A Message of Hope: Seeking Social Justice for Indigenous Women
Indigenous women's activist Dr. Dawn Lavell-Harvard delivers 25th annual Margaret Laurence Lecture
Large scale and widespread change in society is possible, and sometimes all it takes to make that happen is for one person to stand up against social injustice. That was the message conveyed by Dr. Dawn Lavell-Harvard as she gave the 25th Annual Margaret Laurence Lecture on Wednesday, March 29, 2017 at Traill College's Bagnani Hall.
Hosted by the Department of Gender & Women's Studies, the annual lecture honours Margaret Laurence, a Canadian literary icon and social justice activist who was Trent University’s fourth chancellor. The public lecture series addresses topics that were important to Ms. Laurence, including peace, ecology, literature, and feminism.
Dr. Lavell-Harvard's thought-provoking talk, entitled "Indigenous Women's Activism: Moving Towards a More Just Society," stirred the emotions of a full house of students, faculty and community members that included the Honourable Maryam Monsef ‘03, M.P. for Peterborough-Kawartha and Minister of Status of Women.
An advocate for Indigenous women's rights and director of the First Peoples House of Learning, Dr. Lavell-Harvard said it felt surreal to be giving the Margaret Laurence lecture at a prestigious university. "I think of myself as that child from a reserve on Manitoulin Island who once had the truant officer come around because I'd missed three months of school," she said, noting it was an indication of how far society has progressed.
Describing Indigenous women as some of the most disadvantaged in Canadian society, Dr. Lavell-Harvard provided an overview of the poverty, discrimination and violence they continue to face. But she also delivered a message of hope, citing the example of her mother who helped to change the law which took Indian status away from Indigenous women when they married non-status men.
Reminding her audience that drops of water can erode mountains over time, she said "At one drop at a time, we can make a difference if we all stand up together and we speak out against racism and injustice."
Speaking before her lecture, Dr. Lavell-Harvard described Trent as a perfect fit for her as an Indigenous women's advocate. "It's an environment where they are actively creating social and environmental activists and looking at women's and Indigenous issues," she said.
Minister Monsef said the lecture gave her hope, noting "Trent has been ahead of its time on many important issues, like climate change and reconciliation, and it is very fitting for Trent to continue to provide that leadership at a time when the rest of the country is learning the true history of this land and mobilizing to be part of the reconciliation that needs to take place."
Heidi Burns, a graduate student in the Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies M.A. program, remarked on the relevance of public lectures to students' educational experience. "Faculty and students at Trent have been leaders in bringing together Indigenous activism and feminism for a long time. As a graduate student, events like this are important for connecting with the community and sharing ideas," she said.
Posted on Monday, April 3, 2017