Connecting to our Culture – International Women’s Day with Charlene Lafreniere


A montage of two photos, one of charlene and her daughter at a graduation event, the other the two of them in front of a tee-pee. Below, text reads: connecting to our culture - international women's day with charlene lafreniere.

My connection to family and ceremony is a huge part of who I am. Knowing my identity and being really proud of it is something I have very intentionally passed down to my daughter. I want her to be very connected to where she comes from, whether through family connections, stories, traditions and ceremony or by developing an understanding of the land and all that it gives us.

Wherever I can create that space for culture and connection to spirit for her, I do. She loves ceremony, and she loves church-a reconciliation I am proud of. We talk about the medicine, we have a hand drum we share, and we sing together, a tradition that we have made all our own with the songs that we know by heart outside of ceremony.  

Now, when you are in ceremony and people start to sing, if you have heard and sang the song before, it will just come to you. But alone, in the car, we have three songs that we sing on our own. Creator Song. Bear Song. Women Song.

Charlene stands with her daughter and sister at an orange shirt day event. all are wearing orange shirts.
Orange shirt day in Thompson. Charlene Lafreniere with her daughter Sage and her sister Jacqueline Lafreniere.

Each holds an important place for us but the Women Song took on additional significance while I was completing my Masters at Royal Roads. A woman in my cohort held this song near and dear to her heart due to its connection to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) so we learned it together, to be able to sing it together.

During the last verse of the song, you hold your fist up in a sign of solidarity, and the drums stop. And you just sing.

I can still feel the chill down my spine that I felt when singing with three other women from my Master’s cohort, with all of our classmates holding their fists up in solidarity.

So I make sure when I’m driving with my daughter – our hands are up – keeping it real, keeping it relevant.

Is it better when we do it in ribbon skirts and on the land? Maybe. Bur our life doesn’t always have that kind of space, so on our way to school or sports, we pick our song, and we sing, weaving threads that strengthen our connection to ceremony, tradition and culture as it passes to the next generation.

Over the course of my life – and throughout my career – I’ve witnessed so much heavy lifting and strategic work happening amongst women. Women working together, making change, demanding better, but always showing kindness.

Like many of them, I’m a disruptor, but I try to do it with kindness in the ways they have modelled, using my voice if something needs to be said. Saying it again – and louder – if I’m not being heard.

I choose the kindest approach, but I know that if I need to, I will not hesitate to hold my fist up in solidarity and stand strong for what is right.