Mar 10, 2017

International Women’s Day event inspires, empowers CUPE activists

PORT MOODY—This year’s CUPE Lower Mainland International Women’s Day event, held at the Old Mill Boathouse overlooking the east end of Burrard Inlet, was empowering, enlightening, poignant and entertaining as CUPE sisters shared their knowledge, stories, and music in celebration of this special day. 

The event, emceed by CUPE 23 member Kathy Boyce, opened with a welcome and prayer of thanks from Ojibwe Elder Joanne Foote, a soon-to-be retired HEU health care worker who sits on CUPE’s National Aboriginal Council, which promotes and defends the rights of all Aboriginal workers.

Shelley Saje Ricci, a CUPE 728 activist, recalled her recent experience sitting at a roundtable with 50 aboriginal women and a few men to talk about the missing and murdered women.

Ricci reminded everyone of the life-giving power that the ability to carry a baby in their bodies gives women. “We are the backbone of our homes, our communities, our nation,” she said.

Ricci, also sharing Ojibwe teachings, explained that we acknowledge aboriginal territories at public events in honour of the ancestors who walked before us. She asked those present to think about the strong women in their lives who came before them – mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers – and encouraged everyone to say their names aloud. The room was filled with energy as women raised their arms and called out different names in unison.

The final speaker, Coquitlam-Maillardville NDP MLA Selina Robinson, reminded everyone that women have come a long way by raising their voices collectively. In B.C., 102 women have been elected to the legislature. Referring to the disparity in wages between men and women, Robinson said there is still much work to do to make things better for women.

Reminding her audience that only 62 days remained before the provincial election, Robinson declared that John Horgan and the NDP would make life better for all British Columbians. An NDP government, she said, will raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, bring in a comprehensive poverty reduction plan and $10-a-day child care, and develop a plan for housing.

Music by Renae Morriseau and Jenifer Brousseau from the group M’Girl delighted and entertained everyone over lunch. Songs included original material and traditional music accompanied by guitar and drums. M’Girl closed their set with a round dance song that had everyone on their feet.

The event closed with the singing of “Bread and Roses”.  Participants were invited to take roses home as gifts for other women, and bagged lunches were available.

The success of the CUPE Metro District Council event was due in large part to the 18 volunteers from 10 locals who organized, set up and participated in the event. CUPE BC Diversity Vice President representing aboriginal workers, Debra Merrier, was on hand to assist participants in making cedar bracelets and dream catchers.

Before the event, the sisters took a moment to remember and honour Brenda Coombs of CUPE 15, who recently passed away. She was a key organizer in the annual event and a passionate advocate for women. Susan Heard of CUPE 561 called on everyone to carry on Sister Brenda’s legacy by defending and supporting anyone they may see being bullied or belittled.

Watch the video of CUPE members talking about women in the labour movement.

Statement from the BCFED on International Women’s Day

Visit the CUPE BC gallery to view photos.

COPE 491