A survivor of domestic abuse, Barb Ward-Burkitt (also known as Wahiyow Cawapata Scoo meaning Far See Woman) of the Mckay First Nation knows first hand the violence against Indigenous women and girls.
Trapped in a violent marriage for two decades, it was not until 1989 that she found the inner-strength to leave without looking back.
“That seems like a longtime ago but in some respect it’s like it happened yesterday,” she said. “It’s a long story as it is I think for most women across our country that are in relationships and situations of violence. You hear that said all the time why don’t they just leave, and if it only was it that easy.”
Victims are often emotionally drained with feelings of hopelessness, isolation, shame and fear running high. The process of becoming a survivor takes time, she said.
“The reality is that some of our women never get out of those relationships ever and some women lose their lives, so it’s very complex, and my own personal story is very complex as well.”
Ward-Burkitt has been actively involved in the friendship centre movement since 1972, and is the executive director of the Prince George Native Friendship Centre. In 2010, she received the province’s highest honour and was invested into the Order of British Columbia.
Among having been a faculty mentor in field programs at Simon Fraser University and childcare worker for the Quesnel School District, she has also been the president of Prince George Nechako Aboriginal Employment and Training Association.
On June 4, the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation announced she had been appointed as the new chair of the Minister’s Advisory Council on Indigenous Women (MACIW).
Ward-Burkitt will be replacing outgoing chair Chasity Davis, who has chaired MACIW since 2014.
“She’s an amazing young woman so I feel like I’ve got some pretty big shoes to fill,” she said of Davis.
“But nonetheless I’m ready and excited and I’m just so honored that I get to be in this particular role as the lead of a council that is so incredibly important to Indigenous women and girls in this province and across the country.”
MACIW was established following the Collaboration to End Violence: National Aboriginal Women’s Forum in 2011 which was co-hosted by the province and Native Women’s Association of Canada.
Through its 10 members, MACIW provides advice to government on how to improve the quality of life for Indigenous women in B.C.
“I think as long as that continues to happen where Indigenous women don’t have that voice I think that that pandemic of violence across our country is going to continue to grow, that murdered and missing indigenous women is going to continue to happen and it needs to stop,” she said, noting the impacts of colonization, residential school and the Indian Act run deep.
She added she hopes further investments will be made and the stories told during the National Inquiry in Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women do not go unheard as the Federal government puts the release of the National Action Plan on hold.
“Violence against women and girls never goes away. It’s not standing still for COVID-19 and we want to make sure that we continue the work that we’ve been doing so that we don’t lose that momentum.”