A version of this article was published in Canadian Dimension Volume 43, Number 2. Feel free to leave your greetings in the comments section, below.
Happy Birthday, Prairie Lilies!
by Bernadette L. Wagner
Last year, in celebration of International Women’s Day, the Canadian Labour Congress and a collection of Saskatchewan’s labour organizations hosted an Equality Dinner in Regina. It provided opportunity for feminists old and new to come together with supportive brothers in a social setting. Those kinds of opportunities have been few in recent years. Feminism in Saskatchewan had taken a serious blow. The pseudo-progressive New Democratic Party of Saskatchewan targeted feminists working within the party. Feminist organizations struggled to keep doors open with incrementally less money. The once-thriving, Saskatchewan Action Committee on the Status of Women withered and died. The women’s movement in Saskatchewan seemed to stop moving.
Until last year, that is. At the dinner, after the food and speeches, an informal discussion began among those gathered. Sheila Roberts, a long-time activist, stood to raise a question. “Is there interest in starting a new women’s organization along the lines of Saskatchewan Working Women (SWW)?” she asked. SWW helped to put women’s issues on bargaining tables and made them known in the public sphere. My personal longing for organized feminist activity in the province made me stand up, speak in support, and call for a provincial women’s conference which would bring women together to share and network and speak to our issues.
Most women gathered liked the idea. Cara Banks, a feminist active in the Labour movement came up to me afterwards, saying we had to talk. Within six weeks we gathered a dozen women into my living room and brought to life the Prairie Lily Feminist Society. With an interim board of directors we decided to incorporate as a member-based non-profit corporation which would work to “promote an explicitly feminist analysis of issues, to educate and act in ways that are progressive and feminist and to interconnect with other individuals, groups and organizations who share our vision for change.” We also decided we wanted to be “a place where women could develop leadership skills, including public speaking, organizing, educating, agitating, and critically analyzing issues.” And, we felt it important that we “provide a place where we are free to debate issues from feminist perspectives and to develop policy responses as a collective.”
As if that wasn’t enough, we decided to plan a women’s symposium for Saskatoon in December 2008. To accomplish that would mean fundraising and organizing. Our connections to brothers in the trade union movement helped. Thanks to the support of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and other unions in the province, we had a manifesto and a bank account of more than five thousand dollars. By the middle of May, less than two months after the idea of a new women’s organization had been put forward, we had part-time paid staff to begin organizing and mobilizing for the symposium. Because of a personal injury, I had to completely remove myself from involvement in all organizations but that didn’t stop the “Lilies.” I passed my files along to Ann McCrorie and she carried our dreams forward into being.
On December 6 and 7, 2008 the Prairie Lily Feminist Society held its first provincial symposium for women in Saskatoon. Almost a hundred women from many Saskatchewan communities attended. A cursory glance at the evaluation forms suggest it was a great success and certainly something long overdue in the province. Keynote speaker, Morningstar Mercredi, opened the symposium. The storyteller, actress, social activist, researcher and author of “Morningstar: A Warrior’s Spirit” delivered a powerful message: “Lilies, step into your power.” It’s precisely the message Saskatchewan women needed to hear. In many ways, we had allowed our power to be usurped by male privilege. And so, we not only gathered but we also learned, connected, and got excited!
In workshop sessions we learned about the work that’s gone on around women who are missing, about peace activism, and working women. We connected around our spiritual work, our right to be assertive, our planet and our children. And, thanks to an activist roundtable, where representatives from women’s organizations shared with one another about their campaigns, we got excited! Stories from Oxfam, the Rebelles, la Fédération provincial des Fransaskoises, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Saskatoon Women’s Community Coalition, Real Renewal.org, the Sask Eco-Network, Amnesty International, the Canadian Childcare Advocacy Association, the Prairie Women’s Health Centre for Excellence, and Nancy Allan who sold Fair Trade goods during our event moved us.
The symposium was deliberately planned for the weekend of December 6, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. To mark the day the Prairie Lilies hosted a commemorative dinner, catered by Two Women from Burr. Those two women, Laurel and Marie, put on a fantastic spread wherever they cater with delicious locally-grown and organic foods. Following the dinner, the Saskatoon Women’s Community Coalition hosted a formal ceremony to honour the women killed in the Montreal Massacre and all women who face violence in their lives.
As with all good events, they seem to end too soon. The symposium’s closing sessions saw agreement in many areas. Among other things participants agreed to walk in support with women in Saskatchewan who are organizing around the issue of missing and murdered women and raised money for workers walking the picket line. We recognized that our power together is strong and so we will organize, fundraise, and lobby for women and their families. Participants identified areas they’d like to focus: balancing work and family; women’s sexuality; media training; lobbying; writing and debating resolutions; chairing meetings; fundraising; and online organizing were but a few.
At present, the Prairie Lily Feminist Society is looking forward to its first Annual General Meeting scheduled for Regina on March 7th. It will be our contribution to the 2009 International Women’s Day celebrations with a dinner, a silent auction, entertainment and a social. And we’re donating a portion of our proceeds to the Sisters in Spirit Saskatchewan campaign.
Though feminist activism in our province had suffered a blow, it did not die. Feminism is a-happening here! And of course, it would be. The personal is political.
Isn’t it amazing what can transpire in a year?