept drums, created songs and celebrated feminine power by playing drums of all shapes, ALL SIZES.


Before any of us can claim the nobility of soul, we must first recognize our equal, vital roles in the preservation and sustainability of humanity and Mother Earth.  As former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan said, "The role of women in decision-making is central to the advancement of women around the world, and to the progress of humankind as a whole." Thus, does the continuity of peace continue for ALL nations. Therefore, the Nobility of the Female Soul rests on standing in the truth of who we are as "whole people", born to be leaders, decision-makers, mediators, negotiators, the keepers of family history, the centre of the family and community. Global Women comprise more than half the world's population, yet we continue to place ourselves or be placed on the sidelines of our own lives and societies. If we are not standing in the truth of who we are, then to paraphrase Irish poet, William Yeats, the centre cannot hold.

There is nothing in any Native culture that speaks to voice removal unless we are referring to post-European oppressive tactics such as the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the Indian Act of 1876, Residential schools, and the imposition of non-Native religions. They all contributed to the loss of the feminine voice. In the case of the prohibition against women playing big drums, the ban only began to insinuate itself into Native cultures in the 1970s, as more false prophets setting themselves up as Elders continued to rewrite history. The 1970s does make for an immutable time-honoured tradition!


Does it really make any sense for women to shut down their voices at any time, never mind during important events or ceremonies?  Absolutely not. We are simply taking back the drum -- we ask no permission to do so, as it is our right, no less, no more than our right to breath. We are taking back what has always been ours to share, and we deny no one else the right to play the drums. It is not a matter of us verse them, men vs. women, we all have the same right to the drums of our culture. It Simply IS.  


So, Sisters, Stand Tall, Sing Loud, Drum Proud so that everyone and no-one is listening. See ya’ll at the big drums.


Wilwilaaysk, All My Relations. Nii’sabbat, It is finished.




We Do It This Way, is a book in which I am a contributing member. It is a series of articles written by esteemed Aboriginal women from across Turtle Island who became trailblazers on behalf of the sisterhood.

Many of the essays talk about women's big drums groups becoming the NORM and not the exception, as evidenced by the number of Youtube videos, Facebook pages of women's big drum groups. It was a slow evolution in the beginning because of fierce protection of turf by men.  Outright animosity still exists as evidenced as you keep reading this page.



This is an interesting read, about the Justice System and Aboriginal People. It talks about Anishinaabe, Cree and Lakhota women, for example, as the ones who came from the fifth world to care for the earth. That women and men are equal in every possible way.

It begs the question: Why is it that there are some Aboriginal men who are so fragile that they simply refuse to understand the teachings from their own cultures?



Haudenosaunne Prophecy:  "When the maple trees start dying from the top, women will take back the drum."  This prophecy is coming true all over Turtle Island. The trees are dying, and some Aboriginal men have not fulfilled their responsibilities and promises. Women must now re-assert themselves in order to save themselves, their children, their communities, and the Earth Mother.

Men must respect women, and women's leadership roles in the community. 

Men are never to raise their voices or hands against women, children or old one. FAILING GRADE.

Men are to protect the "giver of life" by all means necessary. FAILING GRADE.

Alas, as recent history shows, family violence in Native communities continues to be at least five times the national average, a national scandal in any language.

Men no longer have the right to the drum. Reminder: The whole notion of drum ownership flies in the face of even the most basic of Native teachings.

  1. Gyemk ~Loop was invited to participate at a powwow in a women's federal corrections facility. A member of one of the male drum groups was denied access, because the sniffer dogs detected drugs on his clothing. In other words, the integrity of his drum was automatically brought into question.

  2. A male drummer was drunk and allowed access to a Toronto powwow by one of the organizers who was also drunk.

  3. Two friends of mine witnessed drug-induced behaviour by  men on a big drum at an Aboriginal gathering in Toronto.

  4. University of Waterloo Powwow, 2014. See below.

It is distressing at the lack of respect shown by some men to their own drums, to men and to their culture as a whole, and then they have the gall to try and ban women. It is an insult to Indigenous cultures in general, given that drugs and alcohol nearly destroyed some tribal communities.




FINAL NOTE:  Unfortunately, misogyny tends to override all the really terrific Aboriginal men that I personally know, and who are out there in support of women. I received support from them throughout the University of Waterloo debacle by phone, email, Facebook.  To these men, I offer my love and respect. See YOU at the big drums.

Photo: Drummaker, John Somosi hugging my sister Kate. He makes the most beautiful hand drums:


An amusing speech from an Anishinaabe Elder at the University of Waterloo Women's Big Drum Protest, on September 27th, 2014.

It is in three parts - believe me sisters, you have to find this funny....

1Women may not to sit at the big drums...blah, blah, we are too powerful, blah, blah, the usual clap trap. However, he continued, "if you are going to sit there, then you must sit sideways with knees pressed modestly together. If you sit directly facing the drum, then your power will destroy it." I assume he is talking about the power of the vagina although he lacked the courage to actually say it! First he said we can’t sit, then he said maybe we can if we follow his rules. Can't have it both ways, son.

2.  "Your big drums are male." Really, was there a fliparoo, and men became the life-givers and Mother Earth is a guy in disguise? When did that happen? If must be a scientific marvel. I, apparently, did not receive the memo about this.

3.   "We men had to take the big drum away from women because you started a war way back when."  Huh? Really? 

--What was the year and date?

--What type of weaponry did we use?

--You mean, the women were warriors, the guys stayed home and looked after the kids?

--Which female tribes started the war?

--Who did we fight? Just women? Men?

--Who did we kill? Did it include children?  Which side won? 

--Was it only a partial win, therefore allowing us to retain the hand drums?

No answers were forthcoming in his sad little speech. Patriarchal viewpoints and turf wars must not be the songs sung by those who fear losing their personal power and who haven’t a clue about their own cultural knowledge. Misguided male ego has no place in the presence of the drums.

His diatribe came in the above order, putting the war last.  Clearly, his fixation with the vagina was his priority.


Roll your eyes sisters, but keep on dancing, singing and drumming proud. See you at the big drums!




Matriarchal energy must be heard if Mother Earth has any change of survival. As the heart of women beats so does that of the Earth Mother. We are the strength upon which humans walk the earth - We are 'Home' - the drum, no matter its size represents and celebrates that union. Remember, the world's humanity lies in the love, leadership and compassion of the matriarch.

To this end, I have fulfilled my vision of several  years ago and acquired two big drums:  Gyemk Loop (Moonstone) Women's Big Drum & K'oolgyet Na Hool (All One People Drum).

The intent of my beautiful big drums is to offer peaceful, easy feelings toward all people who come to play them.

Acquired in 2003, Beautiful Gyemk ~Loop (Moonstone), came from my first vision to be a drum of healing, respect and honour of women from all the world's cultures.  She is living up to her advance billing.  32" in diametre of deep, echoing buffalo hide. She sings the songs of the Matriarch. She is painted blue as women are water. After all these years, a little bear grease from time to time, and she's still going strong!

Acquired in 2011, from my second vision, K'ool Gyet Na Hool (All One People) is a family drum for both women and men to sit together in a spirit of equality and respect. She is painted in the four original colours of human (Red, White, Black, Yellow). She is a little smaller made of moose hide.  Together the two drums sound as only in sync sisters should, peaceful, of the same mind.

My vision for the big drums is for women and men from all cultures to come to the drums as a loving, warm, supportive unit, and together elevating the sister and brotherhood; filled with songs, stories and gender unity. When it happens, it is utterly fantastic and tear-inducing!



  1. JULY 21, 2014: The Thunderbird Women's Big Drum Group (TWBDG) received an invitation from the University of Waterloo Waterloo, ON, Canada. We were proud to accept.  The organizing committee said, that the invitation was "to have more female representation at our powwow, and it would also show the strength of women that exists in our communities."

  2. The invitation did not sit well with members of two men's big drum groups, the Chippewa Travellers and Cedar River. A meeting was convened on August 26, 2014 to revisit the involvement of TWBDG in the powwow. The meeting was open to university students, members of the public and the men's big drum groups. When Elder, Shannon Thunderbird, Keeper of Moonstone asked to come to speak on behalf of her drum, she was told to stay away.

  3. At the meeting, Mark Lavalee,  keeper of Chippewa Traveller's big drum openly, and in front of witnesses, threatened to have Elder Thunderbird 'forcibly removed or worse" if she brought Moonstone to the powwow.

  4. When a female witness at the meeting objected to his bullying and supported Gyemk ~Loop, she was told by Mr. Lavallee, that, "if a Cree man were sitting here, he would get up and punch you in the face." 

     Gyemk ~Loop was made by a Cree drum-maker especially for women! Moreover, on September 19, 2014, respected Cree Elder, Andrew Wesley told Elder Thunderbird that he supported women at the big drum. It is unfortunate that Mr. Lavallee saw fit to throw all Cree males under the bus! Clearly he lacked the cojones to through the punch himself.

  5. Prior to the August 26 meeting, a female graduate student of the University of Waterloo was phoned at her home by a member of Cedar River Big Drum, and threatened with not being able to walk again if she came to the secret meeting. He also told her he knew where she lived.

  6. The day after the August 26th secret meeting, the same female witness who objected at the meeting was threatened with eviction from Aboriginal housing by a relative of Mr. Lavallee.

  7. No Elders from Six Nations of the Grand were asked to attend the meeting, nor were they consulted. No respect, in other words, for the people upon whose territory the powwow was to take place.

  8. The University of Waterloo buckled under the threats from the men and rescinded TWBDG's invitation.

  9. WE PROTESTED. (a) the cancellation of our invitation. (b) that the abusers were allowed to remain in the powwow while the innocent women's drum was banned. (c) violence against Aboriginal women. When threats are made toward women, whether emotional and/or physical, they are CRIMES! At the protest we stood up in defense of all women who are the victims of violent men. (d) the violation of the University's own gender equity policies which were designed to, "cultivate the core values of respect, equity and diversity at the University of Waterloo.

  10. This was not the first time that the University of Waterloo discriminated against Gyemk ~Loop. In 2004 when she was invited to the same powwow, the arena manager tried to have us removed. We remained but outside the arena where we drummed and sang, and attracted most of the women away from the main area. Ironically, Moonstone was the only drum to make the 6.00 p.m. Waterloo television news.


