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A Talking Circle to celebrate International Women's Day

The Women's Talking Circe announcement.
Jill Clause

Each March 8 is International Women's Day. It's a time to celebrate, honor and be inspired by the achievements of women, while recognizing the roadblocks to gender equality that still exist. In Niagara County Tuesday afternoon, a Native American model will shine a light on the topic.

The first International Women's Day was held in 1911, the upswing of the Women's Suffrage Movement. More than 1 million women and men attended rallies campaigning for women's rights to vote, work, hold public office and end discrimination.

"The Women's Suffrage Movement was birthed from the Haudenosaunee women. It was right in the center of Haudenosaunee territory where it happened. The women that led the movement were very close to the clan mothers of the Mohawk and Onondaga Nations at the time," said Jill Clause.

Jill Clause is wearing white dangling earrings and a blue t-shirt.
Marian Hetherly
The theme of this year's International Women's Day is #BreakTheBias. These women are demonstrating the symbol for #BreakTheBias.

Clause is also a member of the Six Nations. A Tuscarora, she'll be leading a free Women's Day Talking Circle for women of all backgrounds noon-4:30 p.m. at the Niagara Arts & Cultural Center in Niagara Falls.

"I have gotten to study all different religions, all the different types of beliefs, and I know that this Talking Circle is powerful. People will be able to share their thoughts, their heart. My uncle used to always say, 'When hearts speak, hearts listen,' and I believe that," Clause said. "I believe that it is through the power of our words, that they're directed in a way that will help us to believe in each other and know that it's safe, that we're in good hands."

She said the Talking Circle seeks to find the "commonalities" among us. Tuesday's will be held in the "empowering" and "healing" tradition that was handed down from her Tuscarora elders.

"We would get together. And we would bring our medicines, you know, our bundles, anything that gives us strength. We bring them to the altar and each woman would get a chance to talk. And we would go around passing the eagle feather. I want to propose a question for each circle, each time we go around," she said. "The person that holds the eagle feather, by the way, is the only person that gets to talk. So it's of respect for each person's voice."

Clause said the U.S. and Canada failed to respect different voices from the 1800s to the 1990s, when Indigenous children were forcibly relocated to federal schools to be assimilated into white society.

She expected much talk about children, as they're "the heart of the community."

"We need to shed a light on it and to settle it, to find out what we can do to change it, because that injustice against our people was directly to genocide. Just wanted to just get rid of us, erase us from history. And you can't do that. We're here still," Clause said. "My grandma told me a story about when she would talk in school, and the teacher would smack them with a hard rubber hose on their hands in front of everybody if they spoke their language, which was innocent children."

She said it's symbolic of the way a dominant patriarchal society has retaliated against women internationally through the centuries.

A group of women and men with their arms crossed in front of them in an upward position.
Awaj Foundation
The theme of this year's International Women's Day is #BreakTheBias. These women are demonstrating the symbol for #BreakTheBias.

The Tuscarora, in contrast, live for Mother Earth.

"I believe in sustainable green energy, releasing any suppressed technologies that can help us to steer away from the poisons of the fossil fuel industry, or even the chemical industries that have put profits in front of the health and well being of their consumers. It's domestic violence against our mother, the Earth," Clause said. "And International Women's Day, it's a perfect platform to talk about taking baby steps to think globally, act locally."

Clause also expected talk about the families in Ukraine and war in general.

"We have the great law, which is of peace, power and righteousness. These are laws and rules that we live by in our Haudenosaunee territories. And when there are things that cause war, then, of course, we have to talk about them," she said. "I kind of think a war shoots humanity in the foot and sets us back. We are much more intelligent. There is nothing that can't be worked out through communication, forgiveness."

Much has changed since 1911, but much has not. The theme of this year's International Women's Day is #BreakTheBias. It imagines a gender equal world that's inclusive and free of discrimination.