Duchess Meghan is being praised by Vancouver-based women's rights group Justice for Girls, which is thanking her for taking the time to highlight climate change and issues affecting Indigenous women and girls in the process.
On Jan. 14, the Duchess of Sussex visited the group's office and the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre, both of which are based in the city. Meghan and a group of Justice for Girls' staff members had a conversation about climate change and how Indigenous women and girls are being disproportionately affected.
Zoe Craig-Sparrow, Justice for Girls' co-director, told HELLO! Canada it was very obvious to everyone at the meeting that Meghan was trying to understand how she could help support not only the group and their work, but those in the community facing these issues.
"For me, just as an Indigenous young woman, it's really important that she not only talked with us, but that she prioritized it," Zoe said. Active with Justice for Girls since she was 12 years old, Zoe is a member of the Musqueam Indian Band and grew up on a reserve near Vancouver, the group's website states.
"It's extremely important in this country, considering Indigenous young women and girls face disproportionately high levels of sexual assault, of violence – and all women and girls do, but especially Indigenous women and girls, and especially teenagers and young women."
Zoe said Meghan and the group also discussed missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Since the 1960s, the Native Women's Association of Canada has documented at least 582 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, though many organizations emphasize the number may be much higher than this. British Columbia has been particularly affected by this issue in things such as the Highway of Tears murders.
"I've been advocating for environmental, Indigenous and girls' rights my whole life, and to have her prioritize that and be another woman of colour, it was truly inspirational and we're really pleased with the conversation," Zoe told us.
According to Quebec Native Women's 2019 climate change report, the voices of Indigenous women and girls "have long been excluded from knowledge sharing projects." The organization emphasizes Indigenous women often hold specialized environmental knowledge and also have a special relationship with water, and that holistic health is improved through connecting with the land. This traditional knowledge can often be the key to understanding, preventing or mitigating the effects of climate change, some groups say. Health is improved through connecting with the land through traditional cultural activities.
Zoe told HELLO! Canada it became clear during their conversation that Meghan "really understood the need for a holistic approach to social justice." She said the entire group was very impressed with Meghan's knowledge and her openness to learning, and they hope to work more with her in the future.
"It was really clear to us that the duchess' priority right now is getting to know the community and the issues and the best way for her to help," she said.
Meghan, Prince Harry and Archie spent time in Canada last year as part of a break from royal duties. After they announced they would step down from their senior royal roles last week, the duchess returned to Canada, where Archie had been reportedly staying with his nanny and Jessica Mulroney, one of Meghan's closest friends. On Jan. 13, the Queen announced a "period of transition" for Meghan and Harry, in which the couple would spend time in Canada and the UK.
While it's not known what role the Sussexes will play here, we're thrilled to hear that Meghan is clearly focusing on important issues that affect Canada and working to understand them and help. We can't wait to hear more about work she'll do here.