Bob Vrbanac, EDITOR
Waterloo Chronical Newspaper 

T'oyaks (Thank you) for
putting a photo on the October 1st front page of the Chronicle as regards the Thunderbird Women's Big Drum Protest at the University of Waterloo Powwow on September 27th.  It was a sad thing done as it was a gross violation of Aboriginal protocol when the invitation for us to join in the festivities was rescinded.  Moreover, we were subjected to threats of violence by  the Chippewa Traveller's and Cedar River men's big drums if we came to the powwow with our drums. The threats were reported to the Waterloo Police. What makes it even worse is that both men's drums were allowed to remain centre stage at the powwow even after the aforementioned threats of violence were made against myself and two other women. Unfortunately the University was complicit in all of this by by permitting the abusive men to stay. By banning the innocent women's big drum, the University sanctioned violence against Aboriginal women. This is beyond terrible particularly since newspapers across Canada are full of demands for action to be taken to stop violence against Aboriginal females. 

Our protest, although peaceful, was firm in its resolve to stop discrimination against Aboriginal women, and our right to celebrate our culture(s) wherever, whenever and however we so choose. It is historically, culturally and traditional incorrect to ban women from playing the big drums, never mind at a powwow which is a  "universal" celebration of all things Indigenous. It is only since the 1970s that prohibition against women and the big drums first made itself known; false prophets set themselves up as Aboriginal Elders to try and rewrite history. I, and my sisters remain dedicated to the causes of women from all cultures, and our right to function in this country as equals. After all, the Canadian Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms says we can! 

Nonetheless, please thank the Chronicle photographer, I believe his name is Adam Jackson, who had actually come to take photos of the powwow, for stopping at the protest site to enquire what was going on.  It showed initiative on his part, and I and the Thunderbird Women's Big Drum Group appreciated it.  Again, t'oyaks for posting the photo.




As an Elder, I am in the radical minority when it comes to Women and Ceremony, although I am happy to note that the view is changing as Native women come into their power and recognize the sheer stupidity and inequity of the relatively newly minted, male-dominated ceremonial rules.

There is a very tired and paternalistic view that orders women not to handle sacred items while on their moon time. WRONG! You are exactly the ones who should be handling them, because you are at your most powerful and spiritual during a time of giving a part of your body back to the Earth Mother. 
The prevailing post-Christian theme is that women on their moon time may not come to the big drum or hand drums for that matter. Women may not handle tobacco or any of the sacred medicines; may not hold a talking stick in a circle, may not go into sweatlodge; may not go on visionquest; may not sit in a lodge, may not...may not...may not....

Men say it upsets the balance of the great circle of life - oh dear Goddess, I can't even find enough words to even comment on this, patently predictable, pathetically patriarchal, puffed-up, parsimonious, partition-al, parochial, parapraxia, paradoxical poop! (Oh well, I guess I did find the words!)

I find it amusing when men say with great solemnity, "Women on their moon time should not be in ceremony or with the drums as they are too powerful!"  As I have said to numerous men when I hear this effort to control opinion, "Are you telling me that you are that weak, you are unable to handle a strong, self-aware woman? The answer is invariably stunned silence, followed by angry mutterings and a quick exit. 

Women also hear from me when they tell me they "are too powerful." "Are you telling me that you think I am a weak Elder and unable to handle the situation?" Also, are you telling me that you are not a strong, self-aware woman?" I've been successful about 75% of the time in changing their indoctrinated belief when they fully realize how illogical it is.

Moreover, refusal to allow women on their moon time to participate in any and all ceremonies is neither traditionally or historically accurate. In forty years of research, I've found there is nothing to suggest that women are inferior and should be banned from practising their culture however, wherever, and whenever they choose.  

I am descended from powerful matriarchs who never bought into this post-European crap. The sheer absurdity of such a rule is actually rather humorous if it weren't so discriminatory & destructive.  Should a priest stop a woman at the door of the Catholic Church and forbid her entrance in case she handles a bible, or dare we say take communion while on her moon time? Why is it then, that we stop Indigenous woman from worshipping at the altar of our cultural beliefs for five important days a month?

Women, are in a most sacred period of time in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries. We  are taking back the big drums because of the terrible job many Aboriginal men are doing.  Violence against women, children and elders remains at five times the national average in Canada.

Until the 1970's,  women on or off their moon time were never banned from all things sacred for simply being women. Our life-giving power pulsates through us at all times; such energy can only enhance a ceremony, make it stronger, more loving, and in tune with the Ancestors and Mother Earth. This is one reason why, for thousands of years, women were such powerful forces in the tribes. It is not logical nor is it equitable, it is simply a pathetic attempt to put Native women in their place - outside not only mainstream Turtle Island, but on the margins of our own cultures. 

As noted above, I do not subscribe to any post-Christian bastardization of my culture that prevents a woman from practicing her culture. Such controlling measures have no place in any modern, forward-thinking culture, that seeks to promote and keep hemselves relevant by following their true and accurate traditional paths.


ALL women regardless of the time of year, month, week, day, minute, nano-second can participate fully in my circles & ceremonies.

  • CEREMONIAL ATTIRE: I follow my traditional roots by wearing skirts, dresses, regalia (sometimes with leggings (the best of both worlds) when I am in ceremony. To me, the dress/skirt, represents the sacredness of the home (tipi, longhouse, plank house, hogan, wigwam) for which I, as a woman, am chiefly responsible.  Also, it is just a lot more comfortable and cooler for me because I am a very hot person.  Take that as you will!

  • I do not advise you on your attire when in ceremony, other than to request that all body parts be appropriately covered. Wear what is comfortable, however I do discourage plunging necklines and revealing flesh, I mean, seriously? Do we really need to buy into the sexual objectification of the female? Respect for self, includes respect for the body.

  • MOONTIME & SWEATLODGE: Please consider carefully before entering a sweat lodge in the first day or two of moon time.  The intense heat is physically draining and when combined with moon time temperature fluctuations, can cause even more dehydration and excessive heat than normal. This is strictly a health and comfort issue. 

  • Women on their moon time CAN play all my drums handle the medicines and other sacred objects; sit at Gyemk Loop & K'oolgyet Na Hool Big Drums and have yourselves a fine ole time!

Moon time in our youth to middle years is not something to be damned by the threatened and ill-informed among us. It is a beautiful and wondrous time in a woman's life.

It is a celebration of creation and fertility. Eagle rejoices in watching the sacred medicine dance celebrated by the powerful rhythms from such a sacred-feminine-life-giving source; the heartbeat of the drum pounds out her support. The time for such controlling behaviour is over! 

For more on Protocol & Behaviour  



Some of w
hat you were indoctrinated with isn't historically, traditionally, culturally accurate or fair


Just recently, at the special request of David Onley, I was the key-note speaker at his farewell dinner as he finished his seven year term as Ontario's Lieutenant Governor. Yesterday, I spoke at MaRs DiscoveryDistrict, a large think-tank in downtown Toronto. (Also, for your edification, I have also represented Canada on several international occasions in which drums played a big part, including EXPO 2005 in Japan). At both the Lieutenant Governor's and MaRs events, part of my talk was about life in First Nations communities prior to European contact. I led with the all important teaching of Native communities as egalitarian societies that stressed gender equality. The Indigenous world view, both in the past, and in most tribal communities today, is an understanding and acceptance where both women and men walk softly together, sit equally at the big drums in celebration of all things Indigenous.

I spoke about the meaning and use of the drum, how women told the stories and created the songs. How we sang and drummed on our "female relative" to remember language, to teach our children, to heal hearts, to honour nature, our communities, notwithstanding both women and men.  Participants at these events learned how men respected and honoured women in their role as keepers of the stories as told, in part, through the drums. I told the audiences that all drums, regardless of their size, are FEMALE for the simple and logical reason that they represent the heartbeat of Mother Earth, the Female Life-giver.

It is nonsensical for women to be denied access to a female relative. Unfortunately, a lack of knowledge gives naysayers fuel for opinions that are not only based on faulty logic but dishonours thousands of years of Indigenous living.


"Native women are custodians of traditions and language with an ancient story to sing. The heartbeat of creation continues through the medicine of the drum and women's voices." Carolyn Dunn, PhD., Cherokee/Muskogee. Original founder of one of America's most respected women's big drum groups, the Mankillers of Oklahoma.

"Women once gave the drum to men to learn of the heartbeat an unborn child carried in the womb of a woman, the life giver; it was a gift to men as a reminder to respect women and children with songs of honour, love and unity." Eli Painted Crow, Apache. Grandmother and United States Marine Veteran.

"It seems men in the east coast have trouble with women on the big drum. Men on the west coast seem to accept women singing on the drum. I wonder why that is. Men are men, drums are drums." Linda "Little Tree" Silvas, Juaneno Band of Mission Indians, California.

"When women drum, we drum feminine energy into the people and Earth Mother. We drum love, and that love is the most important healing energy. We are being drawn back to the tools that we need to help ourselves, our children, our families, our world, and that includes the big drum." Yolanda Martinez, Apache, New Mexico.

"I believe that the drum was one of the sacred tools that helped in healing rituals; it restored our identity [as women] and fostered self-confidence to share our stories and experiences through songs. The women's drum was represented in the moon lodge, the sweat lodge and many other ceremonial rites in the life cycle....Women have always sat at the big drums because we gave the drum to the men." Barbara Hooper, Cree. University Aboriginal Elder-in-Residence, Co-founder of Mother Heart Singers. Contributing member of the Women of Wabano CD.

We must not hide behind the overused word, tradition, particularly, when it does not apply to the issue of women and the big drums. After all, prohibition against women only began to creep into modern powwows the early 1970s. We must keep in mind that with the Indian Act, Residential School, Fall of the matriarchy through the imposition of foreign religions that removed women from their accustomed decision-making roles, disease, land appropriation, loss of food, among other atrocities, long-established languages, stories, customs, ceremonies were lost. In these post-European times, new ways of thinking and behaving began to crop up, some positive, some extremely negative, as "false prophets" set themselves up as experts on Indigenous history, culture and spirituality, and began to rewrite history to suit their own misogynist leanings.

