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COLUMN: Will Simcoe North see a return of the matriarchy?

For the first time in history, two women from local Chippewa Tri-Council are running in federal election in 'what may well be a new pathway toward healing'

Mewzha (Mehw-zhah) Long ago, travelling across the hardened molten rock that became the Canadian Shield, across the lakes, rivers, streams, and lands that would eventually support the world economy in the trading of furs and other natural resources, were the Anishinaabeg Tri-Council. They were a strong resilient society.

Today, they are the Beausoleil First Nation on Christian Island, the Chippewas of Rama First Nation, and the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation.

In the beginning, as the teachings have us know, the Anishinaabeg were a society structured around matriarchs and built around the teachings of the Anang Akiwan (Ah-nung Ah-kih-won), the star world.

This was where the Doodemag (Doe-deh-mug) Clans were born and where they still reside today. There are constellations that represent our relationship to the star world and every clan is depicted in those stars.

The Anishinaabeg governance was born from that same place. And within that society was a democracy - a democracy that took into account the wishes of everyone, from the grandmothers on down.

Those wishes were then made known through the Clan spokespersons, the Ogemaawag (Oh-geh-maw-whug), the Chiefs, and disseminated to each and every person.

This democracy was practised across this land and into the heart of what eventually would come to be known as Canada, Ontario, then, the federal riding of Simcoe North.

Fast forward through thousands of years of peace and co-existence within the natural world as the Anishinaabeg were instructed to do by the Creator. Past the first contact with Europeans and the subsequent loss of culture, loss of land, loss of self-governance, the Residential School experience, and all the horror that it carried with it into today.

And we find a people struggling to heal from the cataclysmic collision that changed their world forever.

As a new day dawns, we see the rise of what may well be a new pathway toward healing and the breathing of life into that dormant democracy of the past. We find ourselves at a new point in history. A new point in that resilience.

Most would not realize that history is being made in the federal riding of Simcoe North. For the first time ever, two members from that same Anishinaabeg Tri-Council (which the English re-dubbed the Chippewa Tri-Council), have been nominated to represent two separate federal parties in this fall's election. And both are women.

Krystal Brooks, who has roots in Rama, is representing the Green Party while Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, who has roots in Georgina Island, is the Liberal Party candidate.

I asked each of them three questions;

Have you given much thought to the historical significance of your candidacy considering there are two women from the Chippewa Tri-Council communities vying for election?

Krystal Brooks
“Yes, I am aware. I believe the Liberal candidate and I have many similar things to offer in seeking the position of North Simcoe Member of Parliament. She offers a vast knowledge and contribution to her community as well as Rama, where I am from.

I’m honoured to be in this running with her. I offer a vast amount of personal experience. We are both hoping to represent our communities in similar ways and I believe that we are each capable. To have an Indigenous voice represent the constituents of Simcoe North in parliament would be beautiful to witness."

Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux
“I think it's good and appropriate since our people have lived on this territory since time immemorial and it make sense that we would step up to represent not only our own nation, but the people who have chosen to live here as well.

The Tri-Council communities have done a fantastic job of raising the levels of western education as well as restoring the traditional stories and values of the Indigenous peoples.

We have demonstrated how adept we are at balancing the past with the present and looking towards the future. We are a people who honour our elders, our veterans, our women and our children, just like everyone else.

By extension of our innate humanity, we honour all of the people living in the Simcoe North riding and the rest of Canada. We have not let historical events remove us from our lands, and we understand the need to protect the future of everyone so all can thrive. Women are very good at reconciliation and understanding the needs of families, and having two Indigenous women run for Parliament demonstrates how ready we are to work for a more inclusive and sustainable future.”

Do you have any indigenous role models that you can say have influenced you to seek public office?

Krystal Brooks
“I have many. Cynthia (The Liberal candidate) may not be aware but, she is one of countless influences. There are too many to name. I admire strength, courage, wisdom and determination. These are things we are gifted with as Indigenous people.

Other role models I hold dear are Dawn Noganosh, Sarah Cunningham, Brooke Morrow and Amanda Dale. These are not household names. They are individuals who have overcome obstacles and decided to help those around them overcome obstacles as well. These Indigenous women do not hold power in a government sense but, hold much inner power and strength that they share with their communities. That is a role model in my opinion.”

Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux
"Well, I hail from a family of very powerful women, with Odawa, Pottawatomi, Chippewa and Mohawk ancestry. I am hugely proud of my lineage from all directions and feel very strongly that I have benefitted from observing and listening to my mother, June Pitawanaquat (nee Esquimaux), Wanda Big Canoe and her sister Lorraine Big Canoe, and early on in my life, an American Indian woman named Ada Deer who was the first Indigenous woman to fill a top government roll at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington.

Lorraine McRae from Rama has also been a positive role model for me and the list goes on and on. I also have a positive and enduring relationship with Carolyn Bennett, a long-time MP who has encouraged me to run for office and trusts that my judgment and skills are absolutely fit for this very important work."

What do you say to Indigenous detractors who see an Indigenous person in Canada’s Parliament as merely someone who is joining the colonial system?

Krystal Brooks
"I am not seeking to represent the government. I am seeking to represent my people, the constituents of Simcoe North and raise awareness. I believe in self- governance and I will advocate for that.

An issue I struggle with is the force of swearing in to God and the Queen. I swear by the Creator of all beings and my people and the constituents of Simcoe North."

Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux
"I know courage is the first empowerment and for me I always place it as the first grandfather teaching. My personal life experience has taught me that it takes courage to stand up, raise my voice, my gender, my skills and my Indigenous ancestry on behalf of my own community and now that of the larger Simcoe North population.

Joining Parliament is not about glory, it's about hard work, dedication and being a positive role model to all young people. It's not enough to sit back and complain, we all need to get up and get it done, whatever it is.

Humanity has several crises at hand, global warming, emerging water wars, a global pandemic with possibly more to come, child welfare concerns, the need to assist other countries as they develop and protect their own fragile democracies, intractable poverty in far too many families, and a need to protect a health care system in this country that we are all very blessed to have.

It may be a colonial system, but I will do my level best to Indigenize it, just as we have collectively Indigenized the educational systems of Canada over the last 30 years or more. We bring restorative practices, humane policies, and a holistic worldview.

This is not about rabid partisan politics for me, it's about ensuring there is collaboration where necessary, and about working hard to re-balance access to education, economic security, housing and social wellbeing for all."


The voters of this riding will elect a representative to represent them in Ottawa. Will they be bold enough to have a member of that historic Tri-Council represent them? Or even bolder still, signal a return to a matriarchy by choosing a woman? History is readying itself.

Jeff Monague is a former Chief of the Beausoleil First Nation on Christian Island, former Treaty Research Director with the Anishnabek (Union of Ontario Indians), and veteran of the Canadian Forces. Monague, who taught the Ojibwe language with the Simcoe County District School Board and Georgian College, is currently the Superintendent of Springwater Provincial Park. His column appears every other Monday.


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