Moving Mountains….a look at the efforts of Indigenous women.

Landmarks with racist and misogynistic names are disrespectful towards, and contribute to the perpetuation of negative stereotypes about, Indigenous women and girls.  Renaming is an important part of the process to reclaim our Indigenous languages, culture, lands, and knowledge.

In all of our work it is important to acknowledge our achievements and advancements.  Check out the article, Moving Mountains for what can be achieved with determination and perseverance. 

Related article: U.S. removing Indigenous racial slur from place names, but word remains in some Canadian locations.

According to the recent CBC news article, in Canada, there are 20 official places in a government database  which use the derogatory term “squaw” in geographical names.

Comments on the Finding of Remains near St. Bernard’s (Grouard) Indian Residential School Site


Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW)

March 1, 2022

EDMONTON –  IAAW wishes to issue the following statement on the graves discovered at the former St. Bernard’s (Grouard) Indian Residential School site in northern Alberta.

It has been nine months since the remains of over 200 children was discovered on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. 

This week 169 more sites were identified, this time in Alberta at the site of the former St. Bernard’s Indian Residential School near Grouard, Alberta.   This discovery is further evidence to corroborate what Indigenous communities have been saying for decades:  that hundreds of Indigenous children died while they were kept at Indian Residential Schools.  

Researchers have commented that the 169 discovered grave sites are unmarked.  This means that the confirmed identity of the lost loved ones remains unknown.  

We share in the grief expressed by Chief Halcrow of the Kapawe’no First Nation and Grand Chief Arthur Noskey, Treaty 8 First Nations.  The wounds created by the discovery of remains at former Indian Residential School sites across Canada are deep and lasting.  These wounds are continuously reopened each time we hear the news that more grave sites have been found.

To date, more than 1,800 confirmed or suspected unmarked graves have been identified at former Indian Residential School sites across Canada.  And while each discovery means more pain and grief, it is evident that investigations of all former School properties is necessary in order to uncover the full truth and to acknowledge those lost lives.

On behalf of the board, staff, and volunteers, we express our concern and compassion for the spirits of the lost children, their families, communities, and Nations.  Our thoughts and prayers are with you through this difficult time.

The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line is available 24-hours a day at 1-800-721-0066 for those feeling pain or distress as result of residential school experiences.

Comments by RMWB Councillor Dogar


Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW)
Comments by RMWB Councillor Dogar

February 4, 2022

EDMONTON –  IAAW makes the following statement on Fort McMurray City Councillor Dogar’s comments regarding Indigenous people.

February 3rd, 2022 we were publicly reminded of how myths and stereotypes about Indigenous people continue to undermine efforts to address the reality of missing and murdered Indigenous women.   

During a public budget meeting of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB), a motion was tabled by Councillor Kendrick Cardinal, requesting that the RMWB consider funding prevention initiatives for Murdered, Missing and Exploited Indigenous People.   IAAW commends Councillor Cardinal for tabling this motion before Council.

City Councillor Shafiq Dogar, Fort McMurray, Ward 1, is quoted as publicly stating in the Council’s debate that he did not support the motion because “Indigenous people in Wood Buffalo reside in the rural areas and only come to Fort McMurray to get drunk, or fight, or have other legal issues”. This statement is false, and suggests that rhetoric of this nature is acceptable. It is not acceptable.

Since 2004 it is believed that at least nine Indigenous women from the Wood Buffalo Region have been reported missing or murdered.  Only one week ago Ms. Sherri Flett was found murdered in a Fort McMurray home.  We extend our heartfelt condolences to Ms. Flett’s family as they continue to grieve the loss of their loved one.

In 2021 the Final Report of the National Inquiry on MMIWG concluded that  “An absolute paradigm shift is required to dismantle colonialism within Canadian society, and from all levels of government and public institutions. Ideologies and instruments of colonialism, racism, and misogyny, past and present, must be rejected.”  

