Indigenous Women's Circle

The Indigenous Women's Circle (the Circle) was established on May 24, 2018, to engage with Indigenous women leaders and experts in the public and private sector on the challenges they face and their priorities for the Government of Canada related to advancing gender equality.

Chaired by our Deputy Minister, the Circle has an advisory role for a two-year term. Each member brings a wealth of knowledge related to Women and Gender Equality Canada's three priority areas: increasing women's economic security and prosperity; encouraging women's leadership and democratic participation and ending violence against women and girls. The member of the Circles come from a broad range of sectors and include First Nations, Métis, Inuit, youth and Elders, with representation coming from all parts of the country.

Candace Wasacase-Lafferty, Director, Indigenous Initiatives, University of Saskatchewan

Candace Wasacase-Lafferty, (Cree/Saulteaux), is a citizen of the Kahkewistahaw First Nation, and the Director of Indigenous Initiatives at the University of Saskatchewan. Her role provides oversight and leadership of the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre. This centre is designed to be a place of ceremony, student success, reconciliation and cross campus and community engagement. Ms. Wasacase-Lafferty is also the Chair of the Board of Wanuskewin Heritage Park, which works to advance understanding and appreciation of the Northern Plains Indigenous peoples.

Claudette Dumont-Smith, Former Executive Director of Native Women’s Association of Canada, Retired

Claudette Dumont-Smith has been actively involved in the field of Aboriginal health since 1974. She is a registered nurse and has acted in various executive capacities with the Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada, both as a board member and as its first executive director. More recently, she was Executive Director of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, a position she held until her retirement in 2016. During her 43-year career, Claudette worked as a consultant for various National Aboriginal Organizations, as well as for Aboriginal organizations at the regional and local levels. Ms. Dumont-Smith has moderated health conferences across Canada and has collaborated on a number of papers and manuals on Aboriginal health and violence against women and children.

Ms. Dumont-Smith served as a member of the Aboriginal circle of the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women, a blue ribbon panel initiated by the Government of Canada in 1991. In addition, she served as Associate Commissioner for the National Aboriginal Child Care Commission of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, formerly known as the Native Council of Canada and, was appointed as a Commissioner on the Indian Residential School Commission for one year.

Ms. Dumont-Smith is also an accomplished writer/researcher whose articles on a wide range of topics have been published by the Health Council of Canada, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation and the Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada, among others.

Ms. Dumont-Smith holds her Master's degree in Public Administration from Queen's University, Kingston, and also holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Québec, Gatineau. In October 2017, Ms. Dumont-Smith was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) degree from the University of Guelph.

Diane Redsky, Executive Director, Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre

Diane Redsky is Executive Director of the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre. As a nationally renowned, visionary thinker and community leader, she has long worked to address the myriad of issue’s facing Winnipeg’s urban Indigenous community in all areas, including health, justice, education, and social services.

Since 1993, she has served in both a professional and volunteer capacity within the social services sector, and has become a strong advocate for Aboriginal, children’s and women’s issues. She has helped create numerous innovative programs that have supported the building of healthy communities. She believes in an approach that consists of shared values, and that is culturally appropriate, while focusing on attention to detail.

Diane has been instrumental in the development of resources for sexually exploited and trafficked girls, including a safe house and a rural healing lodge in Canada. In 2013-2014, she led the Canadian Women's Foundation National Task Force on Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls in Canada, which made 34 recommendations to end sex trafficking in Canada. She has returned to the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre in Winnipeg to bring leadership and a voice on Indigenous issues.

Denise Williams, Executive Director at First Nations Technology Council

At the intersection of Indigenous sovereignty, technological advancement and a rapidly expanding technology and innovation economy, in demand of new ideas and new skills, Denise has the privilege of working with Indigenous peoples, governments, academics, technology futurists and social change makers to map the ecosystem that will result in fair and equitable access to the tools and education required for success in the digital age. Denise leads a theory of change that will not only ensure Indigenous peoples are competitive in British Columbia’s technology and innovation sectors, but leading in unprecedented ways and growing local digital economies.

With a passion for contributing to and volunteering with initiatives and organizations that influence real change and the advancement of truth and reconciliation, Denise proudly serves as the President of the Urban Native Youth Association, a member of the Premier’s Technology Council, and an advisor on innovation to the Governor General of Canada, Vancouver Economic Commission, Minerva Foundation board of directors, and on the Simon Fraser University Board of Governors as Alumni-in-Order, where she earned her master’s degree in business administration in 2015.

