Through January the Red Deer Express is publishing a series involving several community groups and how the inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women affects them moving forward. Interviews with local Elders, community supports and City staff will be included to also help examine what the inquiry means for Red Deer as a whole.
Walking With Our Sisters (WWOS) is a powerful installation that opened many people in Red Deer’s eyes to the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
From WWOS came a group known now as Red Feather Women, a social justice action group.
The Red Feather Women describe themselves in many ways, but a theme prevails: the women are a group who stand together to support each other and the women in the community – especially Aboriginal women – as they move forward to speak out against injustice and vulnerabilities.
Red Feather Women gather as a women’s circle on the second Sunday of each month at the Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery. The women come together to discuss issues in the community, support each other through personal issues and to plan a presence in the community.
Nadette Agecoutay, a Red Feather woman, explained the group can mean many things to each member but the core of the group is about supporting each other.
“Red Feather Women is a group of women that started with Walking With Our Sisters and it’s an amazing circle of women who can support each other and keep each other strong,” Agecoutay said.
“We didn’t want Walking With Our Sisters to end. We wanted to continue supporting each other and lifting each other up. We wanted to bring in other women – all women – and really make them feel safe and supported. We want these women to feel like they are part of a community. Even if you don’t have family when you come here, you will have a family with the women here.”
As the women gather in the circle, they are taking part in a tradition of First Nations culture. Historically, women of the community played important roles of guidance, decision making and support to others in the community. The grandmothers of the community were joined by young women and children to support each other and guide their community. They were known as Feather Women. This influenced how the group got their name.
The group is intended for all women in the community – First Nations, Indigenous, non-Aboriginal and everyone in between. The group spans several generations and is open to any woman who feels as though she wants to be supported or lend her voice to the cause.
“We are here to be that voice for women who don’t feel like they have a voice in our community. We are here to be a presence in our community and show that we are here to create change. We are going to continue to work,” Agecoutay said.
Teresa Neuman, another Red Feather woman, was happy to share what the group means to her.
“For me, this is an opportunity to support Aboriginal women by building community connection and resilience,” Neuman said.
“We’re improving relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in our community. We’re raising awareness and taking concrete action on social issues. We are supporting community initiatives that further that cause of protecting and supporting Aboriginal women, and Aboriginal community in general.”
The Red Feather Women plan to take on many roles in our community. Social advocacy, community volunteering, support and creativity are some of the goals of the group. Through WWOS, many groups of women have come together across the province and country to support each other within their communities, and to engage other women to see how they can work together.
There is even a similar group in Edmonton that has reached out to Red Feather Women of Red Deer to seek support and guidance in how they can plan for social activism and change in their community. Relationships like this are also a goal of the group.
Community Elder and Red Feather Woman Theresa ‘Corky’ Larsen Jonasson was greatly dedicated to and affected by the Walking With Our Sisters installation this past summer. She is known by other members in the community as an advocate of women’s issues, as well as being passionate about youth and change within the community.
“Walking With Our Sisters was so hard on so many people. I watched so many people in our community who were affected physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally,” Larsen Jonasson said.
“There are still people in our community who are struggling from that work. That we continue to show up is a testament to women’s strength. To me, no community goes down until the hearts of the women are laying on the ground. That’s a quote, not my words, but that’s the truth of it,” she said.
She added she was worried as an Elder because she saw the powerful impact and pain that Walking With Our Sisters had brought up in various community members. She said it was tough to ask them to continue the work, but was overwhelmed with pride as people stood up to continue to acknowledge the missing and murdered women, and the vulnerability of the community.
Red Feather Women is one of many groups in the community that is working towards answers and prevention of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. The group isn’t focused solely on that issue, but is guided by it.
Information on the group can be found on their facebook page – Red Feather Women, Red Deer Alberta.
Next week, the Express will explore another group in our community who supports and advocates for women – the I Am A Kind Man initiative.