Brewing Change: Local professor inaugurates a new film festival

This article was written by Rhonda Kronyk and was originally published here.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Canadian women getting the right to vote. In recognition of these hard-fought battles, local professor Michelle Brewer is inaugurating a film festival called You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down, which will run for three consecutive Tuesdays beginning March 8, 2016, or International Women’s Day. Each evening includes a feature film and a subsequent discussion with community leaders.

The first screening of a film called Suffragette, is inspired by the women who put their lives, families and jobs at risk fighting for the right to vote. Representatives from the SkirtsAfire Festival will speak; Sally Issenman from Fair Vote, City Councillor Bev Esslinger, and author Joan Sangster will provide opening remarks. Margo Goodhand, former editor-in-chief of the Edmonton Journal, will host a panel discussion called “Edmonton Women Authors in Conversation.” The discussion will highlight the achievements of 15 of Edmonton’s best-known female authors including Alexis Kienlen, Caterina Edwards, Janice MacDonald, Kate Boorman, Wendy McGrath, Margaret MacPherson, and Gail Sidonie Sobat.

The second and third films focus on the nearly 1,200 missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. Brewer hopes this will be the biggest night of the festival: “We want to open the conversation and not ghettoize this issue to Indigenous people. Edmonton has the opportunity to be at the forefront of reconciliation.” The evening will begin with opening remarks from Councillor Scott McKeen, Muriel Stanley Venne, president and founder of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women and Lorna Martin, the daughter of a missing woman and the Director of the Aboriginal Centre at McEwan University. The two films are Spirit of the Bluebird and Unnatural & Accidental. Following the screenings there will be a question and answer session with the filmmakers, Muriel Stanley Venne, and Roxanne Blood. The evening also includes an art show called Body Politic, curated by Stacey Cann of Harcourt House, and live music.

Brewer is a Philosophy professor at Grant MacEwan University, and a Research Coordinator in the area of Aboriginal Health and Wellness for the Faculty of Nursing in affiliation with the Unit for Philosophical Research in Nursing (uPRN) at the University of Alberta. Brewer was inspired to create the Festival after she saw the film She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, the story of the women who began the feminist movement of the 1960s in the United States. Brewer says many of their activities focus on women who want to create and orient women’s lives and shows how a small group of women can change the world. She hopes that viewers leave the festival inspired, and armed with practical information about how they can contribute to the modern women’s movement. “I want to have a conversation about the huge advancements we have made, but acknowledge that we are still limited and that we even face new limitations. I think that before we can change the world, we have to change ourselves.”

Edmonton’s first women’s film festival launches at Metro Cinema

This article was originally published here.

A new Edmonton film festival gives women’s empowerment a place on the silver screen.

“Its a chance to celebrate how far we’ve come, and have a conversation,” said Michelle Brewer, a women’s rights activist who is launching the city’s first women’s film festival. “But also to recognize that our wins have been hard fought. And going forward, the things we want will likely have to be hard fought again.”

Brewer said the festival, You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down, celebrates International Women’s Day and marks 100 years since women were given the right to vote.

“For me, it seems like a long time ago,” Brewer said during a Tuesday interview on CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM. “But to see a movie from the ’60s and ’70s, it felt a lot closer and a lot more inspiring that people can make a difference.

“I was inspired by seeing a film — She’s beautiful when she’s angry — on what a small group of people can do when they stand up for what they believe in.”

Four films related to women’s suffrage and missing indigenous women will be screened at the festival, which runs over three consecutive Tuesdays — March 8, March 15 and March 22 — at Metro Cinema.

In addition to film screenings, female authors from Edmonton will host a panel discussion, and local artists will exhibit their work.

Brewer hopes to provide an avenue for women to come together and help the community at large recognize that gender inequality continues. She points to a recent report that examined money, violence, political leadership, health and education, and determined that Edmonton is among the worst major cities in Canada to be a woman.

“If we want changes, it won’t be easy,” said Brewer. “Change for women comes from a lot of women and men working together.”

Each night of the festival will act as a fundraiser. Proceeds will benefit a women’s suffrage centennial event, the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council for its women’s initiatives, and the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women.

“I think we can judge our society on how we treat our most vulnerable. And on international women’s day, I think the most vulnerable women in Canada are indigenous women.”

International Women’s Day: Celebrations highlight how much further we have to go

This article was written by Nakita Valerio and originally published here.

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day (IWD), and many Canadians are celebrating what we believe to be achievements made by women, and the gains made for gender equality, in our country.

It is also a moment for us to remember heroines like the Famous Five Alberta women, whose petition to the Supreme Court of Canada led to women being legally considered “persons.” However, in the midst of our celebration, it is easy to forget that a notion of “inclusive” gender equality, embracing many different demographics of women in our communities including veiled Muslim women, indigenous women, women of colour, and others on the margins, remains an important and necessary goal.

