Photo portrait of Chief Rhonda Larrabee by Janet Kvammen, gratefully used with her permission.
In celebration of International Women’s Day, I’ve compiled a list of amazing women in New West who are kicking ass and taking names.
- Chief Rhonda Larrabee
Not only is Chief Larrabee the elected Chief of the Qayqayt First Nation – or the New Westminster Indian Band as they are known to Indian Affairs – she also resurrected the band from the annals of history two years after the last known member died. Following her mother’s death, Chief Larrabee decided to apply for and was granted an Indian Status card in 1994, making her the only living member of the Qayqayt First Nation. Qayqayt currently has 14 members and is one of the smallest First Nations in Canada and one of the few without a land base. This hasn’t stopped Chief Larrabee from becoming a fixture at events and reminding us all that there were people living along these shores long before the Royal Engineers arrived.
- Lisa Spitale
In 2013, the City of New Westminster appointed a woman to its top executive job. What took them so long to appoint a woman to the position? Apparently they were waiting for Lisa Spitale to apply! In her 25 years with the City, Spitale has worked on everything from dealing with slum lords to selling the Anvil office tower and as Chief Administrative Officer she’s tasked with leading the corporation side of the new New West – all while wearing three-inch heels.
3. Julia Dewhurst, Emma Nash, and Jenn Pistone
- Not only do they have the most beautiful storefront in New West, these savvy business owners have made a habit of promoting other small businesses and artists, often women. Since running Brick & Mortar Living obviously doesn’t take up enough of their time, they decided to create the Sixth Street Popup + Gallery to feature artists and creatives and to introduce them to New Westminster. They’ve helped promote some amazing local brands like The Pop Up Pet Shoppe, West + Wind, and so many others. What’s that saying about strong women lifting others up?
- MLA Judy Darcy
We all know that Judy is the provincial representative for New West, but what most people don’t know is that she has amazing past of standing up for women and LGBTQ rights long before she was ever elected. Judy was part of the so-called “Abortion Caravan” that travelled from BC to Ottawa in May of 1970 to deliver a coffin and a coat hanger to then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s doorstep. These activists also chained themselves to seats in the House of Commons while reading a joint statement and shutting down the Parliament buildings in the process. Awesome! As national president of CUPE, Judy successfully fought for pension rights for same sex couples – a massive victory that has been credited with paving the way for same sex marriage in Canada.
- The Royal City Gogos and the Glamoramas
What is a gogo and a glamorama? Gogo is the Zulu word for Grandmother and this New West-based group fittingly raises money for the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign of the Stephen Lewis Foundation. They hold fundraisers, most notably a November craft sale, to raise money in support of African grandmothers who are caring for a generation of children who have been orphaned by AIDS. The Glamoramas also fundraise for the Stephen Lewis Foundation, but they host fun events including their first annual Rant on International Women’s Day 2016 at the Columbia Theatre. Will I see you there?
- Hayley Sinclair
An intersectional feminist activist, you’re likely to see Hayley representing on a City committee or at a New West Pride event. She is a member of the Pride New West Board of Directors and is the muscles behind much of their organizational prowess. She helps encourage organizations, including Pride, and businesses to consider inclusivity with a broad lens – whether it’s genderless bathrooms or making sure facilities are accessible, Hayley is pushing us towards a New West that walks the talk (or wheels the talk).
Honourable mention: Jonina Campbell and SD40
Over the past year or so, SD40 has made amazingly progressive strides. From adopting a gender and sexual diversity inclusion policy in 2015 to acknowledging the traditional territories of the Qayqayt First Nation and Coast Salish people, as School Board Chair, Jonina is showing that SD40 is firmly in the 21st century.
Who is missing from this list? And what are you doing to celebrate International Women’s Day 2016?