Construction has begun on the new shelter on Manitoulin Island, Ont., one which will offer culturally appropriate programming to Indigenous victims of violence.

The Naandwechige-Gamig Wikwemikong Health Centre was given $2.3 million dollars from the federal government for the construction project.

The 8,000 square foot facility will be built on Genevieve Street in Wikwemikong. It will have 13 bedrooms, including two family suites. At full capacity it could accommodate 17 individuals.

Shelter to accept men and women

Once it's operational the shelter will accept both women with families, men with families, and individual clients of either gender, as well as youth over the age of 16.

"We're looking at the facility to provide a safe environment for people where they're in a volatile situation and need a safe place to call home," says health services director Mary Jo Wabano.

There is a mainstream-based shelter already operating on Manitoulin. Wabano says the new facility will be different in that it will provide programs that are culturally appropriate for Indigenous clients seeking refuge from violence.

Blessing land -Wikwemikong

Wikwemikong Health Centre invited local dignitaries and community members to ceremonially bless the land of the future shelter through a traditional pipe ceremony, prayer and honour songs. (Kerry Assiniwe)

"Through the use of our language, through the use of our ceremonies, accessing our knowledge keepers and our elders, using our own case management model to support individuals as they come into the facility," Wabano says.

"We want to really have the culture as the base of the work that we're doing within the shelter."

Shelter a first for Wikwemikong Health Centre

The Wikwemikong Health Centre has never run a shelter before, but Wabano is not deterred. She calls the project a new opportunity for the community, explaining that Naandwechige-Gamig means 'house of healing'.

"The shelter itself signifies that same theme — house of healing — so a person requiring that safety," says Wabano.

She adds the shelter facility will be another component to the programs and services the health centre currently delivers, including family violence prevention programs, mental health and addiction supports.

"When we require supports among our individual families, among one another, that door that's going to be open now will be ... a long-lasting support. Because you know that's where your healing begins," says Wabano.

'Warm' and 'welcoming'

Naandwechige-Gamig Wikwemikong Health Centre will be hiring staff to help run the shelter. Wabano says it will include more full-time, casual and contract staff, however she didn't give a specific number.

Since the shelter is federally funded, construction must be completed by December 2018. Wabano says she hopes it will be ready to start accepting clients by the fall of next year.

Wikwemikong is just one of five sites across Canada to receive federal funding for an on-reserve shelter.

"This is a place that will be warm and welcoming. It'll be a place that will support [victims of violence]."

With files from Angela Gemmill