New programming is on the way to help prevent family and gender-based violence in the Yukon, along with an Indigenous-led shelter for survivors.
Last week, the Government of Yukon announced the finalization of a land transfer in Whistle Bend to the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN), in what is set to serve as a planned Indigenous women and children’s shelter—for a total of $1.
According to an August 17 press release, the historic project will be the first-of-its-kind Indigenous-led shelter, offering a total of 32 beds across 15 apartments funded through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC)’s Indigenous Shelter and Transitional Housing Initiative.
The news of the shelter comes after the federal government announced over $1 million in funding last month to help prevent family and gender-based violence and support the mental and physical health of survivors in the Yukon territory.
The program will encourage men who are part of or identify as Yukon First Nations who have or are at risk of using violence in their families to “engage in a voluntary violence prevention program in their home community.” Ultimately, the initiative is expected to be delivered in 14 Yukon communities, both to reflect the unique needs of the communities and to provide additional support to participants after the program.
Funding will help close programming gaps
Speaking to reporters at the funding announcement, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett pointed out that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted children and families at risk of violence, something the federal government is committed to correcting.
“This investment is an important step forward, but we know we have more to do and we will continue to take action to help prevent family violence and support those who have been affected,” Bennett said.
For the Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations, Peter Johnson, the funding means addressing gaps in programming for Yukon First Nations that are culturally appropriate.
“In addition to providing culturally-appropriate programming and support, the Yukon First Nation Violence Prevention program will increase community capacity in addressing and preventing family violence at the community level through planned training opportunities for community-based facilitators.,” Johnston said in a press release.
Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s sole member of Parliament, believes the government funding is much needed, particularly as Yukoners are disproportionately facing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic at home.
“We have seen a tragic increase in gender-based violence across the territory, and [this] announcement reflects the need to fill the gaps that have been highlighted,” Hanley said. “We know we have more to do, but we are committed to continuing preventative work and supporting family and gender-based violence survivors.”
In an interview with rabble.ca, CYFN executive director Shadelle Chambers said that the funding will help address what she called “fairly large gaps” in addressing family violence in the territory.
“We know that Yukon First Nations and Indigenous people are over represented as victims, but also as offenders in the intimate partner violence realm,” Chambers explained. “We also recognize that it’s really important for Yukon First Nations to develop our own programming and lead the way.”
Program will help students become teachers
Adapting an existing curriculum used in British Columbia, Chambers noted that the violence prevention initiative will see the students become the teachers, as the project will equip Indigenous men with the training to pass along to other men in their communities.
Ultimately, building the capacity of Yukon First Nations is Chambers’ priority, something she noted “empowers our communities to take leadership roles in addressing some of the traumas that have occurred in our community.”
Chambers also pointed out that having an “entrenched knowledge of shared experience” is crucial to unpacking the intergenerational trauma inflicted on Indigenous people through residential schools, the Indian Act, and the ongoing genocidal legacy of colonization. She added that while there may be plenty of violence prevention programs across the country, it’s not the same reality in the Yukon, especially when it comes to preventative initiatives.
“Right now, there are some domestic violence and intimate partner programs that are mandated for people involved in the criminal justice system,” Chambers said, noting participants need to be convicted and sentenced, further perpetuating the over representation of Indigenous people in Canadian prisons. “This is really through the lens of not waiting until something happens to try to address the root causes of family or intimate partner violence through a prevention-based lens.”
Between the violence prevention program and the new Indigenous-led women and children’s shelter, Chambers noted the projects are just two parts of a “continuum of services and wraparound supports for our communities.”
And it’s not just the criminal justice system causing disproportionate harm. Chambers pointed out that family violence and children witnessing intimate-partner violence is a leading factor for children and families becoming involved in the child welfare system—a system that has been widely considered a continuation of residential schools.
“It is generational,” she said. “If families have experienced or witnessed family violence with their own parents, which are first generation residential school survivors, who have witnessed and been victims of all types of violence, it’s not too surprising that we continue to see this. However, we need to have these honest, hard conversations about what has happened to our people and continues to happen to our people in these communities.”