COVID-19 Response Update March 10, 2021

The Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW) is operating as best we can, while adhering to the most recent COVID-19 health restrictions. As the health, safety, and well-being of our members, staff and communities remains our top priority, we beginning to open our office for small, in-person meetings and one on one sessions, as needed. Staff that are able to work from home are coming into the office only as needed.

We have announced that our Esquao Awards Gala is going to be released on video on May 21, 2021. Stay tuned for more information on this touching event where we recognize the Angels Among Us; the women who continue to display strength and resilience.

Please see below for a list of actions we are undertaking during this uncertain time.

IAAW is continuing to support Aboriginal women in Edmonton area who are rebuilding their life after fleeing violence, women leaving correctional facilities and women living in poverty.
We are:

  • Offering online sessions on Healthy Relationships, Firekeeper Wellness Circle, Youth Leadership and Financial Literacy (Empower U) on-line;
  • Offering assistant remotely for women looking for post secondary funding through the Indigenous Skills Employment and Training (ISET) program
  • Sending out care packages, and providing other supports by referral (referral form attached)
  • Staying up to date on health recommendations and subsidies; sharing information and resources

Incorporating additional health and safety measures at the office:
We are:

  • Encouraging handwashing and social distancing measures for staff in the office
  • Screening visitors coming our office; mandating that if anyone believes they have been in contact with an unwell person, that they remain at home and self isolate.
  • Are limiting people in the office to a maximum of 15 people
  • Are limiting the number of people in staff room and small spaces as per social distancing guidelines (2 meters apart)
  • Are encouraging disinfection of individual offices at the end of the workday
  • Disinfecting all office spaces after each use, deep cleaning once per week.

Contact Information

NAMEResponsibilityDirect LineEmail
Rachelle VenneCEO, Link to
Marggo PariseauFirekeepers, Link to Board,
Housing, Esquao Awards
Bernadette SwansonFinancial Literacy – Empower
Erica GladueEsquao Youth
Saige ArcandWellness Program, Community
Maureen Callihoo-LigtvoetHealthy Relationships, COVID supports
Lois AshleyIndigenous Skills Employment and Training (ISET)
General Information780-479-8195

Going Forward

We continue to stay connected within our communities and monitor developments and recommendations by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Take care,
Rachelle Venne, CEO

February 18, 2021, Edmonton – Ontario Man Finally Found Guilty for killing Cindy Gladue, Mother of Three.

The month-long jury trial was the second for Bradley Barton, an Ontario truck driver, who was charged in June 2011 with the murder of Ms. Gladue, a woman whose human dignity was violated in the 2015 trial proceedings through the use of presumptions concerning her vocation, racist remarks concerning her Indigeneity, and sexist language diminishing her as a woman.  The culmination of violation though was the introduction of Ms. Gladue’s body parts into the courtroom as evidence – something so barbaric and a first in the history of criminal trial procedures in so-called civilized society.  The way Ms. Gladue was dehumanized in so many dimensions during the 2015 trial was seen by the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW) as a clear example of how Indigenous women are disproportionately targeted for violence in Canada.

Following Barton’s acquittal in 2015, public outrage erupted across Canada, protesting what was perceived to be the criminal justice system’s condonement of violence against Indigenous women.   

The IAAW lobbied vigorously and, along with another women’s advocacy group (Women’s Legal and Education Action Fund), successfully gained intervenor status in the Crown’s appeal of Barton’s acquittal to the Alberta Court of Appeal.  As co-intervenors, IAAW and LEAF argued that judicial errors allowed prejudice to infect the trial proceedings, raising discriminatory myths about Indigenous women and consent based on sexual history.  The Court of Appeal’s ruling in 2017 recognized that “myths and stereotypes continue to stalk the halls of justice in cases involving sexual offences”, and that, as a result of significant judicial errors, a retrial was ordered.

Barton subsequently appealed the Court of Appeal’s decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, but the Supreme Court agreed with the Alberta Court of Appeal and upheld the order that Barton be retried for killing Cindy Gladue. The Court gave clear direction that

all participants within the criminal justice system should take reasonable steps to address systemic biases, prejudices, and stereotypes, and that in sexual assault cases where the victim is an Indigenous woman or girl, trial judges would be well advised to provide an express instruction (to the jury) aimed at countering prejudice against Indigenous women and girls.

IAAW has continued to be involved with Ms. Gladue’s Mother, providing moral and legal support to her throughout the appeals and re-trial.

Lisa Weber, legal counsel for Ms. McLeod observed: “…while the re-trial proceedings seem to have eliminated [the legal consideration of] direct references to derogatory, sexist and racist myths and stereotypes against Indigenous women, it is disappointing to have observed instances where some of the same, and similarly inappropriate myths and stereotypes crept into the process at various points and in indirect ways.”

IAAW recognizes that the battle against sexism and racism against Indigenous women is a long and difficult struggle; this is the experience of so many, but we must continue to be ever vigilant to not accept such injustice.   IAAW is thankful for the support that has been received in this important case, especially from those who see the negative impacts of myths and stereotypes on the lives of Indigenous women and girls, and who take a stand against such injustice.