I cannot and will not accept the vehemence of the outright banning of women on the big drum for the simple reason that pan-tribalism is the syncretic adoption of traditions from foreign communities.  In other words, the Anishinaabe, for example, do not have the right to ban women, given that they adopted both the big drum and powwow 'traditions' from the Great Plains. 

Moreover, according to ethnomusicological researchers: Bruno Nettl, William Powers and David McAllester, since the rise of European dominance in the Western hemisphere, Indigenous people adopted common identities and invented pan-tribal music, notably the powwow, peyote songs and the Ghost Dance. In this process, Eurocentric ideas and beliefs crept into indigenous practices, most notably patriarchal and chauvinistic attitudes toward women.

It must be said, for the record, that sexist behavior applied to Native ceremonies of any kind is outrageous and must not be tolerated -- especially in the name of false 'tradition'. It should also be noted that "powwow" is derived from an Algonquin term, "pauwau" or "pauau". It refers to a gathering of medicine men and women, spiritual female and male elders"Pauwauing" refers to a celebrational ceremony that is usually one of healing conducted by both men and women.  At a powwow, therefore, there is no place for racism, sexism, or any type of prejudice. Dare I also add, that the Anishinaabe people are a branch of the Algonquian language family. As regards the University of Waterloo powwow, it begs the question: Is the challenge against the inclusion of Gyemk ~Loop Women's Big Drum not going against Algonquin/Anishinaabe understandings of what a Pauwau actually is?

Also, Tamie, please convey to the organizing committee that I am a both dismayed and astonished that consideration is being given to rescinding an invitation made to a reputable Elder, one who is also the keeper of not one, but two well-respected big drums.

Keep Your Spirit Strong, Sisters.

 Elder, Shannon Thunderbird, M.A.,
Giluts'aaw Tribe, Royal House of Nii-Gumiik
Gispudwada Clan, Coast Tsimshian First Nation



There are many issues regarding Indigenous women and their place in the world.  It is my view that of all the citizens of Canada, Indigenous women are the most marginalized.

Until 1985, all versions of the Indian Act provided that, upon marriage, a Native groom conferred status on his non-Native wife, while the Native bride of a non-Native man lost her status. This provision was challenged as discriminatory under the Canadian Bill of Rights, a federal statute enacted in the 1960's. It took until 1985 (Bill C-31) for this terrible law to be repealed after a challenge was made under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms enacted with the new Constitution Act in 1982.

"Aboriginal women have encountered significant discrimination in their dealings with the Canadian state. They have not only been disadvantaged because of their race, but have also been discriminated against because of their gender. This discrimination is often contrary to the traditional values of many communities which were matrilineal or matrilocal in nature, or which enjoyed a greater degree of equality between the sexes than was the case in many non-native societies." Borrows, John J. and Leonard I. Rotman, Aboriginal legal issues: cases, material and commentary.  




With few exceptions, in most tribes, inheritance and descendants came though the matrilineal line. Recognition of the matriarch as a natural and equal leader was an an integral part of tribal life and gave women a powerful voice in the decision-making processes of day-to-day living.

Women made an enormous contribution to the health, welfare and economies of tribal communities and in most cases were responsible for the day-to-day operation of same.

Most often we were the Leaders, Negotiators, Mediators and Decision-makers:

(a) Our intimate knowledge and interaction with all members of the group on a day-to-day basis made us natural leaders, healers and keepers of tribal history. We created songs and stories.

Women's bodies are highly complex, internal physiologies. Our bodies are a metaphor for the powerful infrastructure of tribal societies over which we presided; we were greatly valued and respected and represented the heart of the tribe and the heartbeat of Mother Earth; this along with our sacred life-giving gift gave us honoured status.

A Circular-based spiritual belief system has at its centre, women. Therefore, we were and continue to be responsible for the inner circle of family and community: 

  • All facets of Native life from determining when war and/or raids against another tribe was necessary to when the tribe needed to move.

  • We were often left alone for long periods of time as the men travelled farther and farther a-field on the hunt. As a result, as noted above, it was left to the women to command the inner circle.

  • Overriding the decisions made by men if it was in the best interests of the community to do so.

  • Acting as go-betweens and negotiators (a particularly onerous and responsible task in post-European contact times)

  • Often we appointed the chiefs, and also had the power to remove them if they were not acting in the best interests of The People.

  • Discipline matters, although rare.

  • WHO, WHAT, WHY actions that needed to take place. 



  • Our decisions were never questioned.

  • All property belonged to us. When the men brought home booty from a raid, it was immediately claimed by the women who then decided on its distribution.

  • Most lineages descended from the woman.

  • Female children were valued highly for they would one day take their rightful place in the centre of the tribe.

  • When a women married, the man usually joined the wife's family.

  • Women created the stories.

  • When the hunt was scarce, it was our knowledge as regards planting, gathering of berries, roots and various sea foods (for those tribes who lived near water), that saved lives. Shellfish, for example was an especially important food source during the winter months.

  • Women tanned hides, fashioned clothing, built shelters.  On the Plains if was Buffalo who provided all the necessities of life;  On the Coast, it was the sea and the forest.

  • When a woman was on her moon time, the rest of the sisterhood looked after her children while she went to meditate in a moon lodge.

  • The tribe was a "one heart, one family" unit in many ways, and women raised each other's children.

  • We made implements such as knives, ladles, spoons, sewing needles.

  • We were artistic and created breathtaking beadwork (post-European), and intricate weaving (hats, capes, blankets).



The arrival of the missionaries to Turtle Island spelled the death knell for matrilineal tribal hierarchies as they were understood for thousands of years.  The once prominent roles of Native women in the governing of their tribal units was almost immediately attacked by the missionaries who were appalled at the level of authority we commanded. 

Christianity began to take hold when Native men began to believe their own press, immortality and, new hierarchical position on the left hand of a male God.

Christianity relentlessly preached the opposite view, that rather than humans being cast as the weakest of all living things (a prevalent and accurate Native view), men, in particular, had been elevated above women, and were now the strongest, and sitting next to the new male God!! Helluva promotion!

This notion of omnipotence was an intoxicating and powerful, emotional drug for a once proud people who eventually were forced to live with this antithetical viewpoint as our new reality. Much of  this new thinking was forced on us because of starvation, deprivation and cultural genocide. We would believe anything if it meant feeding our children. Spiritually, my Ancestors were simply starved for some sort of validation in the new world.  Unfortunately it was very one-sided as men started to assume the decision-making roles long-held by women, and with disastrous results. Women were relegated to the sidelines of our own history.

What is little known is that many Indigenous women would have none of this patriarchal behaviour, and began to leave the tribes, rather than face virtual slavery and anonymity. This left the men to do "Women's Work!" That is, make decisions on the day-to-day operation of the tribe, something they were and still are ill-equipped to do. As a result, tribal units began to crumble and decay under the weight of male indecision and wrong action. It reverberates to this day with many male dominated band councils rife with financial corruption, nepotism, misuse of power and steadfast refusal to let women resume their rightful places in tribal life. (Photo: Laura Gilpin, Navajo)

Matriarchal governance that had been the heartbeat of the tribes for so many thousands of years ended with a whisper, as we were relegated to the back benches of our own cultures. We have been fighting a rearguard action ever since.

At powwows, ceremonies and other gatherings, many male leaders tout the importance of women in Native communities and their vital role in the decision-making process. Sounds good, but it is simply lip service. Let's look good in front of the masses. Family violence in Native communities is still five times the national average! 

After all this time, it is difficult for men to give up the notion of political power both outside and inside the family unit and share it with women. As Kim Anderson says, in her book, "A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood", it is not possible "to go back to the golden age of the Ancestors."  The modern world has created many complex issues for Native people that are not easily solved.

Having said that, Native societies are constantly evolving ones, and as women grow stronger, and demand to take back the drum, we are creating for ourselves a new reality that will blend the old with the new, and in the end save Native communities and Mother Earth.



"Earth Mother taught women to survive. She taught us to recognize plants and roots and seeds that were good food. When hunting was scarce we sustained the tribe with food gathering. She taught us leadership and to speak wisely.

Women grew stronger and wiser; we learned Earth Mother's lessons well, we were the centre of tribal life; men, children and even Elders depended on our wise choices; we sat by the sacred fire and listened to the heartbeat of Mother Earth and felt it resonate within our own hearts. We were at peace.

We developed a special instinct, a connection to Grandmother Moon who controlled our cycles and the tides. Unconsciously, we remembered wisdom stored in ancestral memory generation after generation. No man, however, strong, could best a woman skilled in remembering. (Still can't!)

Father Sky turned many times (meaning the years went by). The world changed and we were relegated to the margins of our cultures. We became alienated from each other, the worst fate of all. We forgot we knew how to remember as a sisterhood. Knowledge lay hidden in a secret place, waiting to be summoned. Even when the knowledge was used, we did not know we had used it; the precious gift lay neglected and ignored.

Teachers were needed to instruct young girls so they would not forget, but there were none who could teach. Earth Mother grieved. She said, "I will make a teacher." She took a grain of corn and made it grow strong. The ear became the head, the silk became hair, the leaves became arms, and the stalk divided at the bottom and became legs. The legs pulled themselves from the earth and walked, and She Who Remembers was created.

Earth Mother said, "You must teach another and she must teach another, forever. You are to wear a symbol of your status, for you are one apart, a chosen person." A rock crystal encircled her neck. "This symbol will help you remember, so guard it well."

"You must choose a successor who is determined, yet who walks softly upon my heart and who hears the songs of her Ancestors.  If you fail, if there is none to follow you, I shall refuse to accept your body into my keeping and your spirit will roam homeless, seeking haven in the dark void, never to enter the world of The Ancestors. Women will forget they can remember and the gifts I bestow will be as seeds drifting aimlessly in the wind.

Time is a great circle; there is no beginning, no end. All returns again and again, forever. For that is the way of things.  Wilwilaaysk, All My Relations."

