An Indigenous approach for responding to gender based violence

Joyce Fossella is from the Lillooet Nation. Val Joseph is from the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation. Both work as part of the Warriors Against Violence Society, an organization in Vancouver that responds to gender-based violence using a holistic approach that is grounded in Indigenous cultures and in the context of the ongoing reality of colonial violence and trauma from the broader society that impacts Indigenous people. They speak with Scott Neigh about their experiences, about the connections between interpersonal gendered violence and legacies of colonial violence, and about the work of the Warriors Against Violence Society.

In mainstream settler Canadian society, gendered violence is everywhere. It is mostly committed by men and it mostly targets women and trans people – not exclusively, but mostly. And it is mostly committed not by strangers but by somebody you know – someone in your family, a romantic partner, a co-worker, a friend.

Before colonization, gender, kinship, and relationships, like so much else, worked very differently across the many Indigenous nations of Turtle Island. But five centuries of colonial violence against Indigenous people, which has been tied all along to inflicting gendered and sexual violence, have made a deep impact. Even just within the last century, violence imposed by the Canadian state in the form of residential schools; the “Sixties Scoop” as well as more recent harm to Indigenous families from child welfare systems; forced disconnection from language, land, nation, and culture; and the everyday harms of racism, have all done considerable harm. These days, gendered violence is a significant issue in Indigenous communities, just like it is everywhere else in this country. And in Indigenous contexts, it can frequently be linked to life histories and family histories of colonial trauma. This distinct history and context, as well as the deep roots of Indigenous cultures that continue to survive in the face of colonization, mean that working to change gendered violence in Indigenous contexts is most effective when it is firmly grounded in this history, in a holistic approach to the problem, and in the relevant Indigenous cultures.

This is the sort of approach that the Warriors Against Violence Society has developed over its years of work. Originally, the group was focused exclusively on working with men who had engaged in violent and abusive behaviour. Today, however, they work with both men and women, with perpetrators and survivors – and of course with the many people who are both. Their program offers participants a wide range of tools for navigating their lives. It offers a safe space for people to talk about their experiences of harm and trauma, and a place to begin coming to terms with harms that they themselves have caused. Sessions might include learning about tools like journalling or identification of triggers. They might involve conversations about sexuality. They might include gathering medicines, introducing elements of traditional culture, or discussing spirtiuality.

The organization says of its work, “We believe there is a need to restore the traditional Aboriginal values of honour, respect and equality. The Circle of Life includes elders, lifegivers, men, and youth. All have a right to live in non-violent families and communities.”

Image: Modified from an image used with the permission of the Warriors Against Violence Society.


Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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