Denise is motivated by a desire to contribute to economic reconciliation in a digital age and is immensely grateful for the opportunity to honour the work of previous Indigenous leaders and serve the future generations that will carry us forward.

Elizabeth Ford, Executive Director, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

(Biography to come)

Francyne D. Joe, President of the Board of Director, Native Women’s Association of Canada

A member of British Columbia’s Shackan First Nation and former President of the British Columbia Native Women’s Association, Francyne has committed herself to empowering Indigenous women and girls through her work and philanthropic efforts. Primarily working in human resource management, she’s successfully accessed funding for community economic development, advocated alongside families for a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and fostered partnerships with British Columbia Aboriginal agencies to empower Indigenous communities to take their rightful leadership role locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. She is honored to work with and represent the interests of First Nations and Métis women across the nation as Native Women’s Association of Canada’s President.

Hilda Broomfield-Letemplier, President, Pressure Pipe Steel Fabrication Ltd.

Hilda Broomfield-Letemplier is the President and Chief Financial Officer of Pressure Pipe Steel Fabrication Limited and Northern Oxygen Ltd. Mining suppliers. Her companies are 100% Inuit/Indigenous and woman-owned businesses in non-traditional trades.

She serves on the Board of Directors with the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board. 

She served with the Newfoundland and Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs (NLOWE) as the Labrador Regional Director from 2005 -2018. 

She is also a certified member of WEConnect International and the Canadian Aboriginal and Minority Suppliers Council (CAMSC). In fact, Pressure Pipe Steel Fabrication Ltd. won CAMSC’s Business Achievement Award in 2012.

Broomfield-Letemplier is frequently profiled in the media, including Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, the NLOWE Advisor, National Post, Administrative Procedures for the Canadian Office, Indian Country, and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN). She was also a panelist at Ovations, which celebrated the achievements of women entrepreneurs. She spoke at the Northern Lights Conference in Ottawa in 2016. In March 2016 she was a guest speaker for International Women’s Day in Happy Valley – Goose Bay and then spoke at the Senate on behalf of the NAEDB for her work with the board on Northern Infrastructure to name a few. 

Kelly Benning, Vice-President, National Association of Friendship Centres

Kelly Benning is a Métis woman from northern Alberta. Her family roots go back to the Red River in Manitoba and throughout Saskatchewan. She has served the Grande Prairie Friendship Centre in Grande Prairie, Alberta in various capacities as a Board member, President and Executive Director, where this led her to be Treasurer and Secretary of the Alberta Native Friendship Centres Association (ANFCA) in Edmonton, AB for one year terms. She is currently the Vice-President of the National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC).

Ms. Benning has worked at the Grande Prairie Regional College as the Aboriginal Liaison Coordinator for seven years, and in 2009 she was named the Grande Prairie Regional College Distinguished Employee and was the recipient of the Silver Award in Staff Excellency by the Association of Canadian Colleges. In October 2016, she returned to the college to lead Indigenization on campus.

Kelly and her husband Rick have three grown daughters, two sons-in-law and the world’s most beautiful granddaughter. Kelly firmly believes that we all have our place in the circle and that it is when we step into the circle that we become the people we were meant to be.

Leslie Spillett, Special Projects Manager, Ka Ni Kanichihk Inc.

Living in Winnipeg since 1977, Leslie Spillett is Inninew, born and raised in Treaty 5 and has been a guest of Treaty 1. Having held various positions related to administration, Ms. Spillett is currently Special Projects Manager at Ka Ni Kanichihk which she founded along with other community women in 2001. She was also one of the principal founders and leaders of Mother of Red Nations Women’s Council of Manitoba.

She held an executive position on the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) Board of Directors from 2003 to 2007. During her tenure, NWAC began its Sisters in Spirit campaign to raise awareness and action regarding missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. She participated in Amnesty International research and the subsequent report, Stolen Sisters, in 2003 – 2004. Leslie also raised issues related to missing and murdered Indigenous women at a UN World Conference Against Racism in 2001, and at a UNESCO conference in 2005.

As the Executive Director of Anishnaabe Oway Ishi, she founded the Aboriginal Youth Achievement Awards. She also founded the successful Keeping the Fires Burning, the largest annual dinner in the Indigenous community. This event recognizes the importance of preserving, protecting, and promoting traditional knowledge, and restoring the status of Indigenous women.

