Around 175 people attended a six-hour conference at Coast Hotel and Conference Centre in Lethbridge on Monday to hear about the work of the Blackfoot Women’s Empowerment group.
Crystal Good Rider, the project co-ordinator, said it was $350,000 in grant funding from the federal government through the department of Women and Gender Equality that allowed them to kickstart the project in 2018, providing opportunities to network and find answers to economic prosperity.
“With the grant dollars, we were able to explore that and kind of see what opportunities were out there, and hearing from the women was really important to us,” Good Rider said.
The funding was garnered three years ago with the help of Tanya Pace-Crosschild, director of the Opokaa’sin Early Intervention Society.
“We came together with other allies, non-Indigenous women from the University of Lethbridge and the community, and we wrote a proposal together,” Pace-Crosschild explained.
“The proposal really spoke to grassroots initiatives, grassroots empowerment.”
The goal of the group is to create change while empowering Blackfoot women as entrepreneurs, giving them the resources to pursue financial security and freedom.
Good Rider said the first phase of the project was to assess community needs with a variety of women in the Piikani, Siksika and Kainai First Nations, as well as those in Lethbridge and Calgary.
The second phase involved collecting applications during a project callout. From there, a website was created as a portal for information and sales from Blackfoot entrepreneurs.
The three-year project is now complete, but Good Rider said this isn’t the end of the collaboration.
“Now that we’re at the end, we’re just basically celebrating,” Good Rider said, adding there will likely be more projects in the future.
“In our fundamental value systems, it’s all about relationship,” Pace-Crosschild said. “It’s about making those relationships and making those changes in the community. So it was bigger than economic development — it was community development.”
At the event, a young female drumming group called the White Buffalo Singers showed off their talents to the delight of conference-goers.
“There hasn’t been an all-girls drumming group before, so we thought we want to be the first to do it,” said member Doricia Healy.
“I feel like when we go out to perform and to sing, it encourages other young girls to go get out there and get out of their comfort zone and just go be themselves and just do what they like and enjoy.”