by Bernadette Poirier

Family violence has been identified as one of the most important issues facing aboriginal people in Canada.  Although indigenous women represent only 3% of the Canadian population, they are over represented as victims of racialized and sexualized violence. “If you are an aboriginal woman, you are three times more likely to experience spousal violence than non-aboriginal persons and they are also more likely to be subjected to the most severe and life-threatening forms of spousal abuse” , according to Bernadette Poirier, Program Supervisor for Mi’kmaq Family Healing Centre. Our Agency operates two Family Healing Centres (Transition Houses) in Nova Scotia. One in Waycobah to service Cape Breton and one in Millbrook to service the mainland. The purpose of the Centres are to provide a place of safety 24/7 and deliver culturally relevant programs to encourage and support women, men and children who experience family violence and to support families in developing and practicing a peaceful and healthy lifestyle in all of our First Nation Communities.

The alarmingly high rates of violence against Indigenous women in Canada prompted The Native Women’s Association of Canada to launch a national campaign called SISTERS IN SPIRIT to raise awareness on this issue in March 2004. Since that time, many First Nation communities across this country have adopted the Sisters in Spirit Community Tool Kit, which provides information on creating events to mark a national day of awareness designated for October 4. This year, Mi’kmaw Family and Children’s Services of NS, in partnership with Waycobah First Nation ,  will sponsor the event .  The main objective of the event is to increase awareness and an understanding of family violence at the community level and the serious impact it has on the lives of Mi’kmaw families. Many people in the community have embraced this project. “ It started out as a small event and now everyone is on board and the result is that we are going to have a march on highway 105  to the Waycobah Community Centre where there will be a gathering and a feast. Carriers of traditional knowledge and practices will be present during the event to offer prayers, smudging and reflections on moving forward in working together in breaking the silence about this problem.  Women, men, children, Elders, Chief and Council, community service providers and the clergy are all involved in which the theme born out of this event  is Honoring the Circle.”

We believe that healing and recovery must take place on all levels ; beginning with the individual, family, community and environment. The Family Healing Program is a member of the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia (THANS). The focus of our public awareness campaigns this year is getting the message out that everyone has a responsibility for eliminating family violence . The first step in this process is to break the silence and acknowledge that there is a problem. It is essential that we not only direct our efforts to prevention, but also early intervention. People need to be aware of the diversity of services available in their community that provides the type of programs which teach the necessary life skills to help people move beyond hopelessness and victimization.

Family violence is not part of traditional Mi’kmaw culture and it is unacceptable. The roots of family violence in our First Nations communities run deep and have a long history. Colonization, assimilation policies and practices combined with economic disadvantages all serve to contribute to the problem. Solutions must be community driven. “We need to work on increasing trust and inspiring hope that validates people’s experiences, as well as create and maintain much needed networks to promote healing.’

It is our hope that this event will generate an atmosphere of action by meeting such challenges with cultural empowerment to speak out against violence in all of its forms.  This is our fourth year for such a project, and our hope is that this event will serve as a catalyst to help mobilize all First Nation communities to speak out against violence against women and also violence in all of its forms.” Sisters in Spirit is also about honoring and remembering aboriginal women who have disappeared and have been murdered.

The event will take place on Thursday, October 4 at 4: p.m. at the Waycobah First Nation Community Hall. Our march/walk will begin at Rod’s One Stop (Waycobah First Nation) at 3:45pm. We are inviting all peoples to come out and join us for such a worthwhile cause.


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