1. What does being a feminist mean to you?
When I think of the word, feminism, I think of the white washed roots and the erasure of BIPOC voices in the movement itself. I think of how the feminist movement has a history of upholding the toxic patriarchy, capitalism and colonization rather than sisterhood or equity itself.
For me, I prefer the term “matriarchy” or “Indigenous feminism” as it is more intersectional, it decenters whiteness, has a decolonial approach and focuses on human rights for Indigenous women + families + our nations.
Being a “matriarch” or an “Indigenous feminist” means that we are dismantling the toxic patriarchal structures that exist within the colonial systems and within ourselves. That Indigenous folks uphold the languages, teachings and knowledge that our ancestors have, rather than what is reinforced within colonial law, vocabulary and institutions.
2. In 2022, is it still necessary to “empower” women?
Yes. Especially Indigenous women + trans + two spirited + non-binary relatives. Indigenous women are still going missing and murdered every day. We are still fighting for our basic human needs to be met within the backyard of our country - just because what you see online is a “shift” - doesn’t mean it is being implemented for women of colour. Especially within governance, politics, our healthcare and our education system. We need more women in leadership positions that are not complacent and uphold the same colonial mindsets of the oppressors themselves.
3. Have we made progress when it comes to equality? Is equity a more realistic goal?
Equity has to come before equality. Indigenous folks and other marginalized communities have been denied the right to exist or thrive within the economy itself. Making sure there is access to programs, resources and funding for marginalized communities should be at the forefront.
4. What is your advice for young women entering their professional careers?
Define what the word “success” means to you. What kind of life do you want to cultivate within the next year? 5? 10? How do you want to feel? Who do you want to align yourself with?
Defining success through your own lens rather than someone else’s and/or external validation is essential. Also, you attract what you subconsciously believe you deserve - so stay true to your self worth. Never settle for less and be ok with saying “no” when something is not fully in alignment - something better will show up in return.
5. What is one thing you wish you knew as a young woman?
That forgiveness to yourself and to others, frees yourself from karmic cycles that have run its course. That you don’t need to learn the same lesson over and over again. To have the ability to move on from something that is depleting your own life force. It opens a new pathway to breathe life into a new timeline/person/project that see’s the value in all that you do.
6. Who are your female role models?
I would say Nahanni Fontaine, NDP, MLA for St. John’s. I admire her consistency in advocating for Indigenous rights within the House of Commons here in Canada. Her ability to continuously show up in the face of discrimination, racism and adversity within politics. How she channels the strength of her mother, the matriarchs and the grandmothers before her. I invite you to listen to her episode on the @matriarch.movement podcast and be just as inspired as I was.
7. Is there anything you wish women would do differently?
I wish we would allow space for ourselves to be wrong, to be human, to be messy, to be imperfect. I wish to continue to destroy this idea of having to be “perfect” all the time. It’s impossible and not realistic and is a byproduct of colonialism.
8. How can we better support each other as women?
Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. Not viewing one another as competition. Taking women off the pedestal that we may put them on – especially on social media. Reaching out to one another and supporting each other no matter where we are along our journey.
9. How can we invite men and non-binary people to the table, to be our allies?
I think it is important to create space for men, non-binary and two spirited people to come to the table. We need to listen to their needs, their stories, their emotions. Dismantling this idea that men have to be the breadwinners, not show emotion, etc. Men, non-binary and two spirited folks need just as much - if not more support than we do. There are so many resources for women’s healing - I hope to see an increase within all sectors for everyone.
10. What’s one thing everyone should remember when it comes to female leadership, not just in March?
Traditionally, women were held in high regard within Indigenous communities + societies. In some tribes, matriarchs were at the forefront, they were the leaders, the decision makers. Each one of us had a role + responsibility within our community that cultivated balance and harmony within it.
This “feminist” movement has already been here before, prior to colonization. Within some of our cultures, our worldviews, and our values. The toxic patriarchy has wounded us all. We need to self-reflect and look at all the ways it has harmed us + the power structures + the system itself. When we bring awareness to how we have been upholding it ourselves, we can begin to disempower it.
Also, women are not just restricted to being celebrated once a month. Same goes for Indigenous History month. We need to continue to uplift, amplify and create space for others all year round.
Keep up with Shayla's work on Instagram @shayla0h and find out more about her through the Together collective!