OTTAWA—Wiikwemkoong’s Aurora Ominika-Enosse has just wrapped up her week participating in this year’s Daughters of the Vote (DoV) event that enables young women from across Canada to experience life on Parliament Hill and has given Ms. Ominika-Enosse a unique opportunity to reflect on the meaning of being an Indigenous woman in Canadian politics.
“DoV is such a great opportunity to allow women to have a voice. There’s a statistic, the ratio between how many women are in the House of Commons right now, which is about 28 percent women MPs at the moment,” she said. “My roommate and I were saying that hopefully we’ll be able to rise to 50 percent women because of this program.”
The 19-year-old woman grew up in Wiikwemkoong and is in her first year at Carleton University in Ottawa studying her Bachelor of social work with a minor in Indigenous studies. She represented her federal home riding of Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing alongside 337 other young women aged 18 to 23 from across Canada.
Politics and activism are nothing new for Ms. Ominika-Enosse. Her father Lawrence Enosse is on council in Wiikwemkoong and she once organized a protest to advocate for her fellow youth back home.
As an Anishinaabe-kwe delegate, Ms. Ominika-Enosse had the opportunity to participate in the Indigenous forum last Monday, the first day of the program.
“We had strong women in power in various areas speak with us about what they do,” said Ms. Ominika-Enosse. Part of the programming included a workshop where Northern musicians taught the participants how to perform traditional Inuit throat singing.
Tuesday was full of workshops about politics and expert panelists shared their experiences. Ms. Ominika-Enosse attended a session called ‘Speaking Up: Influencing Politics Post-DoV’ that featured participants from the first edition of DoV in 2017.
On Wednesday, the delegates sat in the House of commons, a whirlwind experience that Ms. Ominika-Enosse said was hard to believe.
“It was really overwhelming to be able to be in the House of Commons and sitting in that seat,” she said.
Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes was watching and waving from the public gallery and later joined Ms. Ominika-Enosse for a special lunch with Canada’s first and only female prime minister, Kim Campbell.
At the House of Commons, many of the delegates made one-minute statements about a topic of their choosing.
“It was really empowering to listen to a lot of strong women speaking about what they’re passionate for,” said Ms. Ominika-Enosse.
Controversy swirled when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived to address the delegates. Several of the young women, including Ms. Ominika-Enosse, stood and turned their backs to the prime minister while he spoke.
“I’m proud of what I did and that’s that. We all have our own reasons for doing so, and the non-Indigenous delegates who stood up and turned their backs to be allies with us was amazing in itself. I turned around because of Jody Wilson-Raybould, because of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) and children in foster care,” she said.
Ms. Ominika-Enosse responded to a federal Conservative candidate who said he would not have turned his back on someone with whom he disagreed.
“As an Indigenous woman, I had every right to turn my back to PM Trudeau,” she replied on Twitter. “He fails to fulfill the promises he has made to Indigenous people. Why should I respect a man who does not respect me?”
That tweet went viral, receiving just shy of 3,000 likes and 600 retweets.
“My mom follows me on Twitter and called me to say, “calm yourself down, be careful about what you say, what you reply to; she really grounded me and that was really important,” Ms. Ominika-Enosse said. “Later on, I posted a tweet saying that I was still learning about politics and said please, just spread kindness to each other.”
A small group of Indigenous delegates later visited Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s office to drum and sing for her.
“I asked if I could sing the Migizi (eagle) Honour Song because it holds so much power for me. She said, ‘go ahead,’ and after I finished, she told me that it was funny I had sung that because she is Eagle Clan,” said Ms. Ominika-Enosse.
On Thursday, the delegates spent the day in the senate. There, Ms. Ominika-Enosse delivered her one-minute statement on MMIWG.
“It was such a surreal week. It went by so fast,” said Ms. Ominika-Enosse. “I don’t regret anything about that week; it was an amazing experience. I’m really thankful and I understand I was very privileged to be there.”
Ms. Ominika-Enosse said she learned to not be intimidated or scared for defending her values and beliefs.
“In the Indigenous forum, we were encouraged to be proud Indigenous females. That was amazing. I’m so proud to be from Wiky, so proud to be Indigenous. It took me a long time to get where I am to be proud of that,” she said.
She added that her presence as a young Indigenous woman in Canada’s parliament was a profound experience.
“It was really inspiring because the House of Commons and the Senate, historically, were not meant for us to be there. The system is meant to keep us out,” said Ms. Ominika-Enosse. “We will find a seat in these places and we will stay. As much as they try to kick us out, we’ll be here and continue to be here.”
A life in politics and advocacy is something Ms. Ominika-Enosse can see in her future. She said she was having doubts during the week and turned to an old friend who reaffirmed her strength.
“This experience really taught me a lot. I obviously still have a lot of learning to do, but there’s a lot I feel I could do,” said Ms. Ominika-Enosse. “Politics is a great adventure, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.”