Forty women and men took to the Central Cariboo Arts Centre in Williams Lake Wednesday evening to celebrate International Women’s Day and this year’s recipient of the Women With Heart Award.
“I was actually really surprised because I’ve done a lot of work, but I really don’t expect awards,” says Irene Johnson who works as an education coordinator with Esk’etemc First Nation at Alkali Lake. “I just do the work and move on”
Johnson who was nominated for the award with seven other women says she battled addiction after being exposed to alcohol at the age of 8 and that at the age of 18 she had to decide whether she wanted to continue the life of addiction or turn her life around.
“It took me years to realize why I was living that life. In order for me to continue moving forward, I really had to understand my history and where I came from first. There was a lot of violence and abuse and that wasn’t just in my family-it was the whole community. At five years old that was the first time I remember being sexually abused as a child.”
“I’m sharing this because this is what made me the person I am today. I can’t go back and change any of that, but what I can change is how I see it today and what I can do about it.”
Johnson who has also served as an alcohol and drug counselor and as the community health director ended sharing her story by handing out commitment sticks with colors representing the four different races of the world.
“In our communities, in aboriginal communities across Canada and everywhere else there’s a lot of murdered and missing women,” she says.
“So what our communities are doing is we’re trying to encourage people to always have that at the top of their minds, that we continue to support women, and we do whatever we can to keep our children, our girls, and our women safe in our communities.”