Montreal project provides support to families of missing and murdered Indigenous women

The Native Women's Shelter of Montreal is getting money from the city for a program that offers support to Indigenous women whose safety is at risk and families of missing and murdered women and girls.

City approves giving $31K to Native Women's Shelter of Montreal for the Iskweu project

Jessica Quijano is the coordinator of the Iskweu project at the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal. The project aims to help families of missing Indigenous women while also trying to prevent the phenomenon altogether. (Gregory Todaro/CBC)

Montreal's Native Women's Shelter is getting money from the city for a program that offers support to Indigenous women whose safety is at risk and families of missing and murdered women and girls.

The City of Montreal's executive committee approved $31,150 in funding yesterday for the Iskweu project. Iskweu is Cree for woman.

That money comes in addition to $143,000 already pledged by the federal government.

"It is the only project in Canada where you have federal funding, municipal funding, community consultations on best practices and the police saying they will work with us," said Nakuset, the shelter's director.

Nakuset said police don't react quickly enough when an Indigenous woman disappears and most people in the Indigenous community are too afraid to go to the authorities when a woman is in danger.

So after two years of trying to secure funding, the shelter hired Jessica Quijano as coordinator. Her role is to help bridge the gap between the police and community members.

The project has been up and running for about six months. The idea is that as soon as a woman goes missing, Quijano will provide support for the family, help them through the process of filing a police report and with following up.

"Unfortunately, if you're an Indigenous woman in Montreal and you're in a situation of extreme poverty, you're seen as vulnerable," she told CBC Montreal's Daybreak. "It's wrong in so many different ways, but that's just the reality."

Nakuset said she is hoping the project will eventually be considered a best practice and other provinces will implement their own versions.

Working on prevention

They also help find missing women in different ways if the family doesn't want to have the police involved, Quijano said.

"It could be by calling some of the shelters, my contacts with outreach workers, it's really challenging in certain ways, especially when you're working with a population that is often criminalized," she said.

Quijano will also work with police on a protocol when Indigenous women or girls go missing.

There is also a prevention aspect as well — working with Indigenous women on the streets and trying to find them safe places to go, and creating a welcome kit for those who are new to the city.
Nakuset, executive director of Montreal's Native Women's Shelter, says the program could serve as a model for other cities across Canada. (CBC)

The project will also gather statistics, something Nakuset says has never been done before.

Quijano said not all the experiences have been positive — she says she has seen instances of racial and social profiling in her dealings with authorities.

But a Montreal police detective also helped find a woman who had been kidnapped, she said, adding she's hoping the project will lead to more encouraging interactions and results.

With files from Lauren McCallum and CBC Montreal's Daybreak