An Interview with Chantal Chagnon

By April Bouchard

When women empower one another, the results are often the creation very powerful and influential leaders in communities across the Nation. Women have overcome many obstacles in their paths to step into important leadership roles and make a difference for their peers, while influencing others to stand for what they believe in. Chantal Chagnon, an Indigenous Artist and Educator, shares her journey to becoming a social justice activist and what led her to where she is today.

This mother of two boys, who also provides kinship care for a set of twin girls, started out in a residential school in her young years where, in her words, they were taught to feel shame for being Indigenous.

“This was imposed on us through residential school. We were told not to talk about it. I wanted to focus on the positive aspects of our culture. It’s important to stand up for what’s right and the changes you want to see in the world,” she said.

Her journey to activism started as young as the age of ten when she began volunteering at different events with her mother. The awareness of what was happening around her drove her to take a stand for her community, her fellow women and later in life, her own children.

“The statistics around what was happening to my friends and family are staggering. The Creator gave me a loud voice, and I intend to use it. I wanted to help my community as a whole. That’s how I started down the path to activism,” she said.

Chantal says she has a strong connection to the environment, as from an Indigenous standpoint, it is who they are. This led to her learning more about the history and trauma that has happened to many Indigenous families, including hers.

“Our parents didn’t really learn how to become parents. There was a lot of pain and hurt and abuse throughout many generations of our families,” she said.

In addition to activism, Chantal has a natural talent and for drumming and singing. She says she started signing before she could even talk, and the drumming came later in life.

“When I share my drumming and singing, it’s like something is working through me, I never learned, it just came. When I made drums for the first time, all of the drums just came out of me,” she said.

She shares a memory of attending a drum workshop with her Mother. After the traditions of welcoming everyone with a song and doing land acknowledgements were complete, Chantal found herself taking over the workshop her Mother had intended to teach.

“All the teachings started coming through me, like the different styles of drums. Every time something new would come through me, I would consult an Elder. They always told me it was legit, and to honor the teachings coming through me instead of questioning them,” said Chantal.

Her artistic flare comes in handy when it comes to Indigenous traditions. She says there are many, however, one of her favorites is the Moon Ceremonies, a tradition she says was almost completely lost. Moon Ceremonies teach that women are sacred.

“We share the connection of the life bearers and life givers, the ones that hold communities together. Women would traditionally lead their communities. When we lost that, we lost our connection to the earth, and now it’s starting to come back,” she said.

Although there have been continuous improvements for Indigenous women, Chantal says there are still battles along the way.

“We still have to struggle much more than our counterparts, and definitely more than white men. We see the brunt of the racism and sexism, and it makes things a lot more difficult. At the same time, that makes really strong and powerful women to represent our communities. We’re seeing more Indigenous women step into leaderships positions, and even starting their own businesses,”

“It’s a necessity. It’s something that we need to do to move forward. If the system isn’t going to change, we have to do it ourselves,” said Chantal.

In response to the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls Report, Chantal says the statistics are staggering.

“There’s so many people that don’t know how bad this situation is. It happens regularly and is something Indigenous women have to face every day, violence. Re-victimization by the police sometimes, dismissal of our value and our worth,”

“Sometimes these families feel very alone after they’ve lost their loved one. It’s important to say these women matter and have value. We’re not going to just let this go away and be swept under the rug, because it has been for so many years. Many of these families have been struggling for justice for over 20 years, and they still have no answers. I couldn’t imagine that for my kids, if I went missing or was murdered and them not having any answers or closure.” said Chantal.

There are around 1200 Missing or Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, however, these are just the unsolved cases. Some cases get into court and are still not resolved nor included in the statistics.

“It’s important we look at those numbers and realize that it’s not just an Indigenous issue, it’s an all of Canada issue. Because that means that there are people roaming around in Canada that are literally getting away with murder. That makes us, as a society, unsafe and unjust,” said Chantal.

Chantal has made a total of 11 appearances in the Vagina Monologues, starting almost 20 years ago in an all Indigenous production. She finds them very empowering and a way to start to talk about these issues.

“We can empower women to take ownership of their entire body and entire being. The Vagina Monologues is the perfect avenue for that. It brings people together in such a deep way,” she said.

As for women in 2020, she says we are most powerful when supported by one another.

“We’re in this together. When we share our stories and come together, we can move mountains.”

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Written by April Bouchard