Creating Safe Spaces and Healthy Communities in Rural and Indigenous RMWB
Providing rural outreach shelter work is complex, but the Domestic-Family Violence Outreach Team at Waypoints has the heart and will. Working in rural and Indigenous RMWB has been a journey for the Team-who reached their current operational status in April 2017.
To share with you our work, we will first acknowledge that Waypoints, the RMWB, YMM Magazine and its readership are located on Traditional Treaty 8 Lands, home to the Cree and Dene people and the unceded territory of the Métis and an ancient gathering place to many Indigenous peoples for thousands of years. We honour the courage and strength of Indigenous women. We honour them as life givers and caregivers as we honour and learn from their continuing achievements, their consistent strength and their remarkable endurance.
Although this traditional acknowledgment is typically read aloud, we must remember we are all Treaty People and acknowledge those that came before us.
We’ve divided this article into 4 sections, representing the 4 directions, stages of life and seasons as depicted by the medicine wheel.
1. The Outreach Team, consisting of two Trauma Counsellors, two Coordinators and a Manager provide direct client services to individuals who have been affected by current or historical domestic-family violence, unhealthy relationships and the associated traumas. Their mission is “working together to end family violence through support, education and awareness in our rural and urban communities.” The Team travels to Anzac, Conklin, Fort Chipewyan, Fort McKay, Fort McMurray and Janvier.
2. While on the road and in town, the Team has created meaningful relationships, safer homes and communities. The pillar of outreach work is that you break free of the bricks and mortar institutions and meet people where they are—whether that is geographically or somewhere along their journey to healing, recognizing that healing is different for everyone.
Our work at Waypoints is about more than intervention and direct client services, it is also prevention, awareness and social justice. This comes in many different forms taking us on many different journeys. Whatever we do and wherever we go we strive to bring dignity, respect, safety and empowerment. Whether an individual needs to escape an abusive situation, needs information to help a friend or needs someone to just listen, the Outreach Team works with individuals and communities, not for.
But sometimes our work keeps us in Fort McMurray, working to bring awareness to issues like Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, locally and nationally. In November, we co-host the annual Sisters in Spirit Vigil with ABSI Connect and Nistawoyou Association Friendship Centre. The Vigil is a memorial declaring that we will continue to stand with victims and their families, say their names and advocate for justice. The Vigil honours the lives of Amber Tuccaro, Elaine Alook, Janice Cher Desjarlais, Shirly Waquan and Shelley Tannis Dene, – five women missing or murdered from the RMWB, along with lives of our other stolen sisters. With traditional food, prayers, a smudge, speakers and a candlelight vigil, we share in honouring and healing. To learn more about local initiatives related to MMIW, take a look at the No More Stolen Sister-Treaty 8 Facebook Page.
At our awareness events, you’ll often find us sharing the Moosehide Campaign—a national initiative calling men to end violence against women and girls. The Moosehide Campaign began in northern BC by a father and daughter who were moose hunting close to the Highway of Tears. As they skinned a moose that would sustain their community and honour life, they wondered how they could use this cultural practice to bring awareness to the staggering rates of Indigenous and non-Indigenous women who’ve lost their lives along that very strip. Taking the hide to the community, their family and friends helped them cut it into tiny squares. With each square, they hope to inspire men and boys to end violence against women and girls.
Part of preventing gender-based violence and helping individuals heal from it, is to bring awareness to the issue. To take what used to be a private, shameful issue spoken of only in the home, into the light and stand up against violence. In bringing awareness and standing with survivors, we also create safe spaces for healing. Whatever that may look like. In healing individuals, we also heal ourselves and our communities. Part of our mission is to create healthy communities, kilometre by kilometre.
3. Rural outreach work is about a lot more than driving out of the city limits, it’s about inclusion, creating safe spaces, reflecting and respecting culture and acknowledging the lived experiences of residents, whatever those may be.
Throughout this article, we’ve explored what we do and why we do it, so the next stop on our journey is how we do it. To Indigenize this article and share traditional knowledge with you while exploring our work, we will use the 7 Sacred or Grandfather Teachings as a means to walk with us. The 7 Sacred Teachings are practised, valued and shared by many Indigenous people and are rooted in our natural world but teach us the path to a healthy and happy life.
We must empower our clients to have the courage to make healthy decisions. The true power of healing comes from within; we simply share the resources and create a safe space for individuals to create their path to healing.
It takes courage to stand up against gender-based violence, saying that there is no excuse for abuse and recognizing that our social and cultural beliefs can prevent or promote further violence against women and girls.
Giving survivors a space to be honest with themselves and not judging them on their experiences or narratives. Each of us have a story and we believe that healing comes from sharing.
In a helping profession, we have to be honest with ourselves about our limits and responsibilities, recognizing that vicarious trauma and burnout are real. We have to fill our cup before we can help fill another’s.
Like the wolf, we put others before ourselves and ask for nothing in return, rather hope for the safety, security and health of our clients and communities.
In rural outreach work, we cannot do anything alone. Our partners, allies and clients empower us to do the best we can. Whether it is promotions, space or referrals, our community partners are a totem of our work.
We hope our clients will love themselves and learn what healthy/unhealthy relationships are. Self-love and self-care are important parts in our healing journeys.
We love what we do and our community. Through dedication and understanding, we are on a mission to create healthy and safe individuals and communities.
We promote respect for self and others and believe it is the foundation for healthy individuals and relationships. By practising and promoting respect in all we do, we hope to inspire others.
Working in different communities and nations means we have to understand and respect their cultures and traditions and not impose our own. It also means respect for diversity in thought and worldview.
It takes wisdom to do this work—of shelters, gender-based violence, trauma and clinical work. We are always in search of information and opportunities to improve the care we provide.
We have wisdom of our rural and Indigenous communities, whether we’ve worked or lived there and use this lived experience to help create safe and respectful spaces.
We honour that each of us have a truth to tell and empower survivors to tell theirs. We create safe spaces, advocate when they cannot and give a voice to those who are often silenced.
As custodians of truth, we uphold limits of confidentiality and recognize that individuals expect trust and responsibility from all that we do. Without truth, our work would still remain in the closed doors of the home.
4. To close, we hope you’ve learned how dynamic rural outreach shelter work is and how we embrace culture and collaboration to create safe spaces and healthy communities. Outreach work is more than driving, but about bringing the comforts of your walls to where clients are. Quality of care should not be determined by geography or nationhood.
Our goal is healthy and safe residents and communities, but we also believe in social justice and advocacy, recognizing each of us has a role to play in ending gender-based violence. Through respect and understanding, we hope to bring healing, safety and wellbeing to all residents of our region. But we know we cannot do this work alone and acknowledge our community partners, allies, survivors and those who walk this path with us.
Hiy-Hiy. Merci-choo. Thank you.