Manitoba·CBC Investigates

'I didn't know who to tell': First Nations victims of intimate partner violence suffer from lack of services

Indigenous leaders say it's time to address the issues surrounding domestic violence, and the shortage of federally funded shelters servicing Manitoba's north.

5 of the 12 Manitobans killed by their partners in 2018 lived in First Nations communities: Statistics Canada

Kathleen Wood, 35, was beaten to death in January 2018. Her husband, Jonathan Wood, has been sentenced to 18 years in prison. (Kachi Wood/Facebook)

Helena Wood, Arlene Wood and Kathleen Wood are linked by common threads: all three come from the same remote community in northern Manitoba. All three suffered violence at the hands of their partners.

Now, Kathleen Wood is dead — and her husband stands accused of the crime.

Indigenous leaders say it's time to address the issues surrounding domestic violence, and the shortage of federally funded shelters servicing Manitoba's north.

Twelve Manitobans were killed by their partners in 2018, according to Statistics Canada. Five of those people lived in First Nations communities. 

One of them was  Kathleen Wood, who was beaten to death on the evening of Jan. 27, 2018, in St. Theresa Point — a First Nation about 500 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

Her injuries were so severe that an emergency responder who had known Kathleen for more than 20 years had no idea the lifeless body she was trying to resuscitate was Kathleen's.

Helena Wood and Arlene Wood knew their friend was being abused. They could see the warning signs because they were also being beaten by their partners. But the women didn't talk openly about it.

"I get angry when I hear about this," Helena said of Kathleen's death. "This could have been prevented if somebody just listened."

Kathleen Wood pictured in this Oct. 1, 2017, social media post with Jonathan Wood, who is now on trial for her murder. (Kachi Wood/Facebook)

Jonathan Wood, Kathleen's husband and partner of 13 years, pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in connection with her death. His trial wrapped up in Winnipeg last week and on Thursday, he was convicted of manslaughter.

Jonathan had a history of beating his wife, according to court records. At a 2013 sentencing hearing, he admitted to grabbing Kathleen's throat in 2012 and punching her several times the following year, when she was eight months pregnant.

He was sentenced to four months in jail and ordered not to have contact with his wife when he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. That's because Kathleen still wanted to be with Jonathan. She loved him and they had four kids together. She just didn't want him around when he was drunk or high.

Jonathan was convicted again in 2016 for a violent assault on Kathleen. She had three fractured ribs and a partially collapsed lung, and needed a metal plate in her arm to repair the damage, according to court records. 

Still, Kathleen and Jonathan stayed together.

Arlene Wood was married to Kathleen Wood's brother for nearly a decade. She alleges he abused her. (CBC)

"We did say it — 'what if next time you don't get up? What if next time it's worse?'" said Arlene Wood, who was Kathleen's sister-in-law as well as her friend.

Arlene was married to Kathleen's brother for nearly a decade. Arlene alleges her husband used to beat her, but she never considered leaving him.

"That never crossed my mind. It was always like, you have to be with him, we have to stick it out," said Arlene.

"Your marriage is, you know, sacred, and you have to endure it. Just stick it out, you're always told."

She says her marriage ended in 2008 when her husband was jailed for an unrelated incident.

Held captive by isolation, inadequate resources

Unlike Arlene, Helena Wood wanted to take her four kids and get out of St. Theresa Point.

"I didn't know how to go about it and I didn't know who to tell — more because it's an isolated community and there's no resources," said Helena.

Her eldest daughter used to call for help when Helena was being beaten. Then in February 2010, the 15-year-old girl took her own life.

Helena Wood escaped a cycle of domestic violence by leaving her community, St. Theresa Point, in 2010. Her goal is to have her journey inspire other women who are suffering. (CBC)

Months later, Helena's youngest daughter also attempted suicide. Only then did Helena learn there was help available.

"That's where I got my resources, my information — once she was seen by a psychiatrist," said Helena. 

"And then she told me about shelters. I said, 'Oh, I never knew that.' 

"I've heard of facilities, but I never knew I could go there."

5 shelters for 63 First Nations

The numbers show a desperate need for those shelters — and that they're lacking in First Nations communities.

In 2014, the RCMP published a landmark report on the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women. It found that nearly 70 per cent of the 1,017 Indigenous women murdered between 1980 and 2012 were killed in their own homes.

Statistics Canada's country-wide survey on self-reported victimization found in 2014 that Indigenous women were about three times as likely to report being a victim of spousal violence as non-Indigenous women. More than 10 per cent of the Indigenous respondents reported having been assaulted by their spouse or common-law partner in the past five years.

