Montreal

Val-d'Or allegations spark crisis at Native Women's Shelter of Montreal

The Native Women's Shelter of Montreal says women seeking help there are reeling after hearing allegations of abuse by police officers in Val-d'Or. The news reports have sparked painful memories.

Shelter brings in elder to lead healing circles as women cope with painful memories

Montreal aboriginal community elder Morning Star Orr will lead two healing circles at Native Women's Shelter of Montreal. Women staying at the shelter are struggling with painful memories sparked by allegations of abuse in Val-d'Or. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

The Native Women's Shelter of Montreal says women staying at the shelter are coping with painful memories this week as they follow developments about allegations of abuse by some provincial police officers in Val-d'Or.  

"It's touched them somehow — it's either a friend or it's happened to them," said Nakuset, executive director of Native Women's Shelter of Montreal, in an interview with CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

A story by Daybreak's Shari Okeke: The Native Women's Shelter of Montreal says women staying at the shelter are coping with painful memories this week as they follow developments about allegations of abuse by some provincial police officers in Val-d'Or. 10:53

About 20 women are staying at the shelter. Most of them are from Northern Quebec or western Canada.

"Some people are re-living what they had gone through and other people are thinking of other family members and it's almost like an explosion that's happened here," Nakuset said.

Nakuset has asked an elder in Montreal's aboriginal community, Morning Star Orr, to lead two healing circles at the shelter this week.

'We have hurts and wounds'

"We have hurts and wounds from yesteryear that need to be acknowledged and the circle is a safe place for that," said Orr, who is originally from Fort McKay First Nation in Alberta but has lived in the Montreal area for 40 years. 

Orr explained a healing circle involves a group sitting in a circle, with a shrine of sacred items (a bowl of water, a feather, sage, cedar) in the middle of the circle.

It begins with a prayer and then participants pass a talking stick and take turns speaking, if they wish to speak.

"The circle too shows us how to transform. There's always teaching, how to transform anger and shame and turn everything into truth and beauty, because healing starts from within," Orr said. 

Nakuset, executive director of Native Women's Shelter of Montreal (left), and art therapist Pascale Annoual say they're organizing healing circles at the shelter as a direct response to the crisis women there are feeling after hearing about allegations of abuse in Val-d'Or. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

The Native Women's Shelter of Montreal will offer one healing circle for women living at the shelter and a separate healing circle for women working at the shelter.

Some staff members are having painful memories of their own, in addition to coping with the emotional exhaustion that comes with supporting women staying at the shelter.

Art therapist Pascale Annoual will help lead the healing circles and emphasizes women who participate are not obliged to speak.

"We're constantly reassuring them there's no such obligation and so they have to be very comfortable very grounded and centred," she said.

"They will get support if they decide to express their stories and if they decide to press charges or to denounce any part of the stories," Annoual said. 

About the Author

Shari Okeke is writer/broadcaster for Daybreak on CBC Radio, and creator of Mic Drop, an award-winning CBC original podcast.

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