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Equay-wuk celebrates its beginning, 25 years later

Thursday July 10, 2014
Bryan Phelan/Wawatay News

Lisa Beardy, left, of Muskrat Dam and the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Women’s Council, presented an anniversary gift to Equay-wuk’s Clara Carroll, chairwoman, and Darlene Angeconeb, acting director. “Equay-wuk has grown and continues to be a strong advocate and voice for women in the North,” Beardy said. “There have been definite, positive outcomes that Equay-wuk has achieved.”

Equay-wuk (Women’s Group) celebrated its 25th anniversary by honouring its founders.

To mark the anniversary on July 5, Equay-wuk hosted families at the picnic area between the Sioux Lookout baseball diamonds for a barbecue, games, singing and dancing.

When the hundred or so people gathered had their fill of burgers, hot dogs and salads, Darlene Angeconeb, Equay-wuk’s acting director, introduced the guests of honour. They included three of the women responsible for starting Equay-wuk back in 1989 – Felicia Waboose, Francine Pellerin and Vivien Green. Representing the group’s original leader, the late Sarah Melvin of Webequie First Nation, was her brother, Ronnie Beaver. Clara Carroll, chairwoman of the Equay-wuk board of directors, presented the special guests with 25th anniversary plaques and gifts of thanks.

These days, Equay-wuk, a non-profit organization serving women, youth and families in 31 First Nations in northwestern Ontario, offers practical support programs for job readiness, community wellness and women’s leadership.

The seeds for organization were planted when Melvin lived in Weagmow Lake and invited women to her house for sewing circles, Angeconeb explained. As they sewed, the women talked about what was happening in their lives, including family violence.

“At the time, there were no services for women; there was no shelter,” said Angeconeb.

When Melvin moved to Sioux Lookout, the plight of those women stayed with her. To help those who continued to experience family violence in remote communities, she Waboose, Pellerin, Green and others established Equay-wuk (Women’s Group). Green, who now lives in Toronto, wrote a successful funding proposal for the group’s first gathering in Sioux Lookout.

Equay-wuk has been empowering women ever since, through conferences, workshops, training programs and manuals, all with the objective of supporting Aboriginal women in building healthy families and communities for their children.

Waboose served as Equay-wuk’s director for 15 years, and Angeconeb highlighted her role in the opening of the First Step Women’s Shelter in Sioux Lookout.

“One of the last things Sarah said to me when I went see her at the hospital in Thunder Bay … was ‘Never forget the women up North,” Waboose recalled. “Always try your best to support them.’ ”

Waboose said those words always guided her work as Equay-wuk director.

“I’d like to thank Sarah. I’m sure she’s looking down and just smiling at us for celebrating what she started.”

(For the full story and more photos from Equay-wuk’s 25th anniversary gathering, please see the fall edition of Sagatay, the inflight magazine of Wasaya Airways, available in August.)

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