Lindsey Decontie, Executive Director, National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence

(Biography to come)

Lisa Cooper, President and Chief, Native Council of Prince Edward Island

Lisa Cooper is a direct descendant of the Mi’kmaq Peoples of Prince Edward Island. Among other degrees and designations, Ms. Cooper holds a Master of Education; a Bachelor of Education; and a Bachelor of Arts, all from the University of Prince Edward Island. Ms. Cooper was a substitute teacher within the Eastern School District in PEI before being employed with the Native Council of Prince Edward Island (NCPEI) as their Director of Operations and held this position until her successful election as President and Chief in 2015. 

She is a strong advocate of Indigenous rights and is on a number of Indigenous boards including Nanegkam Housing Corporation, L’nu Fisheries Limited, Maritime Aboriginal Peoples Council, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Urban Aboriginal Knowledge Network, New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Equity Fund, and University of Prince Edward Island President’s Indigenous Advisory Council whereby she advocates for the rights, interests and needs of her community and membership.

She is the proud mother of four children and two grandchildren. She is a strong advocate in advancing gender equality and empowering Aboriginal women and girls as she believes these are essential to creating healthy Aboriginal communities.

Liz Stone, Chair, Aboriginal Education Council, Sir Sanford Fleming College

(Biography to come)

Maggie Organ, Licensed Practical Nurse, Miawpukek First Nation Conne River Health and Social Services

Maggie Organ is one of nine children born and raised in Miawpukek First Nation, Newfoundland. Maggie spent her whole life living in Conne River. As a child, Maggie enjoyed taking part in many traditional activities, such as fishing, berry picking and helping her mother with cooking, household chores and raising younger siblings.

At the young age of 13, Maggie had to leave her home community of Miawpukek to go to a boarding home in the community of St. Albans for schooling. Soon after finishing school, Maggie returned home to her community of Miawpukek First Nation pursuing different employment opportunities. Maggie has always been keenly interested in the wellbeing and health care of her home community of Miawpukek First Nation. For ten years, she devoted herself and her career to providing home care to elders within the community.

In 1998, Maggie decided to return to post-secondary school and purse her aspirations of becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse. Maggie has been practicing in her home where she works closely with the clinical and mental health team. Maggie has a long and extensive history of volunteering in the community and serves on various boards and committees. Maggie has been instrumental in leading national work on projects with Western University with regards to Circle Project and Diabetes.

In her spare time, Maggie enjoys a game of darts with her family and friends. Most importantly, Maggie enjoys spending time with her husband and relaxing at her home away from home – her cabin.

Marilyn Buffalo, Former President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada

Marilyn Buffalo, born and raised on Samson Cree Nation, has 50 years of service seeking justice for residential school survivors. Her current focus is on the educational and cultural developmental needs of Indigenous children and youth.

Marilyn served as President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada from 1997 to 2000. During that period, she denounced the Statement of Reconciliation offered by the Indian Affairs Minister at the time, Jane Stewart, because it did not meet the standards of a full apology. She negotiated and implemented a five year national partnership agreement with Human Resources Development Canada, providing $15 million in funding for Indigenous women’s employment and training initiatives.

From 2000 to 2005, Marilyn acted as Senior Policy Advisor to the Samson Cree Nation in Ottawa, and at the same time, advised a legal team on policy and communications matters associated with the landmark treaty rights and breach of trust lawsuit, Victor Buffalo vs. the Queen.

Melanie Omeniho, President, Les Femmes Michif OtipemisiwakNote * (also known as the Women of the Métis Nation (WMN))

Melanie Omeniho is a descendent of the historical Métis community of Lac Ste Anne and is a proud member of the Métis Nation of Alberta. As a young person, Melanie attended meetings and assemblies alongside her mother and other strong Métis women role models who insisted on being included and heard. Her political and advocacy career led her to play a role in the development and incorporation of Les Femmes Michif Otipemisiwak (LFMO) and to her three-term re-election as President by Métis women across the homeland.

Melanie has extensive experience in the areas of community development, social programming, and family and children services. She has worked to develop programs and advocate on behalf of her community to effect changes to the various social programs to better meet the needs of the Aboriginal community. She received the Queen’s Jubilee Medal in recognition for her work in education, Aboriginal youth and advocating for families involved with Children Services.

