Project coordinator Adrian Rabbitskin-Bullfrog assumed his position in January, working with CWEIA wellness coordinator Susan Mark. Together with local women’s and men’s associations, he will visit communities following Goose Break to help connect impacted individuals with Elders.
“We’re approaching domestic violence through the teachings of the Elders,” Rabbitskin-Bullfrog told the Nation. “It’s to be comfortable in knowing they can go to the Elder whenever they feel like sharing their thoughts and feelings, and to better understand the meaning of traditional shelters and dwellings.”
Rabbitskin-Bullfrog explained that coastal and inland communities have different cultural dwellings that are built according to the season. As each pole of a teepee or other structure has a specific Cree name and purpose, understanding which pole represents the individual can support traditional healing pathways.
Manchadauu’s purpose is to give women affected by domestic family violence a sense of belonging; that life has a plan and a purpose. It is to let them know they have a meaning to their family, to their community and to the Nation. In the program’s logo designed by Tim Whiskeychan, the bear represents strength, the goose symbolizes hope and the mookadagan (crooked knife) is for building.
Community consultations will seek guidance from local Elders, who will determine which types of dwellings to be constructed and share teachings about interconnected responsibilities. Local associations will work with tallymen to identify land for the dwellings outside each community.
“We’re going to take justice department and social services clients to help with the building of the dwellings using their community hours,” explained Rabbitskin-Bullfrog. “When someone comes back from jail, they can use their hours to reintegrate with the community, so they won’t feel lost, alone or afraid.”
Although the Manchadauu program currently has a two-year mandate, Rabbitskin-Bullfrog said funding could be extended according to ongoing needs. He intends to attend the debut and completion of each dwelling construction.
“After it’s done, there’s going to be a community feast and the local women’s and men’s associations can use it whenever they want for walking out ceremonies and meetings,” said Rabbitskin-Bullfrog. “Maybe it could look like a little village after so they can have different workshops and activities.”
In development of the Manchadauu program, the CWEIA has worked with the Cree Health Board, which is integrating traditional healing practices that have sometimes been lost due to colonial and religious influences. To address the growing problem of domestic violence, the new program will support the efforts of existing Robin’s Nest women’s shelters in Waswanipi and Waskaganish.
Inspired by Ayaashaau’s tale of transformation, healing and reconciliation, Virginia Wabano spearheaded the Piipiichaau Uchishtuun (Robin’s Nest) initiative in partnership with Cree entities. The shelters offer crisis management, culturally appropriate healing methods, and local programs so women aren’t forced to seek refuge in distant centres.
The tragic death of a mother of four in Wemindji March 23 – confirmed to be a result of domestic abuse – is a reminder of how important these resources are. Emphasizing that mental health, addictions and shelter services are available, the Cree Nation Government noted that such events are harder to accept in small communities where everyone knows each other.
“Domestic violence is a reality in our communities and can happen to anyone,” read a CNG statement. “We must be able to stand strong alongside the families affected and allow them to lean on us. Our communities are hurting, but it is only when we stand united that we get through the most difficult of challenges.”
Indigenous women are nearly six times more likely than non-Indigenous women to be killed, according to Justice Canada’s 2014 data, often disproportionately impacted by overcrowded housing and intergenerational trauma.
In response to one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) inquiry’s calls for justice, the federal government announced $103 million in funding for Indigenous women’s shelters and transitional houses on May 8. It will support new facilities in over 20 communities across the country, including two in Puvirnituq, Nunavik.
Since 2010, May 5 has been observed as the National Day of Awareness for MMIWG and Two-Spirit people, also known as Red Dress Day. At a vigil at Montreal’s Cabot Square this year, the Iskweu Project and Quebec Native Women organizations announced a new initiative to create an interactive map that puts names, faces and stories to the long list of victims.
Organizers said the map would be developed in consultation with victims’ families to help identify the support services that may be needed in certain regions. As data is gathered over the next three years, they hope to highlight challenges in accessing data and dealing with law enforcement.
“I feel like Indigenous people had their stories taken from them for such a long time, focusing on being like a sex worker or having addiction issues and that’s not important,” said Janis Qavavauq-Bibeau, the Iskweu Project’s coordinator. “It takes away humanity. I want to give back to the families – I want them to reclaim their stories.”
By Patrick Quinn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter