International Women’s Day celebrated in Wiikwemkoong

Alison Recollet was the guest speaker at the women’s wellness day held March 8 in Wikiwemikong. Her topic was balance of fire woman. photo by Betty Bardswich

WIIKWEMKOONG—International Women’s Day (IWD) was declared a celebration by the United Nations in 1975, the Year of the Woman, and is marked March 8 in over 100 countries. The movement that led to this observance has workers roots throughout the world beginning with the march of textile workers in the United States in 1907 when women demanded shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote. In 1910, at the Second International Conference of Women, a proposal was made to have an IWD. Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland celebrated IWD in 1911 as a result.

The horrific Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City in 1911 was responsible for the deaths of 140 people, mostly women and children, as the workshop doors had been locked. Subsequently, women participated in IWD activities in the United States demanding better working conditions.

This day began in Russia in 1917 as part of the February Revolution when workers rioted. Women got the vote that year in the Soviet country and March 8 became a national holiday. 

Today, IWD commemorates social, economic and political achievements and calls for gender equality.

Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory celebrated March 8 by hosting a women’s wellness day, organized by Manitoulin Family Resources (MFR) violence against women outreach counsellor Tracy Van Horne and sponsored by the M’Nidoo Minissing Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Diane Brunetti, of Kagawong, is the coordinator of the coalition which is comprised of 19 supporting agencies from Manitoulin, Espanola and the North Shore.

Alison Recollet was the guest speaker at the event and spoke of the ‘balance of fire woman.’ She first indicated the posters she had pinned to the wall reading ‘Save Mother Earth,’ ‘She is at risk,’ ‘Uttering threats no more,’ ‘Women are natural healers, caregivers of life,’ ‘Stop selling women,’ ‘Stop human trafficking – reach out for help.’

Ms. Recollet, who is of the bear clan, told her audience that she has been on a healing journey since the age of 12. She has suffered abuse and was humiliated as a child. “I was called a white person,” she said, “and I was locked in a closet with boys in the old Kaboni school. I get triggers every time I go by that area. I see my violation every day.” Ms. Recollet went on to say that she matured at a very young age and would see the bus driver and other adults on the bus staring at her.

Ms. Recollet also spoke of her near-death experience which she said was very spiritual to her. She became sick and was dealing with a violation of her and also to a family member. She was finding this time very traumatic. Her husband was in jail and she had children and a house to look after. “I survived a massive heart attack,” she said. A significant rock, which she passed to the audience members, was given to her on her death bed and the last rites, with oil placed on her forehead, were given to her. Ms. Recollet described a beautiful white funnel going up and up. “I could see people working on my body. I could hear people talking and laughing.”

Ms. Recollet explained the different events that helped her on her wellness journey, including going to the sweat lodge and getting her “Indian name.” She also noted that her mother had said, “We still have a ceremony we can do. The pipe ceremony.” As well, Ms. Recollet sought help from the elders and was told that her name, bundle and pipe were fine.

A celebration of women conference in 1998 saw Ms. Recollet start to share her story and she joined a group of grandmothers. After attending the Blue Thunderbird Leadership forum, she shared her story with the CBC, the newspaper, and the UCCM newsletter.

Although Ms. Recollet observed that change is happening, she noted that her experience showed what violence is and said, “Do what you have to do to seek help. Go where you feel good. I still go to the sweat lodge. I still hang out with the grannies. We still have room for growth. Mindemoya, the old woman, is literally she who holds us together. The values are built into our language.

Next on the agenda was dance with community-based program worker Janice Trudeau introducing dancer Sophie Pheasant. Ms. Pheasant took people through different dance styles and began with exercises picturing walking through the forest, getting into a canoe, pushing oneself through wild rice fields and reaching for tall grasses. She then told the dancers to go into the forest, find your sacred place and thank the Creator for the space and yourself for your physical being. She led the class in dance, including Mexican dance steps she had learned in Mexico. Ms. Pheasant not only teaches dance, she also leads yoga classes and makes jewellery.

There were two classes offered during this celebration. Susie Harrison and Louis Couillard were on hand on behalf of Barenaked Beauty, a shop in Kagawong, and led the women in making products to take home. The first items were bath bombs, made using baking soda and citric acid as a base. Next, a colour, a flower and an essential oil was added. Each participant made three of these of all different colours 

The next piece to make was a headache remedy made with three oils, choosing from frankincense, lavender, eucalyptus, chamomile, and peppermint, and using fractionated almond oil as a carrier. The final instruction was in the making of a facial scrub using either brown sugar, cane sugar, sea salt or Himalayan salt along with essential oils. Oils, such as olive, are also added.

The next class at the celebration of all women was in water colours. The instructor was artist Madonna Aeschlimann who resides in Tehkummah. Ms. Aeschlimann began by speaking of the paper and paint to be used in watercolour art including 140-pound paper and either dry cubes or tubes of paint. She explained that it is necessary to tape the paper down, as it would curl with the water used and noted that the paint used could be either student quality or up to artist quality as far as price is concerned.

The IWD celebration held in the Wiikwemkoong arena was a huge success and the organizers are to be commended. The day was informative, and also a lot of fun. Jennifer Recollect provided an outstanding lunch and videos were shown. Perhaps the best message of the day was a message from the elders who said “women are the backbone of our nation. Let go of pain and nurture your fire.”