Native women's shelter encourages Montrealers to step into spirit of reconciliation

The Native Women's Shelter of Montreal's sixth annual Spirit Walk takes place on June 15 to raise money for a healing retreat for the shelter's clients.

Saturday's Spirit Walk is an important fundraising event for the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal

Last year, the event raised $31,000 for the shelter. (Native Women's Shelter of Montreal)

For staff at the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal, their sixth annual Spirit Walk will be more than just the shelter's biggest fundraiser of the year.

The walk, which takes place on June 15 at Mount Royal, is an opportunity to get the city's Indigenous community together to support the countless Indigenous women who need the shelter.

"It's a chance for clients to see that people are there for them, care for them and are willing to put in the work to support them," said Sarah Nesbitt, one of the committee members who organizes the walks.

Funds raised go toward an annual healing retreat for clients. 

"It's a really important time for women to get out of the city, it gives them a chance to be together in a place that is low stress where they can form strong bonds with each other," said Nesbitt.

The healing retreat is also a chance for clients to connect with a range of traditional healing practices, like the sweat lodge and other cultural practices not covered by the shelter's core funding.

Over 150 walkers participated last year. This year, the shelter hopes to welcome at least 250 walkers on Mount Royal to demonstrate their support for Indigenous women and children. (Native Women's Shelter of Montreal)

"The shelter is chronically underfunded in a lot of ways and there's small fundraisers that happen over the entire year to support some of the more basic things," said Nesbitt.

"There's not enough resources, in general, for the shelter to function at the capacity it needs to as the only shelter that supports specifically Indigenous women and their children in Montreal."

MMIWG report calls for sustainable funding

Last year's walk brought together more than 150 walkers and raised $31,000. This year, they hope to welcome even more participants at the base of Mount Royal for the five kilometre walk in light of the release of the final report of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

The final report's calls for justice and its supplementary report on Quebec both call on governments to support long-term sustainable funding for culturally appropriate Indigenous-led shelters for Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people.

The shelter said the walk is a way for Montrealers to take action and support the wellbeing of Indigenous women and children.

"There's no way that we can talk about supporting change in terms of how Indigenous women are treated and made vulnerable in this society if we're not creating any supports to care for them," said Nesbitt.

"This is 100 per cent a huge issue and I really hope that this Call for Justice is heard and taken seriously by the government because we're definitely over stretched in all ways at all times."

The Spirit Walk takes place June 15 at 2 p.m., meeting at the base of Mount Royal at the statue of George-Etienne Cartier. 

About the Author

Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake. She works in CBC's Indigenous unit based in Montreal. Email her at or follow her on Twitter @Kanhehsiio.