And so it came to pass - Women sit on the sidelines and are non-participants in our own lives and the lives of our families and communities; Native women have become THE MOST MARGINALIZED CITIZENS IN CANADA. In 2001, the Toronto Star ran a major headline that stated "500 WOMEN MISSING!" The article went on to describe these lost women in Vancouver as sex-trade workers or substance-abuse victims.  It garnered nary a ripple across Canada.  If it had been 500 white women it would have been a national scandal, 500 white men an international incident!. But, 500 Indigenous woman, did not create even a ripple across the Canadian consciousness. Subsequently a pig farmer in B.C. was arrested and is considered to be the worst mass murderer in Canadian history, maybe even Turtle Island.  Most of his victims were Native women, should there not be a general hew and cry from the media, the provincial and federal governments and most importantly, OTHER NON-NATIVE WOMEN!


"There can be no piecemeal solution to a tragedy of this scale." – 2011 joint statement of Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations calling for action to stop violence against First Nations, Inuit and Metis women in Canada

According to Canadian government statistics, Indigenous women are five times to seven times more likely than other women to die as the result of violence. The Native Women's Association of Canada has documented more than 580 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, most within the last three decades. Because of gaps in police and government reporting, the actual numbers may be much higher.

Canadian police and public officials have also long been aware of a pattern of racist, sexist violence against First Nations, Inuit and Metis women in their homes and on the streets. But government response has been shockingly out of step with the scale and severity this tragedy."


The Grandmother teaching has come to pass - women have forgotten how to remember and we have insulated ourselves from each other. She Who Remembers weeps and worries that there will be none to follow in her footsteps. there hope? Are the heartbeats of the women starting to be heard? there hope....come to Moonstone Women's Big Drum and sing with the Ancestors. Sing as though your life depends on it.


The courage shown by the Native Sisterhood in this monumental struggle is amazing and was foretold in a Haudenosaunee prophecy. 

 "When the maple trees start dying from the top the women will take back the drum"  

The above prophecy is very clear in its intent - women's voices have been silenced for too long, and now that it is being shown that the men are not supporting their women except with what 'lip-service' may provide, women are now demanding their voices be heard. Once again they are remembering and taking their rightful place within Native organizations, communities and government. Marginalization is no longer an option as Indigenous women square their shoulders and stride forward into their matriarchal futures.  

"We're a sleeping giant. We're going to rise up and take our rightful place in society. Until now, we didn't have the vehicle [National Aboriginal Women's Association] to be politically recognized. Well, now we're here, we're not going away and finally, women are going to have a voice." (G. Sparrow, NAWA)

The Earth Mother and She Who Remembers smile........



Among other things, Shakers represent the tears of the Ancestors. They cleanse your Spirit, Heart, Mind and Emotions. They break through blockages. However, when your tears stop flowing, they become crystals, hardened bits of glass that continue impede your emotional progress. They multiply until, like Superman, you are living in a Fortress of Solitude, unable to escape. 

However, crystallized tears can melt, and so your task is to continue on your life's journey seeking always to find ways to allow your tears to melt and to flow - this way you can live in the present and you can float on a river to the ocean.




In the beginning, Native women (and any children from the union) who married non-Native men were stripped of their Native Status. The reverse was not the case, White women who married Native men gained INative Status.

It took until 1985 to amend the Indian Act with the enactment of Bill C-31  to eliminate this terrible, racist, gender-biased inequity and re-instate those Native women who had lost their status.  Since 1985 over 120,000 Indigenous women have regained status (alas, but not their children - assimilation will always be alive and well).  

The main reason for Bill C-31 was to create equality between men and women by conforming to section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982).  It was hoped that the "non-Status Indian" category would be eliminated making all Native people equal under the law and accorded the rights and privileges of Status Indians.

It didn't happen.  Instead Bill C-31 created two categories. Under section 6 of the Indian Act there are now two classes:  6(1) - A person with two Status Native parents; 6(2) - A person with only one Status Native parent.

"Bill-C31 still discriminates against women who marry non-Native men, because it states that Native women must marry a Native man in order to pass Status onto their children.  In other words, Section 6(2) created a half-breed Indian with a second generation cut-off clause.  This ever-increasing second generation have been described as "Ghost People."
(P. Paul, "The Politics of Legislated Identity". She writes

"Currently the Ghost People are children of Bill C-31, 6(2). [Native women] reinstates. However, in one or two years when the children born after 1985 who registered under section 6(s) reach child-bearing are, and parent with a non-status person, the rise in numbers of Ghost People will grow."

Moreover, a number of Band Councils are more often than not male dominated, and to make matters worse, 'family' dominated in that the men from one family rule the reserves with iron fists. Constitutions are being written in the name of some sort of democracy that I am unfamiliar  with that effectively denies Bill C-31 women  who live off reserve  involvement in tribal life; if they desire to move back to reserve they are denied housing. In other words, we now have a racist cocktail that includes the addition of a 'RED' layer of discrimination parachuted on top of the numerous layers of 'white' discrimination added to already cumbersome and complicated legislation. The beat goes on......



For more than a century, from the adoption of the first Indian Act in 1876, until an amendment to the act in 1985, Native Women were subjected to legislation that discriminated against their race, their gender and their marital status. 

The effects of the Indian Act had an incalculable negative impact on the role of women in Native society, and it could follow a Native woman throughout her life (and after her death). When the act first came into force, it included a number of clauses for the "emancipation of Indians." This process, whereby a Native person gave up, or was "released from", his or her status as an "Indian", and his or her right to belong to a band, was applied to any Native woman who married a non-Native man. The law permitted a Native man to keep his status, and accorded this status to his non-Native wife and any children they might have, but a Native woman married to a non-Native man ceased to be an "Indian" before Canadian law. 

For women in this situation, the consequences were catastrophic. They were forced to leave their homes and/or the homes of their parents and were not permitted to live in their communities. They were no longer entitled to land on a reserve, and therefore lost any property they may have had before they were married and they lost the right to inherit any family property. They were stripped of all rights to participate in band councils and the political and social affairs of their community. Their children were not recognized as "Status Indians." In fact, any woman in this situation, and any children she may have had, were banned from participating in the cultural development of their communities and also lost all rights that accompanied "Indian Status". She could also be refused to be buried with her ancestors.

Even following a separation, a divorce, or if she were widowed, a Native woman could still be refused the right to return to live with her family and it was rare that she could regain her status. For Native women who married Native men, the act was just as discriminatory.  

A 1927 amendment to the act, required that any widow had to "lead a good and proper life" in order to inherit any properties or monies from her deceased husband. The Superintendent of Indian Affairs was the sole and final judge, with no recourse for appeal, of what constituted "a good and proper life." 

The 1951 revisions to the act applied this same principle to any woman who could inherit any properties or monies from a Native person who died without a will, or final testament. It also allowed for the Superintendent to have the authority to decide on the status of an illegitimate child. Besides having an incredible impact on the individual woman who found herself in any of these situations, the discriminatory application of the law also put into question the very nature of the status of Native women and their opportunities for an equitable participation in the political, economic, and social development of their communities and ultimately Canada. 

A Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada, set up in 1967 to study the situation of all women in the country, heard from a number of Native woman participants. Presenting their different situations, concerning the loss of their status and other discriminatory practices growing out of the law, and demanding that the commission make recommendations to change the offending articles in the Indian Act, especially those sections on membership in bands, these woman had made the first major public contribution to the changes that would come about almost twenty years later. 

An amendment to the Indian Act in 1985 (Bill C-31) repealed the discriminatory laws and women and their descendants who had married non-Native men were now recognized, including being able to return to their reserves. However, many were soon to discover that the reserves did not welcome them back, as they were seen as a financial drain on already tight resources; moreover, although, as noted earlier, the women received their status, it did not, in fact, extend to their children.


February 17, 2007, Vancouver, B.C.

First Nations Women Chiefs and Councellors outraged by crown government interference in the the lives of Indigenous people gathered together for the first time in modern history at the Assembly of First Nations National forum in Vancouver. They expressed their overwhelming concern and frustration with the current situation facing First Nations Communities, families and children.


  • Honor the spirit and intent of the original relationship between First Nations and the Crown to live in peaceful co-existence, without interference, and to uphold the unceded inherent authorities given to us by the Creator.

  • Assert that First Nations in Canada are Nations with pre-existing collective rights, responsibilities, languages, cultures, territories and laws.

  • Maintain our authority to be the law-makers and caretakers of our Nations, our families and our lands. First Nation holistic laws will continue to guide our decision-making in the face of any and all federal, provincial and territorial legislation. The Crown continues to breach this original compact and interfere with this inherent jurisdiction, thereby creating and perpetuating poverty conditions amongst our peoples.

  • Assert our collective inherent and Treat rights must not be diminished or adversely impacted in the development of federal, provincial and territorial law and policy.

  • Will stand with First Nations governments to advance a comprehensive plan for accountability of all governments, the protection of collective rights and to eradicate poverty and social injustice.

  • Will ensure that our lands, families and children are cared for; ensure that our rights are respected and upheld; and we will be responsible for the decisions that affect our lives. We will not relinquish our rights at the expense of our lands, families and future.

  • Assert that negotiations and consultations regarding any federal, provincial or territorial initiatives that impact pre-existing inherent First Nation jurisdictions and Treaty rights must take place with the leadership of First Nations governments.

  • Assert that solutions can be achieved locally, regionally, and nationally by working collective. We call upon the Government of Canada to work together with First Nations governments to co-create a new future for all our people.

  • Assert that the cycle of poverty, violence, lack of access to quality health care and education, and the non-recognition of inherent First Nations jurisdiction continue to be perpetuated in federal genocide and assimilationist policies and approaches.

  • Are united to oppose attempts by the federal government to unilaterally impose legislation and policy such as its initiatives currently reflected in the matrimonial real property process, and the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. These federal initiatives that diminish or adversely impact upon our unceded inherent authorities will be rejected.

  • We will accomplish this through collective efforts that support systemic change.


NOTE 1: Section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act reads: "Nothing in this Act affects any provision of the Indian Act or any provision made under or pursuant to that Act. [1976-77, c.33, s.63.]"

