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OUR HOMETOWN: Tl’etinqox woman attending global assembly in Germany May 2023

Empowering Indigenous women is the message Ashton Harry plans to share while there
Ashton Harry of Tl’etinqox First Nation will be graduating from Royal Roads University with her master’s degree in executive leadership in June 2023. (Tammy Haller photo)

A young Tsilhqot’in woman is the only Canadian delegate attending the 175th German National Assembly with activists from all over the world.

During the assembly some of the topics to be discussed are human rights and the goal of universal economic and political participation could become a unifying basis for confronting pressing global crises, protecting public goods and the commons as well as preserving the planet.

Ashton Harry, 34, of Tl’etinqox First Nation said she will be bringing the perspective of empowering Indigenous women, something she is passionate about to the core.

“A friend from Red Cross I met during the 2017 wildfires that did a lot of work with our community nominated me,” Harry said.

Born in Williams Lake, she was raised at Tl’etinqox First Nation by her mom Eleanor Cooper’s parents the late Victorine Stump and Myles Pigeon.

Her mom worked full-time as a paramedic.

Recalling how her grandparents taught her Tsilhqot’in culture and traditions, she said their home was always full.

“They raised my first cousins too and we grew up like brothers and sisters. There were five or six of us, depending on the time of year. It was always a full house - always lots of people there.”

Chuckling she said today she couldn’t live with lots of people and enjoys sharing her home with her husband Shawn Harry, their two cats and a dog.

“But, I do have lots of good memories about growing. It was never lonely, summers were always very busy.”

Her grandparents insisted on not differentiating between genders.

They also taught their granddaughters to learn how to fish, hunt, prepare fish, moose and other meats.

Chores were the same - everybody did everything.

“If you had able arms you were sweeping the floor or chopping wood and Grandpa made sure we were all pretty independent. He taught us how to drive and told us he didn’t want us to depend on men.”

While the word matriarch was not necessarily something used in the Tsilhqot’in culture, the tradition involved the respect of women and growing up she was surrounded by strong women as role models.

She said her Grandpa did not go to residential school and her grandma did.

Grandpa was adamant his grandchildren understood what was Catholic and what was traditional.

“He was always making sure I understood what it meant to be a strong Tsilhqot’in woman. ‘Women are the bosses,’ he would say.”

If she asked him something he would tell her to ask grandma.

“Respect goes both ways and having that very deep understanding led me to my master’s project on empowering Tsilhqot’in women, specifically Tl’etinqox women.”

Her advisors at Royal Roads University suggested studying Tsilhqo’tin women was probably more appropriately the subject for a doctoral thesis.

Now that she will be graduating on June 9 with her master’s degree in executive leadership, she said the next step is to figure out what people know about matriarchal leadership and how it translates in a modern way.

“Lots of people didn’t grow up the way I did so they don’t understand those traditional roles that come into play.”

While she was doing the two-year master’s degree program she was working for Tl’etinqox First Nation as the executive director and said she ended up having to take so much time off work to complete the program.

She was part of the first cohort and ideally the program was designed for people to still work full-time while enrolled.

Crediting the help she received from the others students, who stepped up and helped her get through it, she said she was the youngest in the program.

Growing up Harry attended day school at Tl’etinqox, was then moved to Alexis Creek School, and completed the majority of high school in Williams Lake.

Like other students from out of town, she lived in the dorms up until she graduated from Williams Lake Secondary School.

She attended College of New Caledonia, achieving a diploma in business management, then the University of Northern British Columbia where she completed a bachelor degree in First Nation studies with minors in general business and planning, specifically focused on Indigenous planning.

Now she is developing her own business as a consultant and working on getting registered so she can take on some contracts.

“I am excited,” she said. “I did so much in the six years I was working in my community and excited to go work in other communities.”

The conference in Germany starts on May 14 and Shawn will be going with her, she said.

“He’s been so supportive of my career, choices and political aspirations. Lots of times when I’m ready to throw in the towel, he is there reminding me why I am doing what I am doing. He really is my number one fan.”

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Monica Lamb-Yorski

About the Author: Monica Lamb-Yorski

A B.C. gal, I was born in Alert Bay, raised in Nelson, graduated from the University of Winnipeg, and wrote my first-ever article for the Prince Rupert Daily News.
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