Challenging positions that perpetuate myths and stereotypes is not only necessary to combat violence against Indigenous women; it is an essential legal obligation of all governments.   Municipal governments like the RMWB have an opportunity to implement change in such a way that impacts the everyday lives of community members, at multiple levels and across multiple sectors. 

A Councillor’s position of power and authority in that influential capacity ought to be exercised in a manner that is honourable, respectful, and considerate of the real-life issues facing all citizens.  Clearly, as demonstrated by Councillor Dogar’s response, intentional work needs to be done to address the reality of MMIWG in the RMWB.

Read an article by Fort McMurray Today news regarding the incident – click here.

Alberta Engagement on the National Action Plan on MMIWG

UPDATE: June 4, 2022

Alberta to establish council on missing Indigenous women and girls. Read the full article from the Edmonton Journal on Alberta “At A Crossroads’.

In March 2020, the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women secured funds from Indigenous Services Canada to engage with families on identifying priority actions for the National Action Plan. This is a summary of our engagement.

IAAW Engagement, National Action Plan, Key Findings and Recommendations, Alberta, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, MMIWG
IAAW Engagement, National Action Plan, Key Findings and Recommendations, Alberta, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, MMIWG

2021 Esquao Awards Ceremony

We are pleased to share the Esquao Awards Ceremony on video for this year. The recipients were so patient as some of the nominations came from 2019 and 2020! Despite all the restrictions, you can still hear the passion and determination in each woman’s voice.

We congratulate all the recipients, including our Circle of Honour Inductee AFN Regional Chief for Alberta, Marlene Poitras. Your strength and perserverance is what we all admire, and what makes you such a special ‘Esquao’.

Thank you to Honourable Rick Wilson, Minister of Indigenous Relations for his heartfelt message as well as the talented Sandra Sutter for her touching performance. Thank you to our sponsors- you are so important to sharing our message. We all look forward to seeing you in person in May of 2022 for our 26th Annual Esquao Awards Gala to honour Alberta’s Aboriginal women, the “Angels Among Us.”

We proudly present the Esquao Award recipients: Edna Blyan, Matricia Brown, Elder Rosemary (Rose) Crowshoe, Rain Desjarlais, Eva John Gladue, Amanda Gould, Donna Knebush, Kristina Kopp, Pollyanna McBain, Shirley Mykituk, Rose Nichols, Rose Mary Nipshank, Janice Randhile, Andrea Rosenberger-Deleeuw, and Terri Suntjens. The Dorothy McDonald Leadership Award/Circle of Honour Inductee for 2021 is AFN Regional Chief for Alberta, Marlene Poitras.

Esquao Awards 2021 Recipients Bio’s

Edna Blyan
A Métis woman born and raised in the Cold Lake area, Edna Blyan currently resides on the Elizabeth Métis Settlement with her husband of 50 plus years, Emile Blyan. Best known as a respected wife, mother and friend, Edna is a source of strength in her community. Edna has raised 19 children, as such she is the backbone of her family. Having fostered many youths, Edna is known for instilling acceptance and a dedication to her Métis ways within her family and community. Edna continues to be a selfless worker for her community. She is often called upon to provide traditional cultural presentations, teach the nêhiyaw language as well as sharing Métis history. Edna is a respected and proud member of her Métis community and has truly made her community her family.

Matricia Brown
Matricia is well known for her artwork, music, philanthropy and for being the local Knowledge Keeper for Jasper National Park. Matricia holds a degree in Vocal Performance which she has utilized when performing beautiful Cree cultural drumming internationally. With her daughter, Matricia drums and sings with her active performing arts business, “Warrior Women.” Matricia’s plethora of knowledge has been recognized in multiple communities including the Mayors Artist Award in 2016. This is in recognition of Matricia’s role in showing the beauty of indigenous culture and promotion of positive understandings of Canada’s tumultuous past and present to many in the Jasper and Albertan context. Matricia teaches indigenous culture and issues to high school students, runs aboriginal awareness workshops, and is the local representative for Jasper Elementary staff Blanket ceremony. Matricia’s use of her art to fight for social justice and for future generations, is an inspiration to many. 

