Ceremony held to bless future site of Waskaganish women's shelter
2 shelters to be built this spring for women fleeing domestic violence
People from all 10 Cree communities in Quebec gathered in Waskaganish Tuesday for a ceremonial blessing of the ground on which a new women's shelter will be built.
After 12 years of planning, seeing the project come to fruition "brings a lot of joy to my heart," said Virigina Wabano, the program officer in charge of the project with the Cree Board of Health and Social Services.
"It makes me want to cry tears of happiness and tears of sadness," said Wabano.
"Happy because we have a place to keep our women. Sad at the same time because of those that died because we didn't have something for them."
The shelter in Waskaganish will serve the coastal communities (Whapmagoostui, Chisasibi, Wemindji, Waskaganish, and Eastmain) and a second shelter also being built this spring in Waswanipi will primarily serve the inland Cree communities (Waswanipi, Oujé-Bougoumou, Mistissini and Nemaska).
Each facility will have 18 beds as well as counselling and support services for women and their children who are fleeing domestic violence.
A 2004 report by the Cree Board of Health and Social Services said that in the largest Cree community there was an average of nine cases of conjugal violence every month, totalling about 108 cases a year. The report said almost all cases were associated with alcohol and drug abuse.
At that time many Cree women were being sent to cities in southern Canada to escape violence at home, but they struggled to get the services they needed in what for many was their second or third language.
"The language barrier was another reason it was important to have [the shelters] within the territory, so people can be helped by their own people, in their own language," said Wabano.
"Having that brings more of a sense of community and it helps them develop more in their healing, when they're understood."
William Saganash travelled from Waswanipi to Waskaganish to be part of the groundbreaking ceremony. As a police officer with the Eeyou Eenou Police Force, he intervenes in cases of domestic violence.
One of the reasons he chose policing as a career was to help people like his own mother, who survived years of conjugal abuse.
"She lived in that fear for so many years," Saganash said.
"Us too, as children. That fear no longer lives in us. It's how to get away from the problem, how to eliminate the trauma that you've lived and seek the help you need. That's what I experienced and that's why I became a cop."
Saganash said having shelters in the Cree territory will make it easier for women to take that first step toward getting help.
"It is not something to be proud of — though it is a need — when you have to build a women's shelter," said Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come after the ceremony.
"It is a signal that there is some illness in the social fabric of our society."
Coon Come underlined the need for services not only for women and children but also for men, many of whom are dealing with residential school trauma and addiction.