March is Women’s History Month

By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Women’s History Month aims to honour women and their accomplishments throughout history. In Canada it’s recognized in October to align with Persons Day on October 18. 

Countless women of all cultures have inspired throughout history. Indigenous women who shaped it, are often not highlighted enough. In 1914, Edith Monture of Mohawk descent, graduated from New York’s New Rochelle Nursing School, making her the first Indigenous woman to become a registered nurse in Canada. Volunteering as a nursing sister with the US Army Nursing Corps, made her the first Indigenous woman to serve in the US military. Monture had to study in the US, as the Indian Act stated during that time any Canadian Indigenous women who attended post-secondary school would lose their Indian status.

Phyllis Webstad of the Secwépemc First Nation is no stranger to having things taken from her. At the age of six, on her first day at St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School, her bright orange shirt was stripped from her. It was the trauma and shame she felt from this experience that led to her becoming the founder of the Orange Shirt Society and Orange Shirt Day Movement, which operates out of Williams Lake, B.C. Webstad started Orange Shirt Day to raise awareness and educate the masses about the horrors of what went on inside the walls of residential schools. It has been recognized every September 30 since its inception in 2013. After the 215 unmarked graves were uncovered at Kamloops Indian Residential School in May 2021, the movement Webstad initiated became recognized nationwide as Truth and Reconciliation Day.

Since that tragic uncovering, Jenna Jasek, School District 6 vice principal for Indigenous Learning has been making history herself. In the summer of 2021, she co-founded the Every Child Matters Year-Long Learning Challenge with Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network (CBEEN) executive director, Duncan Whittick. Earlier this year, she also co-piloted Every Child Matters 4 Seasons of Reconciliation, where Jack Webstad will be a guest speaker on June 1.

“Having Phyllis present for Every Child Matters Year Long Challenge-4 Seasons of Reconciliation is an honour,” said Jasek. “She’s a change maker, impacting Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples across Turtle Island. Her story and the Orange Shirt initiative is so powerful. The colour orange has become a symbol for Indigenous children and for all children, and how they are all important in our lives.”

“I am so grateful to be a part of Truth and Reconciliation and thankful for the opportunity to have a voice in Every Child Matters Year-Long Challenge,” said Jasek. “I want First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people and children to know they are important, and they matter. For all children to know that. Indigenous people have hidden in the shadows for over 150 years, afraid to shine and show the settler world how special they are. The time is now; the Indigenous revolution has happened.”