It is easy to forget that it was one of the Famous Five, Emily Murphy, who remarked about Chinese Canadians: “We do not understand these people from the Orient, nor what ideas are hid behind their dark inscrutable faces.”

Divisive debate still triggered by what Muslim women wear

IWD is marked differently around the world. However, as we are celebrating, it shows how much further we have to go. It calls attention to the fact that the question of what a Muslim woman wears (whether the hijab, niqab or burka) still generates such furious, divisive debate among Canadians.

Nakita Valerio

Just last month, a woman wearing a burka was refused service at a North Edmonton business, rallying support and condemnation from both sides of the public debate. It was only recently that the federal government launched an official inquiry into the status of missing and murdered indigenous women.

IWD accentuates the fact that equality for women in this country is still heavily tied to the individual’s background, religious, racial, or otherwise.

Additionally, this inequity is highlighted this year as Women’s Day coincides with celebrations of Alberta’s 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, when Alberta joined Manitoba and Saskatchewan as the first provinces to allow women the right to vote in provincial elections.

Unequal women’s rights

While an important move in the history of the province, such an anniversary further reminds us of the unequal distribution of women’s rights because suffrage was applied unevenly at the provincial and federal levels.

The suffrage provisions of 1916 did not include Japanese and Chinese women who weren’t legally franchised until 1948, nor did it include indigenous peoples, whose suffrage also came unevenly across the country and who weren’t fully franchised until 1960.

I argue that some of the rhetoric surrounding IWD, and other events that are not necessarily promoting a brand of “intersectional” or inclusive feminism, depends on a particular vision of liberation that does not recognize a woman’s own voice.

Nowhere has this been more prevalent that in debates around whether or not head coverings are intrinsically oppressive or liberating, which continue to plague Canadian women of all backgrounds including Muslims, Sikhs and South Asians.

New feminism is based on the understanding that there is nothing inherently liberating about one expression over another. Rather, the liberation is in a woman’s choice and part of modern gender equality rests on the acceptance of diverse womanhood on her own terms, regardless of one’s background.

Edmonton hosts ongoing women’s interfaith discussions

Edmonton, thankfully, is a host to ongoing women’s interfaith conversation groups, Muslim-indigenous education workshops, and public school lectures on the status of women and veiling in Islam.

We are also lucky to have Metro Cinema’s three-night film festival titled, You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down, starting March 8, hosted here in Edmonton and supportive of dozens of local female artists and women’s social justice organizations in the city.

Indeed, local advocacy groups have taken to creating spaces that are safe and welcoming for women of all backgrounds. One such group, the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, views the day as an opportunity to engage in critical dialogue with women across the province.

Ultimately, the critique of International Women’s Day serves to unify the mandate of groups who attempt to celebrate the diversity of women on their own terms and to continue to sound the call for a new, inclusive feminism to take hold everywhere.

Nakita Valerio is pursuing graduate studies in Jewish-Islamic studies (history) at the University of Alberta. She was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s 2015 Top 30 Under 30 and was awarded the QEII scholarship for graduate students. She is also director of public policy with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Feminist launches Edmonton women’s film festival

This article was written by Sanam Islam of Metro News and was originally published here.

It’s been a hundred years since women in Alberta got the right to vote, and an Edmonton feminist believes that’s worth celebrating.

“Amazing things have certainly happened since Alberta’s suffrage, but it’s a day for conversation on how far things still have yet to go,” said Michelle Brewer, a women’s rights activist who is launching Edmonton’s first annual women’s film festival on International Women’s Day.

“Calgary and Edmonton are rated among the worst major cities in Canada to be a woman, and that’s serious. Intimate partner violence is a major thing in Alberta, and pay equity as well,” Brewer said.

Brewer said she hopes the You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down film festival will provide an avenue for women to come together to get inspired, mobilized and support each other to make change in the community.

Four films — from Alberta, B.C., the U.S. and the U.K. — related to women’s suffrage and missing indigenous women will be shown as part of the three-night festival being held at the Metro Cinema on March 8, 15 and 22.

In addition to film screenings, sixteen female authors from Edmonton will hold a panel discussion, local artists will showcase their work, and female activists will speak throughout the festival.

Some of the proceeds will go toward a women’s suffrage centennial event, the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women and the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council for its women’s initiatives.

As a Jewish indigenous woman, Brewer said it was important for her to support women from diverse backgrounds.

“I have friends across many cultures, and I want to support them and see them thrive,” she said.

How Native American Women Inspired The Feminist Movement

This article originally appeared here.

