Twenty-five people gathered at the Houston Friendship Centre last week to learn about abuse and marginalization of indigenous women and talk about ways to bring safety and healing.
The Indigenous Communities’ Safety Project was a three day workshop to open up the dialogue and seek to understand perspectives, challenges and abuses of indigenous women, said Belinda Lacombe, coordinator of the workshop and stopping-the-violence counselor at Northern Society for Domestic Peace.
A partnership between the Northern Society for Domestic Peace and the Ending Violence Association of B.C., and funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario, the purpose of the workshop is “to facilitate more partnerships and hopefully some protocols within our community and a really solid safety plan that everyone has a say in,” Lacombe said.
Within the already marginalized indigenous population there is a subpopulation of indigenous women, who have been impacted differently than men by things like colonization and legislation, said Barbara Barker, chair of the Northern Society of Domestic Peace.
For example, the Indian Act, federal legislation regulating who is a status indian, was created with a gender bias: if an indigenous man got married to a non-indigenous woman, their wife became a status indian, but if an indigenous woman married a non-indigenous man, she lost her indian status, Barker said.
And with the women who have gone missing along the Highway of Tears, the history of colonization isn’t separate from understanding where and why those women have been taken, Barker added.
Lacombe and stopping-the-violence outreach worker Marylyn George did research in Houston and Hazelton, asking indigenous women about their level of safety and what they felt could help them, then they wrote the curriculum with Beverly Jacobs, overall project coordinator, said Lacombe.
The project is being tested in 14 communities across B.C. and it is based on the idea that everyone can offer something unique and important, said Lacombe.
“It’s bringing the circle back in… we’re inviting people to come into the circle and share power and see each other as equal,” she said.
“Nobody’s voice is any more important than anyone else’s.”
The group, including indigenous women leaders and hereditary chiefs, as well as service workers from Northern Health, Houston Link to Learning and other community services, and systems people from the RCMP, started the workshop on Monday, Nov. 19, with discussion on the history and impacts of colonization, said Lacombe.
Tuesday’s topics were legislation and “the right to be safe,” and “breaking the silence,” about what violence against women looks like, and Wednesday they discussed healing, with each person developing and sharing their own ideas about how they would take responsibility within their positions and roles in the community – be it mother, counselor, teacher or friend.
“It went way better than I thought it would, it was fabulous… people were open… it created an understanding of why indigenous women are way more at risk in our community and it created an empathy and compassion,” said Lacombe.
“Houston is a pretty awesome place to live when it comes to that and there’s a lot of capacity here when people come together around a table,” she added.
The community action plan came together as a quilt, with each person in the workshop making and contributing one square to show what they can do to help indigenous women in this community.
Lacombe says she hopes to hang the quilt in a public place, where people can see it, get a feel for the issue and maybe see where they can get involved to help.