Indigenous healing lodge gets green light in Scarborough neighbourhood

A healing lodge for Indigenous women in the criminal justice system been approved for southwest Scarborough, amid objections from some local residents

Local residents had raised concerns about traffic, safety

An architect's illustration of the six-storey healing lodge planned for Scarborough. (Submitted by Alex Lusty)

A healing lodge for Indigenous women who are dealing with the criminal justice system has been approved for southwest Scarborough amid objections from some local residents

Scarborough's committee of adjustment voted unanimously in favour of the lodge at its hearing Thursday afternoon.

"We were all just elated," said Patti Pettigrew, president of the Thunder Women Healing Lodge Society.

These women "deserve to have a chance to heal," she said.

The 24-bed lodge would offer short-term housing and support for Indigenous women who are either before the justice system, or re-integrating into society after incarceration, said Pettigrew.

A dozen women will have a structured, mandatory daily program that includes trauma counselling, cultural teaching and healing circles, said Pettigrew.

They can then transition into 12 temporary apartments in the building. 

Pettigrew said the lodge will address issues like intergenerational violence and teach life skills. There will also be a small store at the facility where women can gain work experience.

Community concerns

The project has been a source of controversy in the area. Some residents have raised concerns about limited parking space and traffic congestion; the building's proximity to schools; safety and crime; depreciating property values and a perceived lack of consultation. 

A public meeting in June drew more than 400 residents, said Coun. Gary Crawford. The original hearing date was pushed back a month to allow for five smaller community discussions.

About 60 to 75 people  — both for and against the project — showed up for the 90-minute hearing discussion on Thursday, said committee manager Andre Robichaud.

Patti Pettigrew, the president of the Thunder Woman Healing Lodge Society, told CBC previously that the location at the corner of Cliffside Drive and Kingston Road is ideal. It has access to social services and transportation, she said, and there's a high Indigenous population in Scarborough. (Grant Linton/CBC)

The meeting was "emotional," said Pettigrew, who says she was grateful to see supporters of the lodge turn out. The committee also reviewed around 33 letters of support and 18 letters of objection.

In letters of opposition, residents were concerned that the lodge had only one proposed parking space and about potential congestion issues. 

"The proposed location ... is in close proximity to an elementary school," wrote resident K. Fedak. "It is not suitable for people who are in conflict with the law to be receiving treatment so close to ... children."

"Our neighbourhood is not developed yet to support a healing lodge," wrote Jessica Riofrio."You will be ruining the reputation of our area and decreasing our property values."
This vacant lot, at the corner of Cliffside Drive and Kingston Road, is the proposed site of the new Thunder Woman Healing Lodge. (Grant Linton/CBC)

Pettigrew said there are already people in the community who have been released from incarceration, she said, but they are living without proper support.

The women in the lodge "will have the support they need so that they can transition into their community in a healthy way," she said.

The program is voluntary, she said, and potential candidates be assessed for their commitment and motivation.

The lodge will let women — many of whom have had very difficult backgrounds —  restore their cultural identity, gain strength and "experience their true power as Indigenous women," Pettigrew said.

'Thinly veiled racism'

One of the biggest challenges for the lodge will be "explicit and thinly veiled racism and classism," wrote resident Kristen Wallace in a letter of support.

"We need to welcome this project in and welcome these women back to their community. We have an absolute responsibility as settlers to be a part of reconciliation." 

The lodge is planned for a vacant lot at the southwest corner of Cliffside Drive and Kingston Road. It's an ideal part of the city, Pettigrew said, with ample social services, good transportation connections.

There's also a high number of Indigenous people in the area, Pettigrew noted, and it's close to the lake, which she says is important for Indigenous women.

Members of the public have 20 days after the approval to appeal the decision.
Sketches of the healing lodge. (Submitted by Alex Lusty)

Despite opposition, Pettigrew said she is delighted with the amount of community support she's seen in the Cliffside area —  it confirms they made the right location choice, she said.

"We're going to be an asset to the community," she said. "At the end of the day, the community will be really proud of itself that they did accept us."

The project has been in the planning process for about two years, Pettigrew said, with a cost of $12 million. Pettigrew hopes to start construction by the spring.

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women confirmed that Indigenous women need more supports within the wider community, she previously told CBC News.

Indigenous women are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, Pettigrew said, and current structures aren't working.

Pettigrew believes there will be a much higher success rate for women moving back into society by working with Indigenous women and "having our own system."


With files from Michael Smee