Indigenous communities in Ontario have worked collaboratively with the provincial government to develop Walking Together: Ontario’s Long-Term Strategy to End Violence Against Indigenous Women.
The strategy is built on the recognition that First Nation, Metis and Inuit women in Ontario are subjected to all forms of violence—intimate partner abuse, assault, homicide and sexual violence – at far higher rates than other