According to a CBC report, there is a plan to open two women’s shelters in Eeyou Istchee, but it appears unlikely they will open in February 2015 as initially scheduled.
Cree Quebec Judicial Advisory Committee Chairperson Gerti Murdoch seemed annoyed with the CBC’s coverage when contacted by the Nation.
“We’re still waiting for the ministry to call and confirm it, so we don’t have any definite date or answer on,” she said. “We’ve definitely selected those two communities, but we haven’t even informed them yet. They know they’ve been selected verbally, but they haven’t gotten anything in writing. We’re very hopeful it will happen soon.”
The shelters are definitely coming. It’s just a matter of time.
“They’re planned to be constructed,” said Lisa Petagumskum, Assistant Executive Director for the Miyupimaatisiiun Department of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB). “We’re waiting on the ministry’s approval for the leases. All our leases go through them; that’s the process we have. We had secured funding to operate them through the last health agreement, and it’s Cree Justice that’s going to construct them. We will lease it from them.”
The shelters – one serving the inland communities, and the other serving the coastal ones – would be the first facilities of their kind for Eeyou Istchee. At the moment, Cree women and children leaving abusive homes have to head to southern non-Cree communities. The two shelters each would house 18 beds to support survivors of domestic violence.
“It’s a first-time thing for the Cree Nation,” Petagumskum said. “It’s the first time we’re going to operate them, so we’ll have to continue the collaboration we have with Cree Justice, and also with the Cree Women of Eeyou Istchee in program development. Ultimately we’re the ones who have to operate them.”
Keeping women and children who have fled abuse within their own culture and language is of primary importance in the planning of shelters.
“Ultimately the language is a major factor,” said Petagumskum. “This is where we’d ensure the access to language – our workers would work in the language the clients are comfortable in. And the approaches and ceremonies that the women and children would ask for would ensure these measures for cultural safety and cultural competency is taken into consideration in program development.”
Because the communities are small, the shelters will not be able to provide the secrecy and anonymity of major metropolitan centres. But Petagumskum said that should not reduce their value – especially since big cities are unwelcoming to Cree women and children in other ways.
“All those measures were taken into consideration; safety, the security of the units,” she said. “Yes, everybody will know what this facility is for, but at the same time, we didn’t want the women to be in a place where they felt like they were in a detention centre. We wanted it to be welcoming, but at the same time secure, so they’re given the support and the tools they need to ensure this doesn’t continue in their families.”
The primary goal of the CBHSSJB is to promote prevention in families to deter violence before it happens, and Petagumskum said shelters reinforce that goal.
“They assist the prevention that needs to take place in the community,” she said, “to ensure that everybody is made aware that this is a priority of the Cree Nation, and steps have been taken to make sure this resource is available for the families that need it.”
Though she recognized that shelters are not a complete solution to family, Petagumskum observed they are necessary in every community, Native or non-Native.
“In an ideal situation there’d be no need for these shelters because we would have all raised our children to not accept violence,” said Petagumskum. “And we would equip people with the parenting skills and support to be able to heal themselves as family units, to ensure this violence doesn’t take place. But at the moment, this is what we have.”