Caroline (Kalo) Sylvester, a L’nu woman from Membertou First Nation, says feminism in Indigenous communities is needed to restore balance.
“Our voices as women are important, our stories are important to be heard and I think it brings so much balance when women lead things or when women voice things,” said the 24-year-old.
She was a panelist at the “Let’s talk Feminism” event earlier this week at the Old Sydney building where Sylvester explained the need to return to a matriarchal society in Mi’kmaq communities.
Matriarchal societies are when women are at the centre of the power structure and Sylvester thinks a return to that society is important for healing. She hopes to see more women have seats in the current chief and council system. And she says seeing Indigenous women hold those seats would be empowering.
“Seeing other women just being amazing and being leaders in their communities, that really empowers me,” said Sylvester.
She thinks the old model is crucial and is done in places like Kahnwà:ke. The Kanyen’kehà:ka, Mohawk, community has a clan mother system which is an essential decision-making body throughout the Haudenosaunee confederacy.
Sylvester says empowerment comes from having your voice heard and in a balanced community that means voices from women, men, elders and children.
“What makes me feel empowered is being able to share my personal experiences with someone and help them through their healing journey,” said Sylvester.
She felt empowered when she got to share her story at the event, a story of past toxic and abusive relationships. Sylvester felt moved when others began sharing similar stories. And for her that was an important start for healing together.
Sylvester says men can help by healing themselves and to start uplifting and listening to women in their lives.
“It’s important for men to take that stand, to be side by side with our women, instead of in front of our women,” said Sylvester.
She’s raising a two-year-old son and is instilling him with feminist values. Sylvester says it's important for him to see her being kind to other women, uplifting them and letting them know they’ve been heard.
She says an important aspect of feminism is respecting Mother Earth. Sylvester said Mother Earth feels and hurts too so living sustainably is imperative.
“That's something I am working on right now. It's so important for us to help heal our mother Earth because we’re all healing too,” said Sylvester.
In the meantime, she is working towards finishing her Bachelor of Arts and Science in Environment degree at Cape Breton University. She also looks forward to meeting more Indigenous women.
"Every time I met a strong Indigenous woman, no matter which nation they’re coming from I always felt so empowered and also so emotional because I just felt like I was in the presence of someone so powerful,” said Sylvester.
The Ann Terry Society plans to hold feminism talks throughout the year with support from the Old Sydney Society.
Oscar Baker III is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position being funded by the federal government. He lives in Sydney.