International Women’s Day: A Journey of Resiliency

March 8 marks International Women’s Day, a day to recognize and celebrate women’s rights and the strength and resiliency of Indigenous women. Indigenous women face unique challenges and barriers in society stemming from historical and ongoing injustices—including colonization, displacement, marginalization, and discrimination. Despite these obstacles, they have demonstrated remarkable resilience, strength, and leadership in their communities.

In the heart of Edmonton, there exists a community of Indigenous women supporting each other, healing, and reconnecting to their culture through the Esquao Firekeepers program. Firekeepers provides a safe space for women to share their stories, learn traditional ways of healing, and experience the support of their peers and Elders.

We had the privilege to sit down with a participant of this program named Tara, a proud Indigenous woman from the Kehewin Cree Nation, whose journey embodies the spirit of empowerment and resilience.

Background and Participation in Esquao Programs

Our conversation began with Tara’s background and what led her to participate in Esquao programs. Born in Edmonton, she spent years moving between her home community and urban life. However, Tara’s journey has not been without challenges as losing her mother and Kokum at a young age had an immense impact on her. Seeking to find herself and rebuild her life, Tara turned to Esquao programs, particularly the Firekeepers group.

“I was trying to get my life back on track and needed something to help me,” she shared. Firekeepers became her anchor, offering a supportive community during her healing journey.

Positive Moments and Growth

Reflecting on her participation, Tara recounted some unforgettable moments, especially during her time in treatment. It was during this period that Esquao’s Kokum Marggo and the Firekeepers group stood by her side, offering unwavering support and judgment-free guidance. Their presence during her graduation and throughout her journey left a mark on her heart, reinforcing the importance of having a supportive community of Indigenous women in her life.

“I want my children to know that they always have an Auntie or Kokum to go to,” she emphasized. “They provided me with a supportive group that feels like my second home.”

Tara is celebrating over four years of sobriety, which she says having a supportive community of strong Indigenous women helped her achieve.

Preserving Culture and Empowering Future Generations

The name “Firekeepers” refers to the sacred role of women at the centre of their homes and communities, to keep the fire burning, and to support others in their healing and growth.

“As Indigenous women, it is our responsibility to pass down our teachings and empower the next generation,” Tara explained. “Through programs like Firekeepers, and the guidance of women like Kokum Marggo, we are creating a legacy of strength and resilience.”

Words of Encouragement

As our conversation drew to a close, Tara shared words of encouragement for women embarking on their own healing journeys, “When things get tough, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Keep going because I promise you there is always light at the end of the tunnel.”

Tara sees herself continuing to connect with her culture and community, going beyond participating in Esquao programs, and ensuring that her children have a supportive community to grow up in as well.

A Call to Action on International Women’s Day

Tara’s story serves as a reminder of the transformative power of community, support, and empowerment. On this International Women’s Day, let us stand in solidarity with Indigenous women everywhere as they continue to uplift each other, thrive in culture, and become prominent leaders in their community.

Featured in Picture: Marggo Pariseau (left) and Tara (right).
Esquao, the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, is an Alberta non-profit organization that serves to amplify and share the voices of Indigenous women on the issues and challenges they face.