By Leslie Knibbs
SERPENT RIVER—Recently an Elder from Serpent River First Nation (SRFN) returned from taking part in a forum on Indigenous issues at the United Nations (UN). An invitation to Isabelle Meawasige to attend was sent out on February 27 by Sister Shiela Smith who works with the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) ‘Society of the Sacred Heart’ at the UN.
Following registration, a confirmation letter from the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues confirmed Meawasige’s attendance. According to the invitation, her attendance was asked for because of her efforts “to end human trafficking.”
The forum took place between April 24 and May 5 this year. Meawasige’s invitation to the forum was prompted by a conversation between Smith and Meawasige while both were attending an event in India a few years back.
Smith is co-founder of Persons Against the Crime of Trafficking in Humans (PACT) with headquarters in Ottawa. The two women met first while at an event in India. Upon meeting, the two talked of the problem of human trafficking and suicide involving young Indigenous women and girls. Both women aspired to establish a presence in northern communities to educate others and to activate the grandmothers there. With a common bond to educate others and prevent human trafficking, a collaboration between the two began. Meawasige was trained by PACT in Ottawa two years ago. Since then, she has travelled extensively educating others on the plight of Indigenous women and girls and engaging other Grandmothers to take up the cause.
In 2016, Smith and Meawasige had collaborated in partnering Ojibway Grandmothers with the Ottawa group PACT. Meawasige is actively involved in gathering community Grandmothers to teach them how to prevent human trafficking in their communities and draw attention of this problem to politicians and policy makers across Canada. As a result of Grandmother Meawasige’s efforts, the traditional healing role of Grandmothers and Indigenous teachings has become foundational in the efforts to put a stop to exploitation of Indigenous women and girls.
“I belong to a group of women who do the work nobody else wants to do,” is how Grandmother Isabelle Meawasige describes a group of Grandmothers working on the front lines protecting others from and educating others on the scourge of human trafficking of First Nations women and girls.
Meawasige and 12 other Grandmothers from the North Shore, Manitoulin Island and Sault Ste. Marie have become educated in preventing human trafficking after receiving funds from the Federal Department of Public Safety in December of 2015 to establish a training manual on preventing and stopping human trafficking. With a funding from a grant, the manual was finished in 2016. Since then, members of the group have travelled to different communities to educate others.
After spending time at the UN forum, Meawasige returned to SRFN before attending an ‘Interfaith Gathering” in the Bahamas.
“People from all over the world attended this Yoga Retreat at a Sivananda Ashram,” stated Meawasige.
While there, Meawasige taught the Medicine Wheel to 41 participants explaining the ‘Birth Lodge’ and the east direction of the Medicine Wheel. Meawasige is well known for her workshops on Birthing throughout the province and beyond. At a provincial conference on FASD a few years back, there was standing room only at one of her Birthing workshops.
Meawasige and others will often journey to the Grandmother’s Lodge Learning and Retreat Centre near Thessalon where workshops on plant communication, edible and medicinal plants, yoga, a sweat lodge and vision quest are held. Visitors to the workshop also take part in drumming, storytelling, hiking, swimming and kayaking.
This summer, from August 13 to 19, a retreat is taking place at the Lodge. This “Quest for Wholeness” will gather others for a week of clarity and community “under the guidance of experienced Elders”. For more information on this event, contact: Kumari via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grandmother Meawasige is described as “a medicine woman, a traditional healer, and a storyteller who merges ancient teachings with modern day education to bring healing and understanding to others.”
When not travelling to teach others, Meawasige relaxes at home in SRFN finding a time for peace and prayer in her circle of cedars behind where she lives. She looks forward to attending next year’s forum at the UN with another Grandmother, Marly Day from Sault Ste. Marie. Although she planned to go this year, Day was unable to attend because of illness. Day goes into primary and highschools in the area to educate others. According to Meawasige, at a recent meeting in North Bay, she recently learned one of the victims of human trafficking was just nine years old. The Grandmothers are continuing their efforts to put a stop to human trafficking on First Nations in Ontario.