Becoming an advocate and role model for Indigenous women

Published on Tuesday, 27 December 2022 08:58

 


With the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) still at the forefront, there is a need now more than ever for Indigenous female role models and advocates to come forward to spark change. An Indigenous female advocate, from Sapotaweyak Cree Nation (SCN), has been creating a movement through her actions that speak to the issues Indigenous women are facing today.
“I’m from SCN and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe,” said Chante Speidel. “I currently reside in Saskatoon, where I am studying at the University of Saskatchewan. I plan to graduate in Spring 2023 with my Bachelor of Arts in Indigenous Studies. I currently work at the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority as a Human Resources Assistant.”
Speidel started as a youth entering Indigenous pageants as a means to advocate for MMIWG. With each pageant she entered, a new opportunity presented itself and she was able to further establish herself as an advocate and role model for Indigenous women and girls.
“In 2017, I was 15 years old vying for the title of Miss Manito Ahbee,” said Speidel. “This title is a youth ambassador role to advocate for MMIWG. Every four years the Manito Ahbee celebration selects a family that lost a loved one to this reality and honours them by sharing their story and allowing the youth ambassador to represent them.
“In April 2022, I was in the Miss Indian World Pageant in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This title is a chance for young Indigenous women from ages 18 to 25 to showcase themselves as a cultural ambassador. This pageant is showcased at the largest powwow in the world. I received Second Runner Up in the pageant.
“In October 2022, I ran for Miss He Sapa Win at the He Sapa Wacipi in Rapid City, South Dakota,” said Speidel. “This title is for women ages 18 to 25 to run as a cultural ambassador representing the Oceti Sakowin –Dakota, Nakoda and Lakota peoples also known as the Seven Council Fires. I received First Runner Up in this pageant.
“I ran for Miss Manito Ahbee because I had a passion for being an advocate, especially in regards to MMIWG. I ran for Miss Indian World and Miss He Sapa Win because of my passion to be a leader, advocate and demonstrate myself as an Indigenous role model. I always wanted to run, these roles are prestigious in Indigenous communities.
“I got involved because in Indigenous communities for young people there aren’t many leadership titles; more are coming along now, but I have always been interested in leadership and speaking,” said Speidel. “My parents are leaders and my Kunsi (grandma) is my hero. They all have been in many leadership roles and I guess from observation and travelling with them to speak, dance or sing, they have inspired me to do it too.”
Participating in the pageants has helped Speidel stay connected to the issues many young Indigenous people are facing. She has also built bonds with other contestants to create a very close network.
“In pageant I have learned about what other young people are doing and connected with the girls very closely to create a sisterhood,” said Speidel. “Now I have over 30 sisters all over Turtle Island creating change, being leaders and cultural ambassadors. It was an experience I will never forget. I have always aspired to be the women who held these titles in the past.
“There is something different about the uplifting feeling you get when you are surrounded by powerful Indigenous women, who are proud of who they are and move beautifully. I’m interested though in maybe doing something mainstream such as the Canada Globe Pageant or something.
“I have been speaking forever, but was confident in my voice when I was 15 and I started to speak more often,” said Speidel. “After holding the title of Miss Manito Ahbee, I travelled more often to conferences and events across Canada and the United States. After about three years of doing that I had to focus on school, so I slowed down, but also COVID-19 happened.
“I started to join youth councils and committees in Saskatoon and National boards. I was just eager to keep speaking and getting practice. Now I’m an Office of the Treaty Commissioner Speakers Bureau member, and use this service to get organizations and councils to book me for presentations. I got into speaking after holding the title to continue advocating. I just didn’t want to stop being an advocate, because my reign was over. I still feel that way, I have to keep speaking and doing the work to initiate change and make a mark. I always felt that was my duty on earth, to speak and lead.”
Recently Speidel was asked to be the keynote speaker for Cultural Conversation: The Legacy of Indigenous Womanhood and Culture, hosted by the Saskatchewan Health Authority. This was an excellent opportunity for Speidel to share her experiences and to get the message out to others.
“The presentation went great and I loved the questions I received and the energy I felt when I did it,” said Speidel. “I talked about my perspective of culture and womanhood, using a Lakota prophecy story, Pte San Win- White Buffalo Calf Woman and medicine wheels translated into Lakota. Talked about the resiliency and dynamic of Lakota culture and womanhood. I shared history and connected it to colonial issues that have impacted the traditional ways of doing things for all Indigenous people. I then got into the topic of MMIWG2+.
“I shared the story of Lorna Blacksmith, the young woman I represented while being Miss Manito Ahbee. I talked about the history and factors that lead to sexualization, racism and discrimination of Indigenous women, which also are factors to MMIWG and violence towards Indigenous women. Because I know it is important to stay hopeful, I shared Chris Scribe’s Framework to Change, an eight-step process to create change in the community. My last slide was dedicated to Indigenous women heroes and leaders.”
With the recent news of a serial killer in Winnipeg murdering four Indigenous women, it’s hard to not feel the pain. Speidel knows the threat towards Indigenous women is real and that the need for change, in terms of creating safe places for Indigenous women, is greater now than ever.
“Hearing this news hurts, but yet does not surprise me, for we are unfortunately used to this treatment,” said Speidel. “Everyday Indigenous women walk with targets on their backs in society. Walking to your car alone at night is scary. Even walking around the city in daylight is scary. You never know the situations and possibilities that could happen so a lot of us live in fear. We have extra safety measures and avoid doing certain things. It has impacted our choice of clothing or recreational activities, I can speak from experience I will not go anywhere without anything showing even if it is hot outside.
“This issue is real; we live in fear every day. When I log into Facebook, my timeline has at least five missing posters or a family members' post announcing their loved one has been murdered. That is the reality of being Indigenous today.
“In regards to this news, I feel that this shows that Indigenous people are in need of allies and support,” said Speidel. “They need to investigate these cases and murders like they are human beings. We deserve an investigation and attention from the media on this case. Every social system should have training on truth and reconciliation, and the calls to justice for MMIWG enforced for all employees. No more numbers and statistics; we are people. We are missed, we have people who love us, and we have people who mourn our death. It is time for this issue to be treated as such.”
Speidel hopes to continue her advocacy work once she has completed her education and through her business.
“My plans are to transform curriculum,” said Speidel. “I definitely want to work with curriculum developers to create accurate Indigenous content with my Indigenous studies degree. I also aspire to expand my business, Techa Oaye, to support Indigenous youth in becoming leaders through hosting conferences and events to cater to mentorship for Indigenous youth. I also plan to use the business to go into Indigenous communities to develop language plans and strategies to bring back our languages for Indigenous youth.”

 

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