NOTE 2: Matrimonial Real Property Issues: There is no provision in the Indian Act which addresses partition or forced sale of individual interests in reserve land, i.e. matrimonial home in the cases of domestic violence. This is a serious legislative flaw resulting from the non-application of provincial family law and the absence of federal law. The only  recourse is to apply for an order for compensation upon sale of the property.  This has no teeth because the courts do not have the power to order a sale of an interest in unsurrendered reserve land.  Couples are generally left to themselves to find a resolution to disputes concerning matrimonial real property on reserve.  In other words, there is no statutory law, i.e., interim possession of the matrimonial home,  for spouses in an uneven power relationship. In a domestic violence situation, therefore, women and children are trapped in the matrimonial home with their abuser with nowhere to go and no laws to protect them unless a criminal act has been committed such as attempted murder or murder.

NOTE 3: If the male holds the title for the land on which the matrimonial home his located, the woman's right to remain on reserve may end with the breakdown of the marriage depending on how the band council has exercised its bylaw powers or residency. Even if she has membership should the husband decide to transfer his interest to the band or to another member of the band (which he can do without her consent), or if she is told to leave or has to leave, there is no legal remedy for her to gain possession of the house even though she is the primary caregiver to children of the marriage.

NOTE 4: If a woman holds joint title to the matrimonial home and the marriage breaks down and she is forced to leave the home with her children to to domestic violence situation, for example, she will have difficult in getting another allotment from band councils, there there is a perception that the family entitlement to land had been fulfilled.

NOTE 5: Women on reserve have been able to get a restraining order due to domestic violence issues that have allowed them to remain in the matrimonial home. However, after obtaining such an order women have been told by the RCMP that the band did not have the power to enforce the restraining order and there were not going to interfere in band council business!




  • Women should have access to the protection of federal and provincial Family Law. After all, they are citizens of this country.

  • Band Councils, most of whom are men, some of which are abusers themselves, need to be culled from the herd and replaced with forward thinking, unthreatened males, if such people exist, and new enlightened laws created and enforced on reserve.

  • Women must unite and demand their rightful place in tribal communities. A slow process, but a steady one, if the statement by the Women Chiefs is any indication.

  • It is not a question of whether reserve land is unceded and therefore nothing can be done, it is a question of basic human rights. All across this land there are laws to protect the disadvantaged, why the tap turns off the minute one steps on reserve is a government cop-out, a band council cop-out.

  • There is a dire need for dispute resolution systems, access to provincial and federal courts, and specialized tribunals, along the lines of sentencing circles administered by 'enlightened' First Nations people on reserve. The tribunal should consist equally of women and men.

  • Return to the stories, legends and teachings of the Ancestors. No, not the ones that were created and/or reinterpreted by Native men who fell in love with colonial Christianity! But, those real stories that taught Native people how to resolve disputes in a fair and equitable manner, in which all members were present.

  • The old ways were careful, respectful, honoured all participants and kept always in mind what was in the best interests of the children.



That Native women, in cases of divorce, do not have the same rights as all other Canadian women because they cannot inherit or pass-on land??

Under the Canadian Constitution, provincial law governs the division of marriage assets upon marriage breakdown. Section 91(24) of the 1867 Constitution Act, confers exclusive legislative authority to the federal government in all matters dealing with the subject "Indians and lands reserved for Indians."  In other words, a Court of Law is not governed by provincial family law but by the federal Indian Act which contains no provisions for division of marital property.

Cumulative history of federal legislation denied Indigenous women property and inheritance rights thereby creating the custom and belief that Native women are not entitled to these rights.

In other words, all on-reserve marriage assets go to the man. This supported by a 1986 Supreme Court decision that held, as a result of the Indian Act, a woman cannot possess or apply for a one-half interest in on-reserve property for which her husband holds the Certificate of Possession.




Congratulations on this exciting new phase of your earth walk. With your first Moon time, you are now a woman. You timed it very well so you could come to this year’s Women’s Feast and sit at Moonstone Big Drum and sing! Nice going! You may not understand all that I have written here just now. Over time, however, you will come to understand. Keep this with you and refer to it as needed.

Women have a special relationship with Grandmother Moon; she controls all female life. She watches over the waters of the earth and regulates the tides. She is especially close to you because she governs your cleansing and purification cycle.

Alexis, as you continue on your earth walk, you may hear other women refer to their Moon Time as ‘the curse’, ‘the plague’, and other such negative phrases. I encourage you to ignore these comments.

Your Moon Time is a gift to you; a time of renewal, a time to cleanse yourself mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually by creating space for new energy to come in. It is also a time for rest and reflection. Your Moon Time is considered a time of great power, second only to your ability to give life. That is how strong and wonderful your new power is.

You may be told that while on your Moon Time you cannot participate in ceremonies or handle sacred objects such as the talking stick, drums, shakers, tobacco, eagle feathers, smudge, pipes or even enter a sweatlodge. The reason given is that your power is so great you will upset the balance and harmony of the sacred objects or ceremony. This thinking is not only sexist it is illogical and very male!

Your Moon Time cycle is a most sacred period of time in the month. Ask yourself, does it really make any sense for you to be banned from all things sacred! Your life-giving power pulsates and such energy can only enhance a ceremony, make it stronger and in tune with the Ancestors, especially the female ones. It is not your problem that men feel they cannot handle a powerful women! Think about it, that is exactly what they are saying, not all flattering for them don't  you think?

Do not accept anything that prevents you from practicing your beliefs at any time. Women from other belief systems who are on their Moon Time are not banned from attending ceremonies. I doubt a priest or minister has the courage to stand in the pulpit and ask all women to self-identify and refrain from handling the bible or taking communion! Therefore, the current very dated male Native view is quite discriminatory don’t you think?

If other women can practice their spiritual beliefs without fear of reprisal, why is it that women who follow traditional Native practices are prevented from practicing their spiritual beliefs five days a month!! Such controlling measures have no place in any modern, forward-thinking culture that seeks to promote and keep itself alive and relevant.

As regards entering a Sweatlodge, I do caution you to consider carefully for strictly health and comfort reasons; the intense heat can be physically draining by causing even more dehydration and excessive heat than normal.

Remember, Moon Time is a celebration of creation and fertility. Eagle rejoices in this Moon Time song, the sacred medicines dance to the powerful female rhythms from your sacred life-giving source, the heartbeat of Mother Earth (the drum) pounds out its support as your voice soars to the universe celebrating the cycles of life, the sacred Fire burns brightly offering its medicine of renewal, Creator warmly receives your prayers on the smoke of the smudge.

I am proud of you Alexis, your intelligence, good cheer, warm personality and obvious love of your Mother and Brother and now,  you Step-father. As you move forward on your new path, step with confidence, authority and joy.

As you grow into your womanhood, remember you are a leader, a decisionmaker and the centre of the family and community. As you continue to mature you will acquire knowledge and skills. Use them wisely in the service of your people. Protect those who are weaker than you, in other words, follow Thunderbird's mantra, "Never leave anyone behind and lift as you climb". Stand forward in your truth as a strong woman with the same rights as everyone else. Let no one tell you otherwise.

Finally, look after and love your family, follow your dreams, always live your life in a good way.

The necklace is my gift to you to mark this most important occasion. Wear it whenever you want to remind yourself of this exciting change in your life.

All My Relations,

Native Name: Waas My’een Ts’its’amti Hana’a
(Misty Morning Thunderbird Woman)
English Name: Shannon Thunderbird,
Coast Tsimshian First Nations Elder,
November 24, 2006 (slightly updated to include Alexis' new Stepfather, Jeff. October, 2009



SUSAN AGLUKARK (Born January 27, 1967) in Arviat, Northwest Territories. She is a singer, performer. "Arctic Rose," released in 1992, was her first independent recording. In 1993, named "Northerner of the Year" by Up Here Magazine and Mcleans listed her as one of "Canada's 100 Leaders To Watch For." Winner of 1994 National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Performance, "This Child'. released in 1995. She won a Juno in 1995 as "New Solo Artist" and "Arctic Rose" received a 1995 Juno as "Music of Aboriginal Canada Recording."


BERTHA ALLEN (Born in 1934, Old Crow, Yukon, Gwich'in First Nations, Northwest Territories). Through her leadership as President of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women of the Northwest Territories, founding President of the Native Women's Association of the Northwest Territories and President of the Native Women's Association of Canada, Mrs. Allen has been a tireless promoter of equality for women. The only female member of the Bourque Commission, she helped create the new constitution for the western Northwest Territories. She is respected nationally for her common sense approach and her passion for women and families. In 1999, Ms Allen  received the Governor General Award for outstanding contributions.


ANNA MAY PICTOU AQUASH - Raised in Canada's Mi'kmaq  culture and religion, her treatment at an off-reserve school where she faced overwhelming racism led to her involvement in the American Indian Movement (AIM).  She was among the Native militants who occupied the village of Wounded Knee in a 71-day standoff with federal authorities in 1973. Aquash, 30, disappeared in late 1975 from a home where she had been staying in Denver. Her assassinated frozen body, with a gunshot wound to the head, was found in February, 1976 at the Pine Ridge reservation, about 90 miles east of Rapid City.
Her mysterious murder in 1976 was not solved until a new chapter in 2003 with the arrest of Arlo Looking Cloud. No charges have been proven against him, and the burden continues to rest with the government to prove its case. 


MOLLY BRANT  (Koñwatsiãtsiaiéñni, 1736-April 16, 1796). By far the most powerful and influential woman in the Mohawk Nation. She single-handedly is credited with maintaining British loyalty throughout the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

She was born to a Mohawk father and mother in Conajoharie, New York, the older sister of the famed Mohawk leader Joseph Brant. It was at the age of 17 that Molly met William Johnson, a famous British trader who later became Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the British Indian Department's Northern District. By the time she was 23, she had moved into his home and was fulfilling all the duties of wife, political consort, and hostess of his considerable estate. She had 8 children.  Her skill as a diplomat was admired by the political leaders of the day. Her grace and dignity as a hostess made the Johnson estate a major destination for visitors.

Never shy, Molly used her considerable influence with the British to see that her people were well cared for. In times of disagreement, it was she who traveled into the villages and met with the Sachems (chiefs) to urge their continuing loyalty to the Crown. She was so effective that provisions were made by the British to support her financially for her entire life! Her yearly pension even exceeded that of her famous brother, Joseph.