Elder Rosemary (Rose) Crowshoe
Proud daughter of Elizabeth and Julius English, granddaughter of Sally and Charles Pete Provost Sr, and Emma and John W. English, mother, and wife, Rosemary Crowshoe puts family first. Elder Crowshoe has been recognized for her efforts in providing safe, ethical, relevant and appropriate cultural teachings within the Calgary community and beyond for many years. Having studied Blackfoot Traditional Territorial History and ways of knowing, Elder Crowfoot has worked towards sharing this with her community. In her roles with the Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary, the Circle for Aboriginal Relations Society, the United Way Calgary and Area among countless others Elder Crowfoot has shaped her community. Elder Crowshoe’s knowledge, wisdom, and community connections have been truly inspiring as well as crucial in the success of her communities.

Rain Desjarlais
A member of the Frog Creek First Nations born in Wetaskiwin, Rain currently resides in Calgary where she has dedicated herself to her family, her community and her academic pursuits. Rain has excelled in her Registered Nursing program while using her ceremonial teachings to maintain herself and her two children Mathis and Thalis. Rain’s sons are what drive her. When Rain speaks about her experiences her passion shines through. This is clear in the jingle dresses she beads and sews for powwow regalia. Rain is a role model for her family and those who know her journey.

Eva John Gladue
Eva has contributed to the wellbeing of First nations community by working together with employers, chiefs, council members, and front-line workers to progressively and constructively enhance employment and training opportunities for all.  Eva has contributed to a legacy of success and independence for indigenous peoples. This is most evident in her creation of the T.R.E.A.T.Y employment development model. This has been recognized by Service Canada and by the six Nations she supports. Eva is a dedicated leader, who possesses personal integrity and a passion to help First Nations People succeed, especially in her Frog Lake First Nations community.

Amanda Gould
A Nehiyaw iskwew from Fort McMurray First Nation carries a Bachelor of Arts in Native Studies and over 15 years of helping experience in her community. She currently works at the College and Association of Registered Nurses in Alberta (CARNA) as well as in Fort McMurray First Nation. Amanda is known for her tireless efforts and outstanding leadership in practicing and preserving cultural practices and ways of life. Through impactful formal and information education opportunities with CARNA as well as the University of Alberta Occupational Therapy Department, Amanda is an invaluable support for Indigenous communities.  She established a fancy dance group in Fort McMurray, where she continues to contribute her gifts to others.

Donna Knebush
Donna Knebush is a passionate leader in the community. Donna creates a space for knowledge to be shared that brings communities together. Donna has led the City of Edmonton’s Indigenous Awareness portfolio as well as the Edmonton Indigenous Employee Resource Network for over twelve years.  In addition, Donna’s efforts in the respect in the workplace section which will have a wide-reaching effect not only on respect and inclusion within the workplace, but also in the ways in which employees interact with indigenous peoples on a much wider scale. Donna has been the organizational leader in building relationships and supporting the mandate to educate all employees on the historical intergenerational impact of residential schools and reconciliation.  It is Donna’s belief that education is the key to making the City of Edmonton government as well as the Edmonton community more broadly, a place where indigenous peoples are included, respected, and safe.

Kristina Kopp
A Nehiyaw (Cree) kiskinohamâkan (Learner) of proud Cree-Métis iskwew(woman) heritage Kristina is well known for her ability to connect spirit, ceremony, and language to her educational journey. Kristina has been an integral part of the IRM Research and Evaluations Inc. team, providing invaluable presentations on the history, meaning, and teachings of being Métis. Kristina uses her Master of Social work and knowledge of the nêhiyaw language to further the teachings and ceremony she shares even as she continues to learn and grow. Recognized by Elder Leona Makokis for her commitment and excellence in upholding the Nehiyaw culture and language in her studies, Kristina is an inspiration to many on their educational journeys.

