BC CRN’s team of Regional Mentors helps communities establish Community Response Networks (CRNs). Mentors provide ongoing local support in the coordination of responses to abuse, neglect, and self-neglect, and community development initiatives. Some Mentors are also community development partners who collaborate with local agencies and organizations to respond to the needs of their people.
Micki Materi has been advocating for women her whole career.
She was born in Rosetown, Saskatchewan, a farming community located 115 km southwest of Saskatoon in the heart of the province’s wheat belt. The family would move to Fort St. John when Micki was in her early teens. “My dad worked in construction and traveled a lot,” she says. “We would be lucky to see him a couple of times a year. The move to Fort St. John meant the family would be together and I would see him more often, which was exciting for me.”
On one evening, Micki’s mother hauled her out of a truck stop. It was after 9 PM. “I noticed how my brother got to stay,” she says. “Why did I have to leave and how come he got to stay? It was one of the first times I had questions about the double standards in society for men and women.”
Years later, she would find herself as a young single mother to a son and working as many shifts as she could in kitchens. “I loved family and the community of Fort St. John, but I always wanted more. I was also seeing things in society that I questioned.”
Some of her questions included:
“Why were some jobs considered more important than others?”
“Why were there ‘men’s jobs’ and ‘women’s jobs’?”
“Why were men considered the ‘stronger sex’ when women did just as much, or even more, work?”
“Why was I being judged as a single mom?”
Her boss knew Micki was itching to move and provided her with an opportunity to house sit in Kelowna. In 1990, the house-sitting gig would become a permanent move for her. “I also started working at the Kelowna Women’s Centre at that time, and this would be the start of my humungous feminist journey,” Micki adds.
All the questions she had about our social hierarchy were beginning to get answered.
“For the first time, I felt I was able to ask questions about the inequalities between men and women,” she says. “People were finally willing to have discussions with me.”
At the women’s centre, Micki’s first responsibilities were clerical and administrative. She would then take on bookkeeping duties, working her way up to program coordinator and executive director roles.
“Working to support women in need was so great for me,” Micki says. “It was the first time I felt I fit in somewhere.”
After 20 years, she would find herself looking for more. A mentor encouraged her to venture into building her own consultancy, working with organizations that support women.
“It’s scary, self-employment,” Micki says.
Despite the initial nerves, Micki would find herself participating on a variety of municipal and regional committees addressing complex issues such as poverty, violence against women, mental health, homelessness, addictions, and diversity, and consulting on meaty projects.
She assisted with the development of support programs – peer mentoring, web resources, and others – for women transitioning out of the prison system as part of a research project conducted through the University of British Columbia. “Women in transition need supports: they often become homeless and/or lose their children,” she explains. ‘The first 72 hours out of prison are critical. The quicker they can access community supports and resources, the more successful they are at reintegrating into the community.”
In addition to consulting on women’s services, Micki would also assist with piloting a prevention program with the BC Society of Transition Houses to support women in emergency shelters, helping them access community resources and housing. During this contract, Micki would also come to work with the local Community Response Network (CRN).
In 2013, she would see an ad for the BC CRN regional mentor role, which Micki applied for right away. “The role was right up my alley,” she states. “Just before the ad was released, I was also working with the Penticton CRN at the time and really enjoying the experience.”
Shortly after securing the role with BC CRN, Micki would also join Archway Society for Domestic Peace, working in a variety of positions until she become one of the organization’s co-executive directors in 2015.
“My regional mentor role works well with my role in Archway,” she says. “Archways’ mandate is to support women, youth, and children who have experienced abuse. BC CRN is all about abuse, neglect, and self-neglect prevention in vulnerable adult populations, and women are certainly one of those groups.”
Micki’s first day on the job with BC CRN took place a couple of days before her first Summit, a multi-day retreat where BC CRN’s board, management team, and regional mentors collaborate on the priorities and projects for the following year.
“Although BC CRN isn’t specifically a feminist organization, it operates in a very collaborative, collective way,” she explains. “Plus, Sherry (Baker, BC CRN Executive Director), as well as several of my regional mentor colleagues, have extensive experience in the transition housing sector, which I connected with right away.”
The advantage of a 30-year career supporting women means Micki has been able to both observe and experience the shifts in the women’s movement firsthand. From “women’s lib” to “Me Too”, Micki shares: “Our language has definitely changed. We’ve become much more aware of what it means to be inclusive. Initially, the collective of women represented mainly heterosexual communities that didn’t include women of colour, Indigenous women, LGBTQ2S+, etc. We were just learning to embrace our diversity at that time. Today, we are addressing the inequalities with an intersectional lens. We are becoming more intentional about including as many communities from different cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, and abilities as we can.”
She is also seeing the dialogue expand in positive ways. “For example, we used to talk about ‘sexual orientation’ in the early days. Today, we’re talking in terms of gender identity and how it still is a barrier to income and housing for many. We need to change this,” Micki says.
Despite this growth, she also acknowledges that there are still many things that still need work.
“Indigenous women are still six times more likely to experience violence. Racialized women are three times more likely. It’s still rare for women to outearn men. This has not changed since we started measuring this,” she states. “BC CRN understands the complexities of vulnerability and how the more layers there are to this vulnerability, the higher the risk for abuse. We need to focus on the most marginalized. If we make it better for them, then it gets better for everyone.”
Written by: Debbie Chow, Links Communication Solutions. Follow Debbie on LinkedIn: @debbiechowabc
(Header Photo: Micki and her son. Photo: M. Materi.)