Prior to his death in 1774, Johnson had the foresight to make a will which left all of his wealth and property to Molly. Additionally, he set out political appointments for the children and for Molly's brother, Joseph. As the armies of the American Revolution drew closer to her home, Molly knew that word of her loyalties to the British were too well known for her to be safe there. She gathered her worldly goods and moved into Canada. Until her death, she continued to act as an intermediary between the Haudenosaunee and the British. Immortalized on 1986 Canada Post stamp.


 EVA CARDINAL (Rock Woman, 'Asini-iskiw'), Cree)

Evangeline Red Crow Cardinal, Saddle Lake, Alberta is now  an Elder to her people.  She was born in the bush and shortly after the Elders named her 'Rock Woman.'  It is a fitting name. She has been in a number of films relating to residential schools, Native women and related subjects. 

She began as a cook at Poundmaker Treatment Centre and rose to counselor, senior counselor and eventually Director.  She left Poundmaker to work on the Sacred Circle project in the Edmonton Public School District.  With only a 7th grade residential school education, she eventually went to college and earned her degree.  She graduated in her 60's.  She is retired from EPSD now, after more than 20 years, and living back on the reserve. As a speaker she has recounted her harrowing journey as she survived residential school. She was determined to keep preserve her cultural identity and language. She and two other Survivors were the stars of a film, entitled, "The Learning Path."  Part of the description of the film is as follows:

"Generations of native children were taught in schools that to be native was somehow wrong. Exposed to racism, ridicule and overt disdain for Native culture and traditions, they were made to feel inferior, even criminal. For today's generation of native students, these painful experiences need not be repeated. Native Canadians now have control over their own system of formal education and, to help restore what for many was lost, the classroom curricula includes studies that will ensure the continued survival of the Native identity. In the film, we meet three remarkable educators. In their own unique ways, Edmonton elders Ann Anderson, Eva Cardinal and Olive Dickason are leading younger Natives along the path of enlightenment. Documentary footage, dramatic re-enactments and archival film inter-weave the three women's stories, and Anderson and Cardinal recount their own harrowing experiences at residential schools; memories which have fueled their determination to preserve their Native languages and identities. Along their paths we learn not just of the legacy that still plagues Native education; we also learn of the strength with which it has been overcome."


TANTOO CARDINAL (Born July 20, 1950, Fort McMurray, ON) Cree/Metis)

Twenty-Five years in film makes Tantoo one of the most recognizable Indigenous actresses in television and movies. Nonetheless it has been difficult for her to find roles as Hollywood is less forgiving in creating roles for strong Indigenous women. Like all high-profile Native people, she is active working with Native youth and works hard to offset the stereotypical attitudes and understandings people have about Turtle Island's First People. "You don't come through generations and generations of genocide and holocaust to be portrayed as monotoned and one-sided characters. That's just not possible!"

Maclean's magazine declared her Actress of the Year in 1991. In 1993 she was given the American Indian Film Festival best actress award. She also received the first Rudy Martin Award for Outstanding Achievement by a Native American in Film for her roles in Legends of the Fall, and The Education of Little Tree. Toronto Women in Film and Television honoured Tantoo with an Outstanding Achievement Award. And for her appearance on North of 60 she won a 1996 Gemini award for best performance by an actress in a guest role, dramatic series. In 2006, Tantoo was honoured by the City of Edmonton by being added to their Dreamspeakers Walk of Honour.


ANGEL DE CORA DIEZ  Born in 1871 on the Winnebago reservation in Nebraska. She was influential in shaping Native art in the early years of the 20th century. She graduated from the Hampton Institute in 1891 and studied art at Smith College, the Drexel Institute and at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Busy as an artist and illustrator of books, Angel DeCora Dietz also spent much time lecturing on the problems confronting Native Americans. She became the head of the art department at the Carlisle Indian School and with her husband, the Lakota teacher William Dietz, became active in Indian affairs, eventually meeting with President Theodore Roosevelt to discuss the concerns of Native Americans. She died in the great flu epidemic of 1919.


 GANDOOX (SHEILA CONWAY) - Oct. 23, 1913-Feb. 8, 2014. Coast Tsimshian First Nations. Thunderbird's Mom. This photo was taken when she was eighteen years old. She passed to her day of quiet at the ripe young age of one hundred years. She broke new ground back in the 1930's and 40's as an opera singer as there were no First Nations artists to be found in the 'grand arts' in that period. She sang for the troops in Theatre Under the Stars in Vancouver during the 1940's performing the role of Yum Yum from The Mikado numerous times. Her lyric soprano voice was magic. She was also a concert pianist and a master puppeteer, creating, designing and making a three-hundred marionette cast of unforgettable characters. As children, Kate and I travelled all over British Columbia bringing singing, dancing shows and the puppet theatre to  enthusiastic audiences everywhere. Gandoox was a scholar, writer, intellectual, choir-mistress, skilled seamstress and costume-maker and on and on. She triumphed even though she suffered impossible racism during her early life. If the truth be known, she was born way before her time but even so managed to make a difference in the thousands of lives she's touched over sixty years of healing circles, seminars and workshops.


JEANETTE VIVIAN CORBIERE  Born June 21, 1941  on the Wikwemikong Reserve on Manitoulin Island in Ontario. It was her case that was fought all the way to the Supreme Court that eventually repealed the Canadian Indian Act to re-enfranchise those Native women who lost their Native status for marrying non-Native men. She is a founding member of the Ontario Native Women's Association.


HANGING CLOUD  (1800s) was the daughter of an Ojibwa chief, and was the only woman of the Ojibwa Nation ever allowed to become a full warrior. She wore war paint, carried full battle weapons, and was a deadly warrior. As a warrior, she took part in battles, raids, hunting parties, and all sporting events reserved for warriors. She was also a full member of the war council, performed war dances, and participated in all warrior ceremonies.


LADONNA HARRIS Born February 15, 1931, Comanche. President of Americans for Indian Opportunity, is a remarkable statesman and national leader who has enriched the lives of thousands. She has devoted her life to building coalitions that create change. She has been a consistent and ardent advocate on behalf of Tribal America. In addition, she continues her activism in the areas of civil rights, environmental protection, the women's movement and world peace. In 1970 she founded AIO - Americans for Indian Opportunity. She is the wife of former Oklahoma Senator, Fred R. Harris.


KAHN-TINETA HORN Mohawk, born 1940, is a prominent Native activist since the 1960's, she was one of over fifty Native people charged with precipitating a riot and obstructing the Canadian army and police at OKA in 1990. A strong, Mohawk woman, who fought to be heard in a manner that, no doubt, pleases her female Ancestors. As her name says, she has spent a lifetime making the grass wave on behalf of her people. The following is reprinted from the Canadian Encyclopedia.

"Kahn-Tineta Horn, meaning "she makes the grass wave" in Mohawk, political activist, fashion model, civil servant (b at New York City, NY 16 Apr 1940), member of the Mohawk Wolf Clan of Kahnawake, Québec. She attracted national attention to native causes in the 1960s and early 1970s by her lively and controversial criticisms of Indian conditions. She had already been a model and public speaker for some years when in 1964 she was fired from her posts in the National Indian Council in a controversy over policy and organization of centennial celebrations. Throughout the 1960s she took part in numerous Indian protests, including one in which she dumped rats in a government meeting to illustrate illegal dumping on her reserve. She advocated "Indian apartheid" or separate development, including preservation of the reserve system, teaching by natives only, and the banning of Indian-white intermarriage. She founded and directed the Indian Legal Defense Committee from 1967-1971. Since 1972 she has held various positions in the social, community and educational development policy sections of the federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs,"

In her own words: "The root of the word 'society' is 'friendship' and 'companionship'. This concept is the basis of the Kaienerekowa, the Great Law of Peace, the Constitution of the Five Nations Iroquois Confederacy. The Great Law is a way of life that was given to us as we saw it. It's how we are to relate to the universe, which is the way that I have tried to live."

Read about one of her daughters,Waneek Horn-Miller below


WANEEK HORN-MILLER Born on the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory reserve in 1975, Waneek has led a vibrant life in the service of her people. Always, keeping in mind that she is a proud Mohawk, she set out to prove it using her athleticism as one of the gateways. She comes from a family of high achievers, with three sisters pursuing varying aspects of higher education and in the theatre. In 1990, when she was fourteen years of age, she was bayoneted by a Canadian soldier during the OKA crisis while holding her four year-old sister, Kanieti:io. She till bears the scar on her chest to this day. Rather than becoming embittered by the experience, she chose to use it to help realize her dreams of becoming an Olympian which she did in Water Polo, Sydney, 2000. She and her team were triumphant gold medalists at the 1999 Pan Am Games. Over the years, she has won enough gold medals to start her own mint! She travels widely speaking to children and youth about pursuing higher education and is currently the Co-Ordinator of First People's House, McGill University. One of her favourite themes is that Indigenous youth need not sacrifice who they are in order to achieve better lives.


ROBERTA JAMIESON   Former Chief of the Six Nations Reserve of the Grand River; now CEO of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, First Canadian Native woman to earn a law degree. First Native woman to be appointed Ontario's Ombudsman (held the job for ten years); lauded for developing and promoting non-adversarial methods of conflict resolution. She now heads up the Aboriginal Achievement Foundation.


RITA JOE (March 25, 1932 - March 20, 2007) Mi'kmaq poet and song writer, called the Poet Laureate of the Mi'kmaq people. In 1978, her first book, The Poems of Rita Joe was published. Over her lifetime she had six more books published. In 1992, she was called to the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, one of the few non-politicians ever appointed. She also received the Order of Canada and a number of honorary doctorates.


EMILY PAULINE JOHNSON Mohawk, Poetess - Born in 1861 at the Six Nations Reservation near Brantford, ON, Pauline Johnson (“Tekahionwake” or “Double Wampum) was the daughter of George Henry Johnson, Mohawk Chief of this great Iroquois tract. Her British-born mother, Emily Howells, was a second cousin of the famous American novelist, William Dean Howells. Her most famous work, Flint and Feather, was published in 1912. Others followed, including Legends of Vancouver (1911) and a collection of short stories, The Shagganappi (1913). Pauline Johnson was a cultural ambassador, a link between an ancient, Native Canada and a modern, largely European community. She knew and could represent both. Bringing two very different but strong-rooted cultures into closer contact and understanding, she was a powerful literary influence.


