Spotlight Interview with President Bonnie Brant
Bonnie has worked with NCNW since its inception and has been working and volunteering with the organization in various capacities for almost 40 years and most recently, serving on the Board as President. She was born on Six Nations and has lived off-reserve all of her life and considers herself an ‘urban Indian.’ A mother and grandmother, Bonnie has been involved in Native political activities since the late 1960s. She feels that Native awareness has come a long way since then. Bonnie’s eight grandchildren live off-reserve with the oldest in university and the youngest being her newborn grandchild. Read on to get to know Bonnie as we do here at NCNW.
Q: What are some ways in which you like to celebrate your Indigenous Heritage?
A: I like to reconnect with family members on the reserve, attend pow-wows and connect with people through social activities held by the Chapter or at one of the local Native Centres. Staying connected stops you from feeling isolated and from feeling sorry for yourself. Three of my grandsons having been playing lacrosse since they were three and four years old. The pandemic has made it really tough for them and their team members as they aren’t able to play. Sports teams help keep kids off of the street and they are a great hobby to engage in for a healthy lifestyle and for the connection to their culture.
Q: Who was or is an Indigenous woman that has been significant in your life and why?
A: In 1969, there was an outspoken Mohawk woman, Kahn-Tineta Horn. I’ve also met one of her daughters, Waneek, who is also a public speaker. Back then she was fighting for the rights of Native women who were married to non-Native men and she and her children were robbed of their Native Status considered non-Native in the eyes of the government.
There is also Jeannette Corbiere–Lavell, one of the original members of ONWA (Ontario Native Women’s Association). She is an excellent role model who is always pushing for language, culture, and women’s rights.
Locally, we are fortunate to have had Wendy Sturgeon, who has been with the organization for over twenty-five years. Her dedication to the Native Women’s Organization, and her awareness of the political scene, and representation at the Provincial organization has been such a benefit to NCNW.
Q: When and how did you start working and volunteering with the Indigenous community? Why is it important to you?
A: In the late 1960’s, when Native awareness was becoming an issue, the Native Centres were just being established. I began my involvement with the St. Catharines Native Centre. It was a matter of coming together. We always say hello when we see another Native person walking down the street – that’s just the way it is. It started with small steps and creating clubs so that there was a place to hang out with those people you identify with as is in any culture. One of the major events that I became involved with was the annual border crossing, which is still practiced today. It is more of a localized issue because of the Jay Treaty which acknowledged that Six Nations Peoples have rights on both sides of the border. There were other issues in different places, but it was just a matter of sitting with your people.
Q: When and how did you first get involved with the Chapter?
A: I was first involved with the St. Catharines Indian Centre and later the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre, which was an offshoot where little groups of people were coming together with common interests. Even the sports teams had our kids coming together and keeping them busy and happy which is the best thing for them. Now we cover a whole spectrum where our people come in as babies right up until we’re seniors and elders.
Later on, NCNW had just formed (even though we were active for a few years before its incorporation). My daughter was then only two years old, and now I am now pushing 40 years with this organization. Lisa Martin (Vice President), Val Ghosen (Treasurer) and myself have all been active since the beginning. Some have never heard of three people being active this long. We do what we believe in, we’re not paid. It’s just really nice to see results; creating programs and seeing them through in their success. This is the most satisfying part.
Q: Why do you believe it is important for Indigenous women to have organizations like NCNW where we are governed by Indigenous women?
A: I think isolation is a terrible thing especially if you’re a single mother running a household on your own and taking care of children. Having an organization just to answer simple questions and point you in the right direction or if you have a child who needs assistance is necessary. Organizations like ours help them make connections and find out where to go for help.
Q: What is your most memorable accomplishment in working with NCNW? What is your next goal?
A: Over the years, I have seen a lot of programs come to fruition, like our daycare centre, Youth-In-Transition program, and the SkaBe program. We own all our resources and I think that’s a really good accomplishment. Our founding members worked hard to fundraise so that we would have a safe and comfortable environment. Another thing I am happy with is that we started a scholarship fund early on and have had it running all the way to the present. It used to cover Canadian and American Indigenous students and we’d give out a few scholarships each year to give the kids some incentive.
As for our next goal – what others need to understand is that it is currently a matter of survival. Our workers are still working and clients are still calling for advice amidst this pandemic. Programs aren’t running like we’d originally planned they would but services and information are still there. We have to keep the work going no matter the circumstances or challenges we face because of the essential nature of these services.
Q: What is the most important message you would like to get across with your work and involvement with the Indigenous community?
A: The most important would be the connections to our roots. Right now there’s a big push on gardening, growing your own plants, preserving food; to not be so dependent. Our culture teaches us how to respect Mother Earth and be self-sufficient.
Q: What is an important lesson others can learn about the Indigenous culture and people?
A: There is safety in numbers. Our kids in high school have clubs and courses they can take that are connected to being Indigenous. This wasn’t happening when I was young. It’s about promoting your self-identity. There’s no shame in saying that you’re Indigenous today but there was once a time when it was.
Q: In your opinion, how can someone become the best ally possible to the Indigenous community?
A: It’s a matter of respecting our identity. Respect for our ceremonies and the ability to have our own gathering spaces. There are many opportunities for others to see and appreciate our culture such as going to pow-wows or Native socials. It’s not like we’re a secret society, we’re just a different society.
Q: What do you feel the Indigenous community or Indigenous women need from the Canadian government the most at this point in time?
A: Recognition, plain and simple.