'Listen to the aunties': Proposed Saskatoon centre for Indigenous women, girls and 2-spirit people gets first look

Two years after the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) wrapped up, Saskatoon’s city administration is recommending the establishment of an independent office of Indigenous matriarchs or “aunties” to help support Indigenous women and girls.

 The recommendation stems from work undertaken by city administration, examining the final report of MMIWG and responding to Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

 In November 2020, the city created a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two Spirit (MMIWG2S) advisory group made up of an elder and many local organizations including OUTSaskatoon, Saskatoon Public Schools, Saskatoon Tribal Council, Saskatoon Police Service and Saskatchewan RCMP.

The advisory group tasked Hope Restored Canada to undertake consultations, listening to many voices of Indigenous women and girls in Saskatoon. As a result of those consultations, the advisory group recommends establishing an independent office of representative matriarchs, who will work with other matriarchs to support Indigenous women and girls in Saskatoon.

 “This report asks for one thing, listen to the aunties,” said Gwen Dueck, board chair of Hope Restored Canada and project team lead. “This means including Indigenous women and girls and two-spirited people within the fabric of Saskatoon in a meaningful, participatory way and making Saskatoon a home for all of its citizens.”

The advisory group's report was up for discussion during a committee meeting Monday at city hall.

The establishment of the independent matriarch is laid out in three steps, first is laying the groundwork and hiring an independent representative of matriarchs for Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit (IWG2S) individuals; secondly, the creation of the IWG2S centre to coordinate services that fits with other city departments and lastly, extending the role of the matriarch to become an officer of transparency and accountability, according to the city report.

 Darlene Okemaysim-Sicotte, community advocate with Women Walking Together said an Indigenous women’s centre would be a compliment to the various other programs already working with Indigenous people in Saskatoon.

 “There’s always a need for additional Indigenous services I think. People don’t understand that right now during the pandemic non-profits have been carrying a lot of the load taking care of vulnerable populations and I think the idea of an Indigenous women’s centre matriarch, that we need that kind of a setup,” she said.

“It has to have a safe environment, somewhere where people can walk in and feel firstly welcomed, see someone that looks like themselves and the space could look familiar with cultural markings.”

Okemaysim-Sicotte said the city has come a long way since she began her group in 2005 and these next steps will only strengthen the relationship between city hall and Saskatoon Indigenous people.

According to the city, the administration will bring forward options for operational and capital funding in the 2022-23 Business Plan and Budget to implement the recommendation and actions for an IMG2S Centre.