North End community focuses on next generation to end domestic violence

Dozens of people walked through Winnipeg's North End Friday night for Wahbung Abinoonjiiag's third annual End the Silence, Stop the Violence walk.

'I want to take my family back, and take back what's been taken from me,' said one survivor of abuse

Six-year-old Serenity Mann leads dozens of people down Winnipeg's Dufferin Avenue during Wahbung Abinoonjiiag's third annual domestic violence awareness walk. (Caitlyn Gowriluk/CBC)

When Stephanie Guimond first got into a relationship that would soon turn violent, she was barely 15.

She stayed with him until she was 27.

"It takes a long time to leave," said Guimond, now 47. "It took me maybe hundreds of times to leave him."

Now, as her daughters get to the age she was when she began a relationship with a man she would later move provinces to get away from, Guimond is hoping to break the cycle of abuse.

"I want to take my family back, and take back what's been taken from me," she said. "It helps a lot to open up to women, and to open up to other people that have been there, so you know you're not alone."

And on Friday night, Guimond wasn't alone. She walked through Winnipeg's North End surrounded by dozens of people, many of whom were also survivors of domestic violence, for the third annual End the Silence, Stop the Violence walk organized by domestic violence prevention centre Wahbung Abinoonjiiag.

Spending time with other survivors is healing, Guimond said, but it's not easy.

"It brings out a lot of pain," she said, starting to cry. "I just want to come empower my daughters, and let them know that we're not broken."

Stephanie Guimond, a survivor of domestic violence, plays the drum during the walk on Friday night. (Caitlyn Gowriluk/CBC)

'No child deserves to be hurt'

The awareness walk comes after a violent week in Winnipeg that included three-year-old Hunter Straight-Smith being stabbed in his sleep, allegedly by his mother's ex-boyfriend.

On Thursday, 33-year-old Daniel Jensen was charged with attempted murder and assault causing bodily harm in connection with the attack.

At a vigil on Friday afternoon, a spokesperson for Hunter's family told the dozens of people in attendance that the family would decide later in the day whether to take the three-year-old off life-support.

Police said Jensen, who is not the child's biological father, was with Hunter's mother, Clarie Smith — his on-again, off-again girlfriend — when they got into an argument that escalated into a violent assault.

"It's sad. He should've gotten help for what he was going through. I tell people out there, if you're going through that, walk away and get help. No child deserves to be hurt," family spokesperson Darryl Contois said at the vigil on Friday.

"You're a bigger man when you walk away and deal with your problems."

'Don't ever be ashamed'

Kelsey Gregoire, a co-ordinator at Wahbung Abinoonjiiag, said the walk gives survivors a chance to have their voices heard.

"We want to honour all families that are experiencing violence," she said. "And come together as a community to walk and to create awareness and to share our voices, share our stories, and empower communities."

Hilda Mann has placed her hope in the next generation — and in her six-year-old granddaughter, Serenity.

"She's got a voice," said Mann. "That's the way I'm raising her."

People gathered at Wahbung Abinoonjiiag for the walk on Friday night and brought signs with messages about healing. (Caitlyn Gowriluk/CBC)

Mann said she started being able to heal from her experience with domestic violence once she realized the power of her own voice in a sharing circle.

"I shared my story, and several women cried, and I felt really bad about it — and the elder came to me and said, 'Don't ever be ashamed of sharing your story.' She said, 'In sharing your story, you give other women permission to share theirs,'" said Mann, 52. 

"And they don't really need permission, but when you're forced to be silent all the time, you feel like you don't have a right to say no to this. And that's what it's about."

Mann said ever since she started raising Serenity about two years ago, it's a lesson she's kept front of mind.

"It's important that she never loses her voice," she said. "That's my focus, is to raise her in a good way so that she doesn't get to the point where she gets into those kinds of relationships. She knows that she can heal, that she deserves a good life."

With files from Marina von Stackelberg