While today’s verdict does not bring Cindy Gladue back to her family, we pray that at very least justice served toward the perpetrator who took her life brings them peace.

For media contacts or for more information contact:

Rachelle Venne, IAAW CEO
Ph: (587) 635 3046

Lisa D. Weber, President IAAW/Counsel for Donna McLeod
Ph:  (780) 289-6365

IAAW Board of Directors Recruitment

Qualities we are looking for

  • Reside in a community not represented already such as northern communities, High Prairie, Slave Lake, Grande Prairie, Cold Lake, Lac La Biche, St. Paul, Lethbridge, Red Deer.
  • Experience working for/with Aboriginal women
  • Experienced in an area in which IAAW delivers programs or planning to work in – financial literacy, corrections, justice reform, policy development, violence prevention or leadership development. Or is willing to share a skill pro bono, such as a lawyer, an accountant.
  • Is active in the community and has cultural knowledge
  • Have basic knowledge of the computer
  • Able to commit to 6 meetings/year + Esquao Awards and occasional teleconferences

Information on the Role


Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women Board is a governing body.  As a governing and policy Board, the Board is responsible to provide strategic directions and establish policy for the overall operation of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women.

General Information:

Duties and Number: The affairs of the Society will be managed by a Board of Directors, referred to as directors, trustees or governors.  The Board will consist of at least (7) persons, unless a fewer number of directors is determined by special resolution.

Qualifications: Every director must support the goals and objectives of the Society and be willing to donate their time, skills and knowledge to the benefit of the Society.  Directors must also:

  • Be eighteen (18) years of age or more;
  • Be a voting member of the Society;
  • Be recognized and respected members of the Aboriginal community; and,
  • Be elected by the members of the Society or, in the case of a Director appointed to represent the Society.

Election and Term: Directors will be appointed for a term of three (3) years.  The Director’s terms of office will be from the date of the meeting at which they are elected until their successors are appointed. All Directors may be appointed at the expiration of their term.

Remuneration of Directors: Remuneration of the directors will be determined by resolution of the Board of Directors.  Directors are entitled to be paid reasonable expenses incurred in the performance of director’s duties.

Committees and Subcommittees: The Executive may form committees and sub-committees, such as regional and working committees, as well as other committee or subcommittees, as it deems necessary or appropriate. The purposes and powers of these committees will be determined by the Executive Board. Committee members are entitled to be reimbursed for reasonable expenses incurred in the exercise of their duties.

Meeting of Directors

Place or Meeting: Meetings of the Board of Directors may be held either at the head office or at any place within or outside Alberta and on such day as the Board will appoint.

Telephone Participation: If all of the directors’ consent, a meeting of directors may be held by means of telephone, electronic or other communication facilities as long as all persons participating in the meeting can hear each other simultaneously and instantaneously.  A director participating in such a meeting is deemed to be present at the meeting.

Please send letter of interest before February 15, 2021 to CEO, Rachelle Venne by email at

Preventing Violence Against Indigenous Women

Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW) is pleased to present the
results of a community collaboration to create awareness on Violence against Aboriginal
Women. As violence comes in many forms, and affects families, communities, stakeholders and
governments, we have also included topics on men and those who identify as Two Spirited.

Community members, police and IAAW staff collaboratively developed the topics to inspire discussion that may not happen as much as it is needed. Funding gratefully provided from Government of Alberta.

There is a video that was produced using IAAW program participants and guests, including Anthony Johnson of Amazing Race Canada! The presentation that we deliver will include 8 short videos. Each about 1-2 mins long. A facilitator will play the video, showing the first
scenario. Then discussion happens and resources are provided. This is repeated with the remaining 7 scenarios. Our hope is that we can have many local agency representatives in attendance as possible to build the community response capabilities.

The 8 video topic’s are:
Public Safety for Indigenous Women (1)
It’s important to be aware of your surroundings and have a safety plan.
• What is a safety plan?
• Why would I need a safety plan?
• What should I teach my children about being safe?

Planning to Leave (2)
Your life is important. Be careful and leave when it’s safe.
• What should be planned out before you leave?
• What are the dangers of leaving?
• What else you need to think of before you leave?

Unmotivated Partner (3)
When your partner is taking advantage of you, it’s time for them to leave.
• Who gets to live in the shared residence?
• Is it safer just to leave?
• What are the impacts to your family or pets if you stay?

Circle of Supports (4)
Don’t be afraid to reach out for help; you’re not alone.
• How can communities support the men?
• How many people should be in your Circle of Support?
• What resources are in your community for people fleeing violence?

New Relationship Safety (5)
It’s important to remember to keep your personal information private.
• Would you let your new date know where you work or live?
• What are safety tips to have before connecting in person with a date?
• Are you aware of Red Flags?

Dealing with Family Drama (6)
Find the strength to not involve yourself with family drama.
• What is harassment?
• Can you unhook from social media?
• When to get police or a lawyer involved?

Family Supports (7)
It’s ok to lean on healthy relatives that can help you in the short term.
• How can you make sure you don’t overstay your welcome?
• What legal or other supports are available to assist in the short term?
• Where to get counselling for you and children?