PRINCESS VICTORIA KAIULANI  (October 16, 1875-March 6, 1899-23 years of age). Princess Victoria Kawekiu Lunalilo Kalaninuiahilapalapa Ka'iulani Cleghorn, Crown Princess of Hawaii was heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Hawaii and held the title of crown princess. She became known throughout the world for her intelligence, beauty and determination. During the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893,  she spearheaded a campaign to restore the monarchy by speaking before the United States Congress and pleading with US Presidents Benjamin Harrison and later Grover Cleveland. Her life story grew to legendary proportions after her untimely death.


KENOJUAK (Ashevak) (October 3, 1927-January 8, 2013) is generally regarded as Canada's foremost Inuit artist. Since her first print appeared in a 1959 collection, she has established an international reputation; her work has been featured in exhibitions throughout Canada, the United States, and Europe. Although most widely renowned for her prints, two of which have appeared on Canadian postage stamps, Kenojuak has worked in a variety of two- and three-dimensional media, including sewing, sculptures, copperplate engravings, paintings and drawings. She was among the first group of Canadians to receive the prestigious Order Canada Medal of Service, an award honoring achievements in all fields of Canadian life. Elected into the Royal Canadian Academy in 1974, Kenojuak has also been awarded numerous commissions, including the mural for the 1970 World's Fair.


LILIUOKALANI (Lydia Kamaka'eha Paki, September 2, 1838 - November 11, 1917) Hawaii's last Queen. She had no children and so her heiress for awhile was her niece Victoria Ka'iulani (1875–1899), although Ka'iulani predeceased her. Lili'uokalani had quite a memorable life but was no match for the powerful political interests of the United States in the region. She saw it as her mission to preserve the islands for her Native subjects.  In 1898, however, the islands were annexed to the United States and she was forced to give up her throne. She gave it the old College try, however.


SANDRA LOVELACE  (Maliseet, Activist., born 1947). Sandra Lovelace was born on the Tobique Reserve in New Brunswick in 1947. In 1970 she married American Airman Bernie Lovelace and moved with him to California. When her marriage ended a few years later, Lovelace and her children returned to the Tobique Reserve and found they were denied housing, education and health care provided to those with status under Canada's Indian Act. It took her nearly ten years to have her status restored. Lovelace took her case to the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations. The Committee acted slowly, the Canadian government acted slowly. In August 14, 1979 the Committee asked for more information and allowed the Canadian government to defend it actions. The Canadian government claimed that it would like to change the law, but did not feel it could without the agreement of First Nations people, who were divided on the issue. Ultimately she was successful which shows how one person can correct an injustice and change the law of a nation. Awarded the Order of Canada in 1992 she now sits in the  Senate as a member of the Liberal Party of Canada.


WILMA MANKILLER  (November 8 1945-April 6, 2010_. The first woman in modern history to lead a major Native American tribe: the Cherokee, second largest tribe in the US. She was responsible for 137,900 people and a $70 million dollar budget. Mankiller has brought about important strides for the Cherokee, including improved health care, education, utilities management and tribal government. Future plans call for attracting higher-paying industry to the area, improving adult literacy, supporting women returning to school and more. Mankiller also lives in the larger world, active in civil rights matters, lobbying the federal government and supporting women's activities and issues. In 1998, she was honored with a Distinguished Service Award.


EDITH ANDERSON MONTURE  Six Nations of the Grand. World War 1 Army Nurse. In 1917, 27-year-old Anderson and 19 other nurses, 14 of whom were also Canadian, joined the U.S. Medical Corps. Within months, they were in Vittel, France, at Buffalo Base Hospital. She spent most of her time at the hospital, treating soldiers who had been shot or gassed. Upon return to Canada she lived out her long life on the Six Nations reserve and died when she was in her 90's.


NAHNEBAHWEQUAY (UPRIGHT WOMAN)-CATHERIN SUTTON  Mississauga. She lost her status as a Native when she married William Sutton. Although she travelled to England in 1860, and spoke directly to Queen Victoria, it was more than one hundred years later that Native women in Canada would achieve the rights Nahnebahwequay sought. 


FIRST LIEUTENANT JULIA (NASHANANY) REEVES (left). Member of the Potawatomi Tribe of Crandon, Wisconsin. She joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1942 and was assigned to one of the first medical units shipped to the Pacific. The 52nd Evacuation hospital unit was sent to New Caledonia before its members had even received their army uniforms. Julia was assigned temporary duty aboard the ship. The following year, she was transferred to the 23rd Station hospital in Norwich, England, where she was stationed during the invasion of Normandy. She remained in Norwich through V-J Day, returning shortly afterward to the United States. During the Korean War, Julia mobilized with the 804th Station Hospital.

PRIVATE MINNIE SPOTTED WOLF  (Right) of Heart Butte, Montana, enlisted in the Marine Corps Woman's Reserve in July 1943. She was the first female American Native to enroll in the Corps. Minnie had worked on her father's ranch doing such chores as cutting fence posts, driving a two-ton truck and breaking horses. Her comment on Marine boot camp, Hard but not too hard.


HELEN BETTY OSBORNE  In 1971, the nineteen-year old Cree student was abducted,  raped and murdered in La Pas, Manitoba. Despite knowing the truth, townspeople refused to to help. Four young local white men were eventually implicated in her death:  Dwayne Archie Johnston, James Robert Paul Houghton, Lee Scott Colgan and Norman Bernard Manger. It was not until December 1987, sixteen years after her death, that any of them were convicted of the crime, and then only Johnston was convicted, as Houghton had been acquitted, Colgan had received immunity for testifying against Houghton and Johnston, and Manger had never been charged. The Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission conducted an investigation into concerns surrounding the length of time involved in resolving the case. The Commission concluded that the most significant factor prolonging the case was racism.

A formal apology from the Manitoba government was issued by Gordon Mackintosh, Manitoba's Minister of Justice on July 14, 2000. The apology addressed the failure of the province's justice system in Osborne's case. A scholarship was created in Osborne's name, by the province, for aboriginal women. However, to this day, there is a racial divide between Aboriginal and white people in La Pas and racism deeply divides the town. Recently, there has been a movement by the Aboriginal community to make strides in building healthier communities and this is having a positive impact on the town and surrounding community.


WANAMAKER PERATROVICHwas born July 4, 1911- December 1, 1958), in Petersburg, Alaska. Her Tlingit name was Kaaxgal.aat. She was of the Lukaax.adi clan. Elizabeth married Roy Peratrovich of Klawock on December 15, 1931, in Bellingham, Washington.  On moving back to Juneau, they were astonished to discover signs in business establishments revealing blatant discrimination against Alaska's Native people. With the help of then Governor Ernest Gruening and Congressional Representative Anthony J. Dimond, legislation was sponsored and introduced in the Legislature in 1943. However, the "Equal Rights" Bill did not pass until the next legislative session in 1945. As Grand Camp President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood, Elizabeth provided the crucial testimony that cultivated passage of the Anti Discrimination Bill. It was her response when questioned by the Senate -- Will the equal rights bill eliminate discrimination in Alaska? -- that split the opposition and allowed the bill to pass. "Have you eliminated larceny or murder by passing a law against it? No law will eliminate crimes but, at least you as legislators, can assert to the world that you recognize the evil of the present situation and speak your intent to help us overcome discrimination."


LORI PIESTEWA  The Native American tribes united in grief when Army Pfc. Lori Piestewa, 23, was killed in action in Iraq 2003. Lori Piestewa, daughter of a Hopi man and a Hispanic woman, was the first woman (and Native woman) to die in the line of duty in Operation Iraqui Freedom.


POCAHONTAS  The image of Pocahontas as "Indian Princess" has captivated the world for centuries. However, the real story needs to be sorted out from the myths. In 1614, Pocahontas married John Rolfe, and according to Native lore and local tradition, they made their home in what is now Henrico's Varina District. The marriage brought peace between the English and the Powhatan tribes -- an accomplishment that would affect the rest of American history. Two years later Rolfe took Pocahontas and their son Thomas to England. The arrival of Pocahontas in London was well publicized. She was presented to King James I, the royal family, and the best of London society. While preparing to return to her native land, Pocahontas became ill and died at Gravesend, England where she was buried.


CHRISTINE QUINTASKET  1888-1936. Mourning Dove was the literary name chosen by Christine (or Christal) Quintasket, an Okanogan from the Colville Reservation of eastern Washington. She is credited with one of the earliest novels, Cogewea, the Half-Blood, (1927) to be written by an Indigenous woman.

"There are two things I am most grateful for in my life. The first is that I was born a descendant of the genuine Americans, the Indians; the second, that my birth happened in the year 1888. In that year the Indians of my tribe, the Colvile (Swy-ayl-puh), were well into the cycle of history involving their readjustment in living conditions. They were in a pathetic state of turmoil caused by trying to learn how to till the soil for a living, which was being done on a very small and crude scale. It was no easy matter for members of this aboriginal stock, accustomed to making a different livelihood (by the bow and arrow), to handle the plow and sow seed for food. Yet I was born long enough ago to have known people who lived in the ancient way before everything started to change." Mourning Dove, a Salishan Autobiography.


EDEN ROBINSON   (Born January 19, 1968) Haisla and Heilsuk First Nations. She grew up near Kitamat, BC. Her previous collection of stories, Traplines, was awarded the Winifred Holtby Prize for the best first work of fiction in the Commonwealth, and was a New York Times Editor's Choice and Notable Book of the Year. She lives in North Vancouver. Monkey Beach was published in the New Face of Fiction program in 2000. I can attest to the fact that it is a wonderful read.


SACAJAWEA ("Boat Pusher") -  Shoshone (born around 1790). She was part of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition. Contrary to popular opinion, Sacajawea did not serve as a guide for the party. 

