Rita Taypayosatum desperately wanted to end the cycle of abuse she says has followed her most of her life.

"I've been abused in all sorts of different ways — verbally, physically, mentally — throughout my life since I was about 12. That's why I figured the trauma would be something I could look at. Why I'm drawn to certain people."

But Taypayosatum has never felt comfortable with conventional forms of counselling.

"I don't like people who are book knowledge. I won't listen to them because they always try to tell you they know what life is like, and they've never experienced anything, so how can they actually know what we go through?"

Earlier this year, she learned about a new pilot project in Moose Jaw, Sask., helping Indigenous women and their families to heal after leaving a violent relationship.

"When I saw it had to do with culture and teachings, and dealing with women's traumas, I thought 'well, that would be something that would be great.'"

Rita Taypayosatum

Rita Taypayosatum says she never felt comfortable in a conventional counselling setting, and has always gravitated toward Indigenous culture and teachings. (Rachel Zelniker/CBC)

'Picking up what's rightfully theirs'

Taypayosatum is one of 12 women enrolled in Nato' we ho win, a new program run by the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services (PATHS) that uses Indigenous cultural traditions to help women heal from domestic abuse.

"Coming to know who you are, it's identity building, and every woman who comes into the circle is picking up what's rightfully theirs," said Barb Frazer, an Indigenous knowledge-keeper in Moose Jaw and the group's facilitator.

Each week, Frazer leads the women through a different spiritual teaching related to women's roles in Indigenous culture, with a emphasis on self-care and healthy living.

After a group discussion, the women spend the remainder of their time learning how to use a bead loom to make traditional First Nations belts.

Building relationships

Taypayosatum says those teachings are helping the group build confidence and feelings of self-worth.

"It all kind of combines into looking after yourself in a different way, and a lot of us stray from it, but we always know it's there to come back to."

'It gives me hope and support, and it makes me not feel that I'm alone.' - Lisa Neuls

While Taypayosatum said these kind of cultural interventions aren't new to her, others in the group are learning them for the first time.

"It's making me stronger," said Lisa Neuls.

"I, myself, I have lost my culture, and this is a way to get that back, and be stronger for the ones who are still coping."

However, both women described the relationships they're building with the other participants, who have shared similar experiences, as one of the greatest benefits.

"It gives me hope and support, and it makes me not feel that I'm alone," said Neuls.

Passing it on to the children

According to Neuls and Taypayosatum, the learning and sharing doesn't stop when the women walk out the door.

"A lot of the women still have young kids … and they're taking … what we're learning to their kids and practising it with them," said Taypayosatum.

Neuls said being able to pass on cultural teachings to her two sons has been the most rewarding part of her journey.

"They're in awe, let's just put it that way. They've never known… so they ask questions… and they're like 'Wow.'

"It's inspiration, it's hope, it's knowledge that we can always pass down through generations."

The program wraps up this month, but organizers are hoping to expand it to Prince Albert and Regina in the fall.