Celebrating Indigenous Women of Distinction

2017 Women of Distinction Connie Walker addresses the crowd at a YWCA event. Connie is a Senior Reporter in the Investigative Unit at CBC News and helped launch CBC Indigenous.

Join us in celebrating the achievements and strength of Indigenous women who have received YWCA Toronto’s Women of Distinction Award. This annual award is given to leaders for their unwavering dedication to improving the lives of women and girls in Toronto and around the globe.

June 21 is National Aboriginal Day in Canada. Each year, National Aboriginal Day inspires a collective celebration of the rich cultural traditions, values and diversity of Indigenous communities throughout this land. Just as importantly, this day promotes awareness of historical colonial violence that is woven throughout the lived experiences of Indigenous children subjected to residential schools or removed from their families during the “Sixties Scoop.” The impact of these government policies has been long lasting.

Today, significant work remains to build a new relationship with Indigenous Peoples. It starts with addressing the high rates of violence against Indigenous women and girls. We must end the inequities facing Indigenous communities, particularly in the areas of child welfare, education, health care and basics like clean water and decent housing.

To quote Connie Walker, a CBC journalist and 2017 Woman of Distinction, “It is important to truly understand the realities that Indigenous women and girls face in this country, but we also need to showcase the incredible strength and resilience in our communities.”

As allies, we must continue to educate ourselves, and stand alongside Indigenous Peoples in pushing back against racism, violence, discrimination and exclusion. Please read the excerpts below and witness some of the critical efforts made by Indigenous women to rebuild community, to fight for gender equity, and to take on a role of leadership among their peers.

Mildred Redmond – 1981 Woman of Distinction, Community and Public Service

Born on Walpole Island Reserve, Mildred Redmond dedicated her life to fight for the development of Indigenous-led organizations and services. In 1957, Mildred held the initial meeting of the North American Indian Club for Indigenous peoples; the first of many organizations that would be created and inspired by Mildred.  From within this club, came the Indian Native Centre where Mildred sat as a member of the board and a volunteer worker. Mildred also participated in Council Fire Cultural Centre to further support community and cultural engagement, as well as the development of Andhuyan, an emergency shelter specifically for Indigenous women and girls.

Reva Jewell- 1993 Woman of Distinction, Community and Public Service

Reva Jewell, from the Oneida of the Thames Nation, is the founding member of the Native Women’s Resource Centre. Reva has always been committed to working closely alongside Indigenous peoples to provide better access to resources and services. Reva has worked as a counsellor, served on numerous volunteer boards of Indigenous organizations and acted as the Executive Director of Council Fire Cultural Centre.  In 2011, Reva was honored to become the namesake of a supportive housing project in Toronto known as Reva Jewell Aboriginal Supportive Housing.

Lindsay Kretschmer – 2003 Woman of Distinction, Young Woman of Distinction.

Lindsay Kretschmer has devoted much of her time working and volunteering at many organizations throughout Toronto, including Jessie’s Centre, a multi-service resource centre for pregnant and parenting adolescents. In 2008, Lindsay graduated from Centennial College’s three year creative advertising program and in 2016, the University of Windsor Law School. Lindsay has been involved with organizations such as Literacy of Life, a literacy centre for young women and their children, Anduhyaun, Council Fire Native Cultural Centre, and numerous other services. Making a difference in the lives of others is a passion and a lifeline for Lindsay.

Bridget Perrier – 2006 Woman of Distinction, Turning Point Award

Born to a mother of Ojibwa descent, Bridget Perrier makes a difference in the lives of others and works to support other Indigenous women and girls. A former YWCA Toronto participant, Bridget has overcome many challenges throughout her life. She worked hard to graduate from the Community Worker Program at George Brown College. A friend, mentor and mother of two children, Bridget is an emerging advocate within her community.

Pamela Palmater – 2012 Woman of Distinction, Social Justice Award

Pamela Palmater is a Mi’kmaw citizen, lawyer and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in Northern New Brunswick. Pamela has dedicated her life to advocating for the rights of Indigenous People. Pamela is an Associate Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration and Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University. As well, she is a commentator, author, social media enthusiast and the inaugural Academic Director of Ryerson’s Centre for Indigenous Governance. Pamela’s work shines a light on the complex ways in which Indigenous women face gender discrimination and the myriad ways in which Indigenous women are rendered invisible and worthless by every level of government and society.

Roberta Jamieson – 2016 Woman of Distinction, Presidents Award

Roberta Jamieson is CEO of Indspire, an Indigenous-led organization advancing Indigenous achievement through education and training. Roberta identifies as Mohawk from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in Ontario, and has broken barriers as she became the first, First Nations woman who graduated from law school in Canada; the first woman Ombudsman of Ontario and the first woman elected Chief of Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. The Commissioner of the Indian Commission of Ontario from 1985 to 1989, she was the first non-Parliamentarian to sit on a House of Commons committee – a committee studying Indian self-government. Roberta has earned a litany of awards, including an Order of Canada and 24 honorary degrees.

Connie Walker – 2017 Woman of Distinction, Media Award

Connie Walker is at the forefront of Canadian journalism reporting on the disproportionate rates of violence against Indigenous women in Canada and the embedded societal and systemic issues that surround these cases. As a Cree woman from the Okanese First Nation in Saskatchewan, Connie’s unique perspective fuels her passion for the topics she covers as a Senior Reporter in the Investigative Unit at CBC News. Connie helped launch CBC Indigenous, a web portal that has become a leading voice for coverage of Indigenous issues and the highly regarded and recognized interactive site: Missing & Murdered: Unsolved Cases of Indigenous Women and Girls. The team has won multiple awards including the 2016 Canadian Association of Journalists’ Don McGillivray award, a Canadian Screen Award and the prestigious Hillman Award.