Rachel Michael, Inuit Youth Leader, Community Outreach Worker

Rachel Michael is a young Inuk woman, born and raised in Nunavut’s capital city of Iqaluit. Her family, community, helping and learning more about Inuit culture and language are part of the very core of her being. Ms. Michael started performing throat singing and drum dancing in high school with the Inuksuk Drum Dancers Choir, where she still performs from time to time as an alumnus.

Ms. Michael graduated from Inuksuk High School in 2014 and she entered the workforce soon after. She started at an early age as a summer student for the Government of Canada and continued working with the Umingmak Child and Youth Protection Center project feasibility study in Nunavut in 2014-2015. She later transitioned into working as a Community Literacy Outreach worker at the Ilinniapaa Campus and Frontier College. She is also trained in Mental Health First Aid, ASIST, and Safe Talk practices. In her previous job, Rachel trained members of the community to build mental health capacity.

She is currently working as a part-time program coordinator with Embrace Life Council, as well as a part-time Elders’ Assistant at the Elders Qammaq Facility, and as a youth leader at the Makukktukuvik Youth Center.

Rebecca Kudloo, President of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada

Rebecca Kudloo was elected as the President of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada in 2014. Prior to being elected to that position, Ms. Kudloo served as interim President, and before that time, served as the regional director for the Kivalliq region of Nunavut for a number of years. As President, she represents Pauktuutit on the Boards of Directors of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada. Ms. Kudloo has represented Pauktuutit at numerous regional, national and international events.

Previously, Ms. Kudloo sat on the National Crime Prevention Council, was involved in the Sexual Abuse Coalition of the Northwest Territories, held the position of Vice-President of the Northwest Territories Status of Women Council, and also was the first Interim President of Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council. Rebecca was the co-founder and is the current Chair of Mianiqsijit, a community-based child sexual abuse and family violence counseling service in Baker Lake, Nunavut. Rebecca Kudloo has worked in the Department of Education of the Government of Nunavut for more than 20 years.

Rosie Mosquito, Executive Director, Oshki-Pimache-O-Win Education and Training Institute

(Biography to come)

Sheila Isaac, Human Resources and Client Care Coordinator at Memski Projects Inc.

Sheila currently works for Membertou and Eskasoni First Nations in Nova Scotia to connect Mi’kmaq skilled workers to work and Mi’kmaq-owned businesses to procurement opportunities.

Sheila, a Mi’gmaq from the Listuguj First Nation in Quebec, completed her Bachelor’s Degree in political science at Concordia University in Montreal, her LLB at the University of Ottawa, and she received her call to the bar from the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1998. During her studies in Ottawa, Sheila worked during the constitutional talks with CBC Newsworld as a consultant, with the Assembly of First Nations as a youth delegate, with the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples as a researcher, with the Odawa Native Friendship Centre as a Cultural Relations Officer, and as a spokesperson for the Indigenous Law Students for three years.

Sheila previously served as the Manager of the Indigenous Women in Community Leadership (IWCL) Program at the Coady International Institute at St. Francis Xavier University (4 years). Prior to this role, she was Regional Liaison Officer for the Atlantic Region at Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC). Sheila was a policy analyst with the INAC Headquarters Governance team, working primarily on Election Reform and a policy analyst in the Aboriginal Relations Office at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, working primarily on Indigenous women and youth employment policy. Sheila was Band Manager for three years for the Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation Government and managed up to 950 employees.

Viviane Michel, President of Quebec Native Women

Viviane Michel is an Innu woman who carries with her the pride of her people. Bilingual (French and Innu), she became an activist in her community, which is Maliotenam. Viviane Michel is a woman of tradition who makes it a point of honour to value the traditional practices of her nation and to promote respect for the identity and culture of Indigenous nations and women.

A teacher by training, she worked from 2007 to 2012 as a spokesperson for the Missinak Community House for Indigenous Women Victims of Violence or Difficulties in Urban Settings in Quebec City, which led her to understand the issues related to Indigenous women. She has also worked as a community health worker for former residents in the program with Health Canada for four years.

She was Director of the Innu Nation for Quebec Native Women, which brings together the nine Innu communities, for a six-year term from 2004 to 2010. She was elected Vice-President for Quebec Native Women in 2010-2012 and elected as President for Quebec Native Women from 2012 to today. A woman of conviction, Viviane Michel has an approach of openness to reconciliation, and focuses on a work of alliance for a better well-being but also a better cohabitation.

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