Women are a pillar of strength, and with International Women’s Day this March, the Express is featuring five more leaders, businesswomen in Vanderhoof and Saik’uz First Nation.
Last week, we had featured Lynne Stuart, Coun. Jackie Thomas, Theresa Philips, Dr. Rebecca Janssen and Ankie Nellen.
Vanderhoof entrepreneur Michelle Fehr says businesses should hire more women as they can be creative.
“We like to think on our feet. I do not think people should be afraid of us,” Fehr said, who comes from a family of entrepreneurs.
Although Fehr believes women empowerment is important, she thinks it might be a little difficult to get a breakthrough in terms of education.
“I think women empowerment is lacking, especially in smaller northern communities. At the forefront, there is limited opportunity for women. There is also some traditionalism in smaller communities as well,” she said.
She said women can achieve anything if they believe in themselves.
Fehr co-owns Dollar Central along with her husband. While her husband also has a construction firm, Fehr manages the store.
In terms of her hobbies, Fehr loves gardening, travelling and spending time with her family.
Originally from Ontario, Libby Hart started her teaching career in Ontario. She also worked with the Ministry of Education and currently is a principal at W.L. McLeod Elementary School.
Hart always wanted to work with kids and worked in summer camps as a teenager.
“I have never wanted to be anything except a teacher. I never planned to be a principal, it just happened,” Hart said.
She believes women empowerment means “being a role model for female kids that they can do anything and the world is open to them.”
When asked about the need for women leaders in Vanderhoof, she said, “In general, there is a huge value in having balance in everything. Whether it means more diversity, it is always great to have everyone represented.”
Meanwhile, Hart feels her family has always been supportive of her goals and dreams to continue her work with kids.
“I have been lucky that things have fallen into place for me,” she added.
She likes to engage in activities with her students, including hanging out with them, music and drama.
Jasmine Thomas is a councillor at Saik’uz First Nation and is running for re-election. She believes empowering women is essential towards addressing inequalities, misogyny and discrimination faced by several women, especially those who hold key leadership positions within their communities.
“Indigenous women in particular face unique disparities as a result of the ongoing systemic racism and colonial violence still present today. The final report from the national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls identifies 231 calls to justice that individuals, industries, institutions and various levels of governments can take to support the safety, security, health and well-being of women alike,” Thomas said.
“There is a need for more female leadership everywhere, not only in politics,” she added.
Thomas served her first term on all-female elected council for Saik’uz First Nation in 2017.
“It was the first time Saik’uz had an all-female chief and council. Vanderhoof had an all-male council,” she said.
Thomas remembers her late great-grandmother Dr. Sophie Thomas, who was the first female elected chief in the community in 1969, “during a time when the federal government was aiming to assimilate status First Nations.”
She considers her great-grandmother’s passion and determination to be her motivation towards the journey of leadership.
“I am honoured to have had so many amazing and supportive teachers from all walks of life,” she said.
Meanwhile, Thomas feels land-based activities, including harvesting traditional medicines and food rejuvenates her and helps her to maintain the connection with her ancestors and loved ones.
Recognizing women’s supreme role in the society, Saik’uz First Nations’ Chief Priscilla Mueller talked about the countless roles a woman plays in her day-to-day life.
“Women are under-represented on Vanderhoof council, but I do think they represent other organizations in our community very well, including CNC, MCFD, NVCS and CSFS,” Mueller said.
“I believe that every voice should be heard no matter who you are or your status,” she said.
While she expressed she does not have a formal education, she pointed out how humbled she is to learn from elders.
Mueller was raised by her grandmother Celina John, whom she calls “a heriditary chief and a very powerful and outspoken woman.”
“When I was growing up, she taught me a lot about being strong and to always know where I come from and who I was as a Saik’uz woman,” she said.
“Over the years, I sat on council for three terms and knew when it was time to run for chief. I have learned from leaders before me and leaders who mentored me and I appreciate that. I still have a lot to learn, but I am not afraid to speak on behalf of our community,” she added.
Mueller loves to keep herself engaged in several activities, including riding bicycle, going for a walk, cooking for loved ones and spending time with her granddaughters.
District of Vanderhoof councillor Cyndi Lauze moved to Vanderhoof in 2012 after purchasing Tatuk Lake Resort with her sister and husband.
Lauze believes Vanderhoof has many strong women leaders in various areas, including education, health, government and business.
“One particular area that I have observed a prevalence of women in leadership has been in volunteerism. The volunteer efforts of the women in our community have not only enhanced this community through arts, culture, and recreation, but have also been instrumental in welcoming newcomers and ensuring that everyone feels they have a place to belong here,” Lauze said.
She considers empowerment as an “opportunity to discover and then operate in your gifts, talents, strengths, and interests.”
“I believe every human being matters and has a unique role in our society and empowering the individual means treating all people with dignity and respect, even when they mess up or when there is disagreement,” she said.
Lauze has three children and 12 grandchildren. She grew up in northern Manitoba and moved to Vanderhoof from Saskatoon.
She worked as a school librarian in Manitoba and a teacher in Saskatoon. Currently, she is also a substitute teacher for SD91.
Lauze enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, water sports, spending time with family, singing with sister and travelling with husband.