Pollyanna McBain
Leader, mentor and gentle soul Elder McBain is also a Mi’kmaq woman from the Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick. Elder McBain has been a respected teacher, advocate and elder for the indigenous youth and community of Fort McMurray since 2014.Coming from the East coast Elder McBain, has shown dedication to sharing her culture and to inspiring others to embrace theirs. Pollyanna is known for her empowering spirit in her roles as Native Liaison with the public and catholic school board, leader with the Nistawoyou Friendship Centre, as well as a cultural navigator for her community members. A natural leader, Elder McBain has been recognized for her genuine wisdom and inspiration in teaching the youth of her community.

Rose Nichols
Rose is a wellspring of Métis and Indigenous knowledge. In her role as Tourism Ambassador for the Lac la Biche Museum and region, she shares her deep connection to her culture. Whether teaching the Jig or sharing Métis history Rose, brings her enthusiasm into all her relationships. Bringing hope to the Wawaskesiw Sahkikan community Rose has been key to her Lac la Biche regional development. Rose brings a sense of belonging to many who have had the honor of sharing in her teachings.

Rose Mary Nipshank
Rose Mary Nipshank is an invaluable member of the Bigstone Cree Nation. Her warm, kind and compassionate approach to all she does for her community cannot be overstated. Rose Mary is known for her natural leadership in the human service field both within her community and beyond. Having successfully completed her Social Work Diploma, Rose Mary has taken on a variety of roles to support her community. This has included working as an Addictions Worker with Pee Kis Kwe Tan Let’s Talk Society in Wabasca, notably as a Social Worker for Bigstone Women’s Shelter as well as over thirteen years with the Bigstone Cree nation Child and Family Services. Rose Mary Nipshank is a positive role model for Bigstone Cree Nation children, youth, and families.

Janice Randhile
Janice Randhile is a powerful voice for indigenous advocacy and empowerment. Janice has been a rock for many in her community, including those on the road to sobriety. Doing her work for the creator, Janice walks the red road in all that she does. In this way her role as a Family Information Liaison for Victim Services speaks to her dedication and passion for working with the families of missing or murdered indigenous loved ones. Janice continues to be a strong iskwew role model as she supports community youth in her presentations to the University of Alberta on Missing and Murder Indigenous Women. Janice is known for bringing her creativity and expertise to her community in a variety of roles: Ihuman & CEASE board member, Sun & Moon Visionary artist, youth worker, and contributor to Enoch Wellness, Women Building Futures, Boys and Girls Club, UBUNTU Children and family among others. A sober mentor, role model, and inspiration Janice is a cornerstone of her community bringing light and strength to everyone’s life she touches.

Andrea Rosenberger-Deleeuw
Andrea Rosenberger-Deleeuw has strong connections with the Fort Vermillion, Tallcree First Nation, and Grande Prairie communities. A strong indigenous voice in her community, Andrea has worked for the Grande Prairies Friendship Centre alongside provincial and national government initiatives. Described as a warrior and a trailblazer, Andrea has brought her wealth of experience to a wide variety of committees and projects. This has included the “Honouring Women: Leading the Way” project supported by the Status of Women initiative among others.  Andrea has empowered many women and young girls in her community. Andrea is a mentor to future leaders, an advocate for indigenous worldviews, histories and protocol, and importantly a mother of two beautiful children.

Terri Suntjens
Terri Suntjens or wapekihew iskwew (white eagle woman) is from Saddle Lake Cree Nation in Treaty 6 territory. Terri is a passionate advocate of indigenous rights. Professionally Terri is the director of indigenous initiatives in the Kihew Waciston Centre at MacEwan University, where she has grounded her leadership in culture and ceremony. Terri is a natural in creating healthy relationships in all her roles. She has grounded her professional and educational journey in her Kehewin culture. Having completed her Bachelor of Social Work, Indigenous Bachelor of Social work, Bachelor of General Science as well as working towards her Master of Social Work. She has accomplished great things all while caring for her children and upholding her community. Terri Suntjens is truly innovative and dedicated to supporting her community.

Dorothy McDonald Leadership Award/Circle of Honour Inductee

AFN Regional Chief for Alberta, Marlene Poitras
A member of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, Marlene has spent most of her career working with Indigenous communities, organizations, and individuals in several capacities, across Canada and internationally. In 1994, Marlene worked at the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) in Ottawa as the Health Planner, and later, Assistant to the National Health Director. She also represented Alberta on the AFN National Health Technicians Committee in 1996-1997; and, was appointed by the AFN to represent Canada on the International HIV/AIDS Conference Committee in 1995. In her capacity as Chief Executive Officer with the Athabasca Tribal Council (ATC), Marlene successfully negotiated the ATC/Industry Agreement with 19 Resource Developers and 3 levels of government (Federal, Provincial and Municipal). This agreement established capacity for the 5 ATC First Nations to deal with Resource Development issues in the Fort McMurray region. During her tenure as Director, Bilateral Process with Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta, Marlene worked extensively with Treaty 6, Treaty 7, and Treaty 8 Alberta organizations, First Nations communities, and the Elders, in addressing issues related to the Sacred Treaties. During this time, Marlene was often appointed to Chair the Assembly of Alberta Chiefs (AOTC) meetings; to Chair the AOTC Resolutions Committees; and, also to Chair/Coordinate the Treaties No. 1-11 National Assemblies. Marlene was appointed to the First Nations Women’s Council on Economic Security, an Advisory Group to the Government of Alberta. She is also a recipient of the 2015 Alberta Aboriginal Role Model Humanitarian Award.

Regional Chief Poitras was elected by the Treaty 6, 7 and 8 Chiefs of Alberta on February 21-22, 2018. Regional Chief Poitras made history as the first woman to hold the position of Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief for Alberta. Her current AFN portfolios are Chiefs Committee on Lands Territories and Resources, formerly known as Specific Claims. She also chairs the technical committee on Emergency Management and shares the International Treaties portfolio with the National Chief. Despite all the restrictions, you can still hear the passion and determination in each woman’s voice.

Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women

2nd Anniversary of the Final Report of the National Inquiry on MMIWG


President of Institute for the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW) Comments on the 2nd Anniversary of the Final Report of the National Inquiry on MMIWG

EDMONTON –  IAAW representatives were present in Gatineau, Quebec when the Final Report of the National Inquiry on MMIWG was presented to the public on June 3, 2019.  It was a moving event with many tears shed for the families that shared their stories as part of the Inquiry’s work. 

While many of the 231 recommendations in the Final Report place primary responsibility on government to implement a plan to address the national tragedy of MMIWG, IAAW has continued in its everyday work to engage with families and build recommendations that are Alberta-specific.

Despite the impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on our ability to deliver in-person supports, IAAW continues to support Indigenous women and families through on-line sessions with topics on wellness, violence prevention, healthy relationships, financial literacy, employment and training, youth safety and leadership, transitions from federal correctional facilities, advocacy and housing supports, all which are culturally-informed and infused with Elder guidance.  

Building off our successful Indigenous Women’s Justice Forums in 2017 and 2018, we continue to strategize, participate in, and implement justice initiatives that focus on improving the court system, and provide education and access to justice for Indigenous women and families.

What was started in 1995 in the basement of the Canadian Native Friendship Centre with no funding, has grown to be a recognized and accomplished organization serving Indigenous women throughout Alberta.

We continue to build allies with stakeholders and we have been surprised and grateful for the outpouring of support for our organization.  IAAW has established formal alliances and partnerships with agencies, such as the Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society (Calgary) to build a path forward, one that is family-first and trauma-informed.  We have also joined forces with the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) as the official Provincial-Territorial Member Association representing Alberta Indigenous women.

IAAW’s 25th Annual Esquao Awards to recognize the ‘Angels Among us’ was postponed due to COVID-19 but our collective efforts to recognize Indigenous women, and to encourage them to not give up, will resume in-person in May 2022. 

In the meantime IAAW will continue its work to obtain justice, address barriers, and assist Indigenous women.  This commitment is owed to the women of all ages who have shared their stories with us, and the matriarchs who guide us in our work.   

Lisa D. Weber, President