Love yourself (8)
You loved yourself enough to leave, now love yourself even more and stay away.
• Where are wellness or self-care supports in your community?
• Who can you connect with for education on building healthy
• How time to give yourself to get healthy?

IAAW has also developed a brochure and stand-up table displays to assist in communicating the key messages to the larger audience. Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic we are delivering this workshop on-line through Zoom. Please connect with Bernadette Swanson, if you’d like to set up a zoom presentation.

Bernadette Swanson
Phone: 587-635-3051 | Free 1-877-471-2171 | Email

Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women
Address: 18104 – 102 Avenue Edmonton, AB T5S 1S7

Celebrating 25 Years of the Esquao Awards

IAW, Esquao Awards, 2020, women, leadership

For nearly 25 years, the Esquao Awards has highlighted the amazing work of Indigenous women throughout Alberta and Canada. From its humble beginnings, the Esquao Awards have grown to be the single largest recognition event of Indigenous women in the country.

Four years ago, as the event continued to grow, the Government of Canada began conducting a National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Earlier in 2019, the Government of Canada published the Final Report, along with 231 Calls for Justice.

The Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW) wanted to mark the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Esquao Awards by looking back at past Award recipients, their stories, and how their work has been leading these Calls for Justice for decades.

Download the full PDF here

R v Barton

May 24, 2019 Edmonton/Toronto

The Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW) and the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) react to the Supreme Court of Canada Judgment in R v Barton

This morning the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision to order a new trial on manslaughter with partial dissent of three judges who would have ordered a new trial on manslaughter and murder. 

The decision strongly condemns the use of racist and sexist stereotypes about Indigenous women and encourages trial judges to explicitly counter prejudice against Indigenous women and girls in their instructions to juries. The Court denounces the use of dehumanizing language and the prejudice that was brought into the trial by failing to call Cindy Gladue by name. The decision makes clear the trial “let us all down” by failing to uphold the dignity and humanity of Cindy Gladue. As the decision reads, “She was a mother, a daughter, a friend, and a member of her community. Her life mattered. She was valued. She was important. She was loved.”

The Court provided clear and conclusive direction on consent – including that there is no defence of implied consent, the accused cannot rely on past sexual history evidence to ground a belief in consent, and that expressed consent to every sexual activity is necessary. “The Court sent a strong message that men are not free to rely on their own, prejudicial views about what women do or do not want when engaging in a sexual act” says Lise Gotell of LEAF National. “Only expressed, communicated consent to every sexual act is sufficient. This is a resounding endorsement of women’s equality and women’s sexual autonomy.”

However, while claiming to uphold the importance of her dignity, the decision fails to go far enough to address the level of dehumanization the trial perpetrated against Indigenous women and to ensure that no Indigenous woman ever has to face such treatment again. As Order of Canada recipient Beverly Jacobs says, “It in no way erases the anger, humiliation, and dehumanization of the lower court for the barbaric treatment of her body or the violation of Indigenous laws in caring for the deceased.” The Court had an opportunity, but failed to adequately hold all members of the proceedings – the Judge, the Crown, the defence – to account for perpetuating racism in the trial and allowing the humiliating dehumanization of an Indigenous woman. As Julie Kaye, Research Advisor for IAAW states, “condemning stereotypes is important, but it cannot account for the level of violence Indigenous women experience in this system. We must continue to work together to dismantle the racism, sexism, and systemic discrimination perpetuated by the criminal legal system.”

Reflecting on the decision, human rights defender and founder of IAAW, Muriel Stanley Venne insists, “this is just the beginning. We are determined to eliminate racism and sexism from the legal system. Canada’s system was built with contempt for Indigenous women and it continues to try to dehumanize us. But we are stronger than the systems that seek to destroy us. We will build justice systems that work for and with Indigenous women.” The decision makes clear that “everyone is equally entitled to the law’s full protection and to be treated with dignity, humanity, and respect.” Equal protection for Indigenous women has not manifested from far too many Inquiries and previous Supreme Court decisions, IAAW and LEAF’s work will continue to ensure the promises made in the Supreme Court decision today are upheld. As the Court stated, “we can — and must — do better.”

IAAW and LEAF’s intervention at the Alberta Court of Appeal (ABCA) and at the Supreme Court of Canada strongly shaped the decision’s rebuke of the trial court for admitting evidence of Ms. Gladue’s sexual history. The judgment relies heavily on the work of IAAW and LEAF who put equality rights arguments before the court of appeal, including arguments about sexual history evidence. At the Supreme Court, we were joined by many other skilled interveners who took on the difficult, and often uncompensated, work of challenging discrimination in law. The work of Indigenous women, feminist legal interveners, and community advocates was fundamental the Court’s recognition of this atrocity.

For more information, please contact:

Beverly Jacobs, University of Windsor, Faculty of Law
519-253-3000 ext. 2936,

Muriel Stanley Venne, IAAW, President and Founder

Julie Kaye, Research Advisor, IAAW

Lise Gotell, LEAF National