Submitted by Felisha Crier Hosein, Founder – Keep On Learning Foundation
Since 2012, the United Nations has declared October 11, “The International Day Of The Girl,” promoting the theme for this year, “Empowering adolescent girls: Ending the cycle of violence.” In honor of this international movement, I interviewed my aunt, Leiha Crier, from Maskwacis. She is a perfect example of a woman in a leadership position advocating for change.
Historically, women have been the strong ones in our culture. They are the ones that held the family together, and we are seeing that it is still true today. As the facilitator for the ‘Change it up program’, Leiha teaches Aboriginal people how to start their own businesses, runs personal development programs, find mentors for the students throughout the country, and even helps with each business by giving advances on marketing, operations, and business plans. The approach is practical and hands on, “We run a group business together, and then the students run their businesses on their own.” The success of these programs and businesses that are created have the potential to lead to the success of the community as a whole. “If we can create and build an economy, we take ownership of our reserve, and there’s real power in that.”
Leihas’ goal is to teach people to be independent and proud of who they are as individuals, to be role models for those who don’t have someone to look up to, and to change the outlook of how we are seen, and how we see ourselves. “Amazing things happen when you show someone that you believe in them.”
“What I want to emphasize is building capacity in our own people. Over the years, many people have come from the outside to introduce programs, but then they leave. It is important to encourage people to come up with their own solutions to change the current situation that we are in.” Awareness has to happen, and a willingness from the participants to acknowledge that their situation is in need of changing is important. For example, people don’t see alcohol as a problem, “they believe alcoholism in the family is normal, it’s all they have ever seen.” There is a great disconnect.
There are many women and children still in difficult situations as well. This is a sad result of the residential school system. “There are an entire couple generations of people that had no idea what parenting was. They never learnt what it takes to be a mother, or what a family even looks like. They had no one to teach them and show them how it is done.” “We are basically learning from scratch.”
“The rebuilding of our spirit and our people takes time, with such a long history of oppression, you can’t expect an entire race of people to just ‘get it,’ we have to be time sensitive and have compassion.” A lot of these problems require healing.
Although steps are being taken to address problems on the reserve, the resources needed to have an impact and to implement necessary programs are not there. “We need people to teach the programs, and people to run them.”
“The good news is we are at a transitional time where we are starting to see real changes.” People are becoming more aware of what’s going on, they are getting educated, and want to see things get better.
The ‘Change it up Program’ has created an atmosphere of progress on the reserve. The most recent business to open up in Maskwacis is ‘Beverly’s’, a place where you can have healthy smoothies, get your nails done, get a haircut, and purchase art and furniture. This is the third year of the program, with students from the first group still running their businesses. (As for those who have fallen behind, Leiha tracks them down!)