Where did early suffragists ever get the idea that women should have the same rights as men? The answer may be in their own backyards—in the egalitarian society created by Native Americans

“One day, a [Native American] woman gave away a fine quality horse.” The audience of women’s rights activists listened attentively as ethnographer Alice Fletcher addressed the first International Council of Women. The scene was Washington, D.C. The date was March 1888. “Will your husband like to have you give the horse away?” Fletcher recalled asking the woman, shocked. The Native woman’s “eyes danced,” Fletcher told the suffragists and, “breaking into a peal of laughter, she hastened to tell the story to the others gathered in her tent, and I became the target of many merry eyes. Laughter and contempt met my explanation of the white man’s hold upon his wife’s property.”

Fletcher had forgotten just for a moment that she was with Native, not white women. No white woman would dare give away her family’s horse. In fact, married white women had no legal right to their own possessions or property in most states, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. Far beyond simply lacking rights, married American women had no legal identity. They couldn’t vote, have guardianship of their own children, or have autonomy over their own bodies. A wife and mother didn’t exist in the eyes of the law; she became one with her husband the moment they were joined in matrimony. In fact, husbands were legally within their rights to beat their wives if they chose. Yet for most women, getting married was the only way to support oneself. Most jobs were closed to them and the few available ones paid half (or less) of the wages that men were paid for the same work. The founding document of America’s women’s movement, the 1848 “Declaration of Sentiments,” summed it up well: “He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.”

Haudenosaunee women grinding corn or dried berries, with infant on cradleboard in background

Women’s second-class position in Western society had been in place for centuries. Even in the 1800s, most white people were still guided by the Biblical notion that God made Adam first, then Eve as a helpmate. When she was disobedient in Genesis 3:16, the text stated that Eve and all women after her would be under the authority of men as punishment. “Thy desire shall be to thy husband,” The Bible said, “and he shall rule over thee.”

But the early feminists had to wonder: Was woman’s degraded position truly God-ordained as a punishment for Eve’s sin? Did it develop over time, with women depending upon men’s greater strength and wisdom to survive? If either was true, the oppression of women would be universal, they reasoned. Once the early suffragist-feminists discovered the authority and respect women held in Native American nations, however, they knew beyond a doubt that their subjugation was man-made, and they resolved to fight for a similar world of equality for themselves.

Two of the earliest founders of the U.S. women’s movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage, saw the egalitarian Native model first-hand while growing up in New York, the land base of the Haudenosaunee—a label denoting the five nations of the Iroquois confederacy: the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca—later joined by the Tuscarora. Native women were the agriculturalists of their tribes, and from North to South America they collectively raised corn, beans, and squash. Their responsibility for the survival of the Nation, through the creation of life and the food that sustained life, gave women a position of equality in their society that white women could only dream of.

“In the councils of the Iroquois every adult male or female had a voice upon all questions brought before it,” Stanton reported in The National Bulletin in 1891. “The American aborigines were essentially democratic in their government….The women were the great power among the clan.” Stanton went on to describe how clan mothers had the responsibility for nominating a chief, and could remove that chief if he did not make good decisions. “They did not hesitate, when occasion required,” Stanton recalled, “‘to knock off the horns,’ as it was technically called, from the head of a chief and send him back to the ranks of the warriors.”

Their responsibility for the survival of the Nation, through the creation of life and the food that sustained life, gave women a position of equality in their society that white women could only dream of.

Gage, who was the third member of the National Woman Suffrage Association leadership triumvirate with Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, also wrote about her Haudenosaunee neighbors in her 1893 magnum opus, Woman, Church and State. “Never was justice more perfect; never was civilization higher,” she wrote. “Under their women, the science of government reached the highest form known to the world.”

In particular, Gage was struck by the Native American political power structure. “Division of power between the sexes in this Indian republic was nearly equal,” Gage wrote. “The common interests of the confederacy were arranged in councils, each sex holding one of its own, although the women took the initiative in suggestion, orators of their own sex presenting their views to the council of men.”

Gage not only observed this process, she experienced it as well. Given an honorary adoption into the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk Nation in 1893, Gage’s adopted Mohawk sister told her that, “this name would admit me to the Council of Matrons, where a vote would be taken, as to my having a voice in the Chieftainship.” What must this have meant to a woman who went to trial the same year for voting, which was illegal for women to do? Considered for decision-making in her adopted nation, she was arrested in her own state for attempting to do exactly that.

Native American women and men in Florida planting beans or maize

Haudenosaunee women’s authority in “family relations” provided another inspiring model for suffragists. While U.S. women had responsibility for the home, the authority for all decisions ultimately rested with their husbands. Not so with Native women, Gage explained in Woman, Church and State. “In the home, the wife was absolute.”

Although saccharine tribute was paid in the West to motherhood, the harsh reality was that American women, Gage pointed out, had “no legal right or authority over her children.” These laws, Gage wrote, even permitted “the dying father of an unborn child to will it away, and to give any person he pleases to select the right to wait the advent of that child, and when the mother, at the hazard of her own life, has brought it forth, to rob her of it and to do by it as the dead father directed.”

