A pilot project in Moose Jaw, Sask., is being designed for Indigenous women and their families to help them recover after leaving a violent relationship.

Saskatchewan leads all other provinces when it comes to intimate partner violence, homicide and sexual assault, and Indigenous women are at a higher risk, according to Statistics Canada. 

The 12-week program is the first of its kind, and it's being run by the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services (PATHS).

"We think that this is really important because after women have left a violent relationship, they need something to help them build resilience, build skills and give them something positive," said Crystal Giesbrecht, director of research and communications for PATHS.

Cultural component

Giesbrecht said the project uses Indigenous knowledge to help women heal.

She said that the vast majority of the clientele of domestic violence shelters and counselling services across the province are Indigenous women.

"We know that there is a need to make sure we are providing services that are culturally appropriate and that work well for Indigenous women, so we saw this as an opportunity to provide something that is really needed in this province."

The program has a number of partners with years of experience designing the cultural intervention, Giesbrecht said.

Barb Frazer, an Indigenous knowledge keeper in Moose Jaw, designed the program and its activities.

Activities will include handbuilding — the tradition of making things with your hands following Cree traditions — storytelling and photography. An elder will also be present for all group sessions for counselling.

Federal funding for research

The program will also be receiving funding from the federal government through the Public Health Agency of Canada.

"They are looking to find out what is evidence based, and to do really good research because we want to know if this works," she said.

The women participating will be asked questions before and after the program to gauge how it worked for them, and then followed up with more questions three months and one year after the program. This qualitative data will be used to inform subsequent groups.

PATHS will have domestic violence shelters and counselling centres referring women to participate in the program.

It will begin in Moose Jaw in March before expanding to Prince Albert and Regina in the fall.

With files from The Afternoon Edition