She was stolen during a raid by a Hidatsa tribe when she was a young girl and taken to their village near what is now Bismark, N. Dakota. Some time afterward the French-Canadian trapper and fur trader, Charbonneau bought Sacajawea and her companion, Otter Woman, as wives. When her husband joined the expedition at Fort Mandan in the Dakotas, Sacajawea was about 16 years old and pregnant. The expedition spent the winter at Fort Mandan and Sacajawea's baby, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, was born on Feb. 11 or 12, 1805. He was also given the Shoshone name, Pomp, meaning First Born.

The expedition resumed the westward trek on April 7, 1805. Their route was along the Missouri River, west to the mountains. On May 14, 1805 an incident occurred which was typical of the calmness and self-possession Sacajawea was to display throughout the journey. The boat Sacajawea was in was hit by a sudden storm squall. It nearly capsized. As the other members of the crew worked desperately to right the boat, Sacajawea, with her baby strapped to her back, retrieved the valuable books and instruments that floated out of the boat. Thanks to Sacajawea's courage and quick actions, the materials suffered no damage.

BUFFY SAINTE MARIE  (Born February 21, 1941) Singer-Songwriter, Artist and long-time political activist who popularized protest songs in the 1960s about Native conditions and history. She has worked tirelessly for Indigenous peoples' rights including women's issues. Born on a Cree reserve in Qu'Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan, she was adopted and raised in Maine and Massachusetts. She received a Ph.d in Fine Arts from the University of Massachusetts. Her degree in Oriental Philosophy also influences her music, visual art and social activism. She is also a very gifted painter. She recently released her latest terrific CD, "Running for the Drum".


MARIA TALLCHIEF (January 24, 1925-April 11, 2013) She is acknowledged to be the first American-born and Native Prima Ballerina. Daughter of a Scottish mother and a full-blooded Osage Native father. She spent eight years on the reservation lands of northeastern Oklahoma. Much of the world had never seen anything like her. Admired by millions, she became America's preeminent  Prima Ballerina, and in 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower declared her "Woman of the Year." She also originated the role of the Sugarplum Fairy in George Balanchine's version of the Nutcracker. After her retirement she founded, along with her sister, Marjorie the Chicago City Ballet in 1981 and served as its artistic director until 1987. From 1990 to the present she has been artistic advisor to Von Heidecke's Chicago Festival Ballet.


KATERI TEKAKWITHA known as Lily of the Mohawks or Genevieve of New France, was a convert to Christianity who took a vow of chastity. Kateri was declared Venerable by Pope Pius XII on January 3, 1943, and beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980. On December 19, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI signed a decree officially acknowledging another miracle attributed to her intervention. Saint Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 21, 2012, in Rome. She became “the first Native North American to be raised to the glory of the altars”. (Photo Canada 17 cent stamp)


SHANNON THUNDERBIRD  is a Coast Tsimshian First Nations Elder and has been working for the cause of Native people for many, many years. She and her website are dedicated to the elevation of her people, in particular, Native women.


KAITCHKONA WINEMA "The Strong Hearted Woman," or less accurately, "The Little Woman Chief," from the Modoc kitchkani laki shnawedsh, "female subchief," was an important figure on the Modoc War of 1872-1873, and in other affairs of her tribe. Her early life was adventurous, and her fearless exploits, such as shooting a grizzly bear and fighting alongside the men in battle, were greatly admired. The 1860's saw growing friction between the Modoc people and the white settlers moving into northern California in ever-increasing numbers. Winema served as an interpreter, with her husband, in the negotiations between the government and the Modoc which shortly led to the removal of the Indians to a reservation in Oregon. Many of the Modoc never agreed willingly to this move, and Kintpuash and a group of followers frequently left the reservation to return to their traditional homelands. When they were finally pursued by government forces in an effort to round up the band and end the intermittent resistance, they fled to the nearby lava beds. Winema tried to act as a peacemaker between the warring parties, since she was trusted by both sides, and was fluent in Modoc and English. In February 1873, a peace commission attempted to resolve the situation and Winema was able to persuade Kintpuash to meet with them. However, other Modoc opposed the move, and convinced Kintpuash that the leader of the delegation, General Edward Canby, could not be trusted and must be killed. Winema learned of the plot, and warned Canby, but he decided to go ahead with the peace talks. On April 11, 1873, Kintpuash and several warriors attached the camp, and killed Canby and another commissioner, Eleazar Thomas; a third commissioner, Albert Meacham, was badly injured, but Winema intervened and saved his life. With these murders, all-out war began, and although the Modoc held off the vastly superior Army forces for many months, they were finally defeated. She briefly became an actress when the story was the battles was turned into a play by Albert Meacham and toured for eight years.


SARAH WINNEMUCCA (Thocmetony-Shell Flower) Born in 1844 in western Nevada, she was the first Native woman to convert to Christianity; she became an educator (established and ran her own school) and lecturer and Native rights activist. She was able to successfully defend the rights of the Paiute people and their beliefs and way of life.  

"Between April 1883 and August 1884 Sarah gave nearly three hundred lectures from Boston and New York to Baltimore and Washington, D.C. She spoke in the homes of many prominent Indian advocates of the day, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Greenleaf Whittier, Massachusetts senator Henry Dawes, and Elizabeth Palmer Peabody and her sister Mary Mann, the wife of Horace Mann. Her speeches, along with the work of this group, supported the passage of the General Allotment, or Dawes, Act in 1887. It was also during this period that Sarah wrote her book, which was edited by Mary Mann and published in Boston in 1883." (Catherine S. Fowler, University of Nevada, Reno). She died in 1891.



In the north, elderly couples may be seen walking with the man leading, and the woman walking behind him. To many non-Natives, this is viewed as a sense of inequality where the woman appears to be subservient to her husband. To the Native, however, it is not so. For these elderly people have been used to walking narrow trails over the years with their family where the husband is first to see and face any dangers that may erupt from the bush. Works for me!


Women's voices represents the Earth Mother. Wherein Native women, and we, in general are now reclaiming our rightful place in the world, the collective sisterhood must also be cognizant of staying connected to each other. Individual achievement is something that is lauded in society, and indeed, women should be proud of all that has been accomplished. However, women are descended from powerful female Ancestors who taught them long ago that they were not only to take care of themselves and build for themselves, but they were also to do the same for their communities and families.

The events of September 11, 2001 have made it all too clear that it is as a
COLLECTIVE voice that Women will make a difference and save the world.

Women against men, and men against women are tragic situations, but women against women is a travesty beyond which Mother Earth cannot bear. Irregular weather patterns are signs of her despair at how humans treat each other.

The collective female voice that represents Mother Earth must be listened to and respected. As an Elder once said so eloquently, "As the cycle of life continues, new growth begins." This is the re-growth time, the time of the resurrection of the Goddess, the time for women to heal each other, take back the drum, and in turn heal their families and communities.

Make no mistake, We were charged with this responsibility when the gift of life, of creation and fertility were given to them by The Great Mystery.

As I travel the world, I see positive changes in women's attitudes. Women talking, laughing, crying, praying, playing together in groups, women supporting each other - searching for the spiritual peace and connections necessary to heal the Earth Mother. Women coming forward to embrace other women, regardless of social standing or race. Remember, Humans only come in four colours, so let us not waste more precious time by fretting about these colours: Red, Yellow, Black and White are beautiful colours and look wonderful together.

So, today, humans should consider declaring for each and every person, and all other living beings, peace, respect, kindness, harmony and gentleness (deer medicine). WOMEN must walk their earthwalk hand-in-hand, to live their lives in a supportive and good way with a caring mind, listening to the wisdom of the heartbeat of Mother Earth, which is their heartbeat. To live life with courage, wisdom, honour, strength, humility, respect serenity, humour and love, will cause the Ancestors to sing.




"God has given us rights as women. We can't blame the men for ignoring us.  It is because of the ignorance of women that we suffer from these problems. We women must be wise and strong enough to take charge, or we'll never have a voice in the community. We must stand up for ourselves and take responsibility for our own conditions." 
(Shama Chiragh, Afghanistan, 2002)

Note: Photo is not Shama Chiragh)

My CD "May  Your Spirit Be Strong'  has a tribute Song to the Women of Afghanistan and all women who have suffered and continue to suffer terrible oppression simply for being women.



 Malala Yousafzai

I think it necessary to start each year with a reconfirmation of the power of women, this is motivated by a number of things:

  1.  the tragic events for brave Pakistani schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, who by the grace of all that is blessed has recovered from her ordeal, but cannot ever go home because there is still a price on her head. An activist since the age of nine, she put her life on the line to campaign for the rights of girls to be educated. She is also the youngest person ever to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

  2. The gang-rape and subsequent death of a young woman on a bus in Delhi, India that  caused international outrage. Note: at the same time, another young woman (17 years of age) was gang-raped; she committed suicide; a two-year old girl was also raped. In India, a woman is raped every twenty-two minutes.

  3. The tragic events in the United States with assassinations of people at a Colorado movie theatre, and twenty children and six female teachers at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut.

Before any of us can claim the nobility of the soul, we must first recognize that we each have an equal vital role to play in the preservation and sustainability of humanity and Mother Earth. As former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan said, "the role of women in decision-making is central to the advancement of women around the world, and to the progress of humankind as a whole." Thus, does the continuity of peace continue for ALL nations.

 Marginalization is no longer an option as we square our shoulders and stride forward into our powerful matriarchal futures. Our salvation lies in our return to the drum, to the water, sacred fire and stories that WE created and told, and that sustained our world for a millenia. Salvation is not difficult, it is women embracing the family of women; to rest in the feminine community. We will always be the best healers of women.  And so, as my one hundred year old mother, Elder, Gandoox once said to me, "Hang onto your nerves, m'girl, and hold onto your breaking heart."

And so, I do, standing in the truth of who I am as a proud, strong, intelligent Indigenous woman, secure in the knowledge that the healing power of the matriarchy continues to rise. After all,

Di gyiwul gyits'iipta'niit (I had it yesterday),

Di sgüü gya'wn'niit (I have it now),  

Di sgüü dzigyits'iip'niit (I have it tomorrow).

 Wilwilaask, All My Relations