This claim is supported by New York law of the time, which read, “Every father, whether of full age or a minor, of a child likely to be born, or of any living child under the age of 21 years and unmarried, may, by his deed or last will duly executed, dispose of the custody and tuition of such child, during its minority, or for any less time, to any person or persons in possession or remainder.”

“What an anomaly on justice is such a law!” Gage asserted. “‘It is better to be a live dog than a dead lion,’ was a proverb I learned in my childhood—but I have learned a new rendering: ‘It is better to be a dead father than a live mother.’”

“The American aborigines were essentially democratic in their government….The women were the great power among the clan. They did not hesitate, when occasion required ‘to knock off the horns,’ as it was technically called, from the head of a chief and send him back to the ranks of the warriors.”

Issues of paternal rights were totally foreign to the Native world. Haudenosaunee children were (and are) born into their mother’s clan and follow their mother’s line. When Gage tried to explain the concept of an “illegitimate child” to a Haudenosaunee friend, the woman puzzled, “how can any child not be legitimate? You always know who your mother is.” The living arrangements were traditionally based on this matrilineal system. A husband came to live with his wife, her parents, her sisters and their husbands and children in their matrilineal family longhouse. Unmarried brothers lived there, too, until they married and moved to their wives’ longhouses. If any of the mothers died or the couple split up, the children continued to live in the mother’s longhouse. “The children also accompanied the mother, whose right to them was recognized as supreme,” Gage wrote, “if for any cause the Iroquois husband and wife separated.”

Stanton’s study of Native American nations concurred. “From these cases, it appears the children belonged to the mother, not to the father, and that he was not allowed to take them even after the mother’s death,” she wrote. “Such, also, was the usage among the Iroquois and other Northern tribes, and among the village Indians of Mexico.”

Condemned for her public declaration that women should be able to leave loveless or dangerous marriages, Stanton delightedly shared Rev. Ashur Wright’s description of divorce Iroquois-style with the International Council of Women meeting in 1891. “No matter how many children, or whatever goods he might have in the house,” she quoted, the husband “might at any time be ordered to pick up his blanket and budge; and after such an order it would not be healthful for him to attempt to disobey.”

 Violence against women was a behavior seldom seen among Indian nations, and when it occurred, it was dealt with severely, generally by banishment or death.

Also not “healthful” to Native American men, was the spousal battery their white counterparts so cavalierly engaged in. In fact, violence against women was a behavior seldom seen among Indian nations, and when it occurred, it was dealt with severely, generally by banishment or death. In fact, white women entered a paradise of personal safety among Native people that they never experienced on their own soil. “It shows the remarkable security of living on an Indian Reservation, that a solitary woman can walk about for miles, at any hour of the day or night, in perfect safety,” Mary Elizabeth Beauchamp, who taught school on the Onondaga Nation, remarked in a letter to the Skaneateles Democrat in 1883.

In the 200 years since the early feminists first came into contact with liberated Native women, very little has changed in terms of their status within their tribes. Iroquois Haudenosaunee women today continue to have the responsibility of nominating, counseling, and keeping in office the male chief who represents their clan in the Grand Council. In the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, Haudenosaunee women have worked alongside men to successfully guard their sovereign political status against persistent attempts to turn them into United States citizens. For the suffragists who were inspired by Native women, and the feminists who continue their important work today, women’s empowerment is synonymous with women’s “rights.” But for Iroquois women, who have maintained their traditions despite two centuries of white America’s attempts to “civilize” them, the concept of women’s “rights” actually has little meaning. To the Haudenosaunee, it is simply their way of life. Their egalitarian relationships and their political authority are a reality that—for many non-Native women—is still something to strive for.

By Sally Roesch Wagner, Ph.D.
Collage by María Salomón

We Are Hosting An Evening with International Bestselling Author MJ Summers

mjsummersYou Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down Film Festival is proud to host MJ Summers, best-selling author, to answer all your burning questions about writing, and take you through her journey from penning her first book to landing a six-figure deal with HarperCollins Canada.

Ms Summers will take you through the following topics:

On Writing:

– Her writing process, step by step

– How to build sexual tension

– How to write a steamy love scene that will have readers blushing instead of cringin

On Publishing:

– Traditional publishing vs. self-publishing

– How to land an agent (and whether it’s worth it)

– The best time to approach an agent/publisher

– The existing realities of the publishing world

Date: Monday, 28 March 2016

Cost $50.

Venue: TBD

Registration: 780.716.6066 or

All proceeds will go to YCKaGWD Film Festival.


“I inhaled this book…Riveting sexual heat…A delicious and definite five star read.” Jennifer Sage, Author of the Guardian Archive Series