There are 63 distinct First Nations communities in Manitoba, with territories scattered across large, often remote expanses of the province.

But there are only five federally funded, on-reserve women's shelters and four addictions treatment centres.

Establishing shelters on First Nations is a shared responsibility. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is responsible for the capital costs of building the facilities, and Indigenous Services Canada covers the ongoing operating costs.

In 2016, the federal government set aside money for the construction of new emergency shelters on First Nations across Canada. It received 38 applications nationwide, eight of which were from Manitoba.

The CMHC had enough funds to create five new shelters, one of which was in Nelson House, approximately 65 kilometres west of the northern Manitoba city of Thompson.

CMHC wouldn't specify where the 33 unsuccessful applicants were located.

"Unfortunately due to the significant oversubscription to the expression of interest,  we were unable to fund the construction of the majority of them," CMHC senior media relations officer Len Catling wrote in an email to CBC News.

Almost two dozen Manitoba First Nation communities are not accessible by an all-weather road, resulting in significant transportation challenges. The issue intensified after Greyhound bus lines stopped servicing the province in 2018.

Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation Chief Marcel Moody celebrates the grand opening of an emergency shelter in Nelson House First Nation in November 2018. (Submitted by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation)

"This is not adequate," said Garrison Settee, the grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, an advocacy organization representing northern Manitoba First Nations.

"They require these shelters so that women can have a place to go."

Settee says every First Nations community should have shelter and addictions services.

Pressure on provincially funded network

The lack of on-reserve services means First Nations women and children fleeing abusive relationships have to turn to off-reserve shelters, which routinely turn people away because they are at capacity.

There are 10 provincially funded emergency shelters in Manitoba and only two of them are in the north — in The Pas and Thompson. In 2018, those shelters provided services for 3,338 people, for a total of nearly 40,000 daily bed uses.

Deena Brock, the provincial co-ordinator at the Manitoba Association of Women’s Shelters, says stagnant funding levels makes it difficult for shelters to compete with other government agencies for experienced social workers. (Deena Brock)

Deena Brock, the provincial co-ordinator at the Manitoba Association of Women's Shelters, says all women in need are welcome, but shelters increasingly struggle to manage their clientele, who come with complex issues like addictions and intergenerational trauma.

"Having a staff [member] who is a domestic violence counselor is great," she said. "But now we need that staff person to be able to recognize these underlying issues, such as addictions or mental health, medical issues."

Brock says shelters province-wide struggle to maintain and recruit experienced social workers who are often lured away by employers that can afford higher wages, such as Child and Family Services agencies.

More resources needed: MKO Chief

"I think that the government needs to step up and address the violence against women," says MKO Grand Chief Settee.

Last year, Indigenous Services Canada spent $3.2 million to operate five federally funded Manitoba shelters, and an additional $1.1 million to support First Nation prevention projects in the province.

CMHC says in June 2019, the governments of Canada and Manitoba signed a bilateral agreement to tap into $450 million in funding for housing in the province over the next 10 years. Some of the money could be used to build new shelters in First Nation communities.

Helena Wood left St. Theresa Point in 2010 and now lives in southern Manitoba. She believes education for both women and men is key to breaking the cycle of violence, and she's eager to share her healing journey.

She isn't sure how to break the cycle of violence, but she's been using her Facebook page to let other women know there is help.

"I want to do workshops with people, to give them hope," she said. "That way we can stop that cycle.… They can break it if we teach them."

If you're experiencing intimate partner abuse there is help out there. Contact the province-wide crisis line 1-877-977-0007 or the Winnipeg crisis line 204-615-0311. If you are in immediate danger call 911.

WATCH | Caroline Barghout's report:

First Nations victims of intimate partner violence suffer from lack of services

3 years ago
Duration 3:22
Addressing the issues surrounding domestic violence, and the shortage of federally funded shelters servicing Manitoba's north.


This story is part of Stopping Domestic Violence, a CBC News series looking at the crisis of intimate partner violence in Canada and what can be done to end it.


Caroline Barghout

Investigative Reporter, CBC Manitoba I-Team

Caroline began her career co-hosting an internet radio talk show in Toronto and then worked at various stations in Oshawa, Sudbury and Toronto before landing in Winnipeg in 2007. Since joining CBC Manitoba as a reporter in 2013, she has won an award for her work on crowded jails and her investigation into Tina Fontaine's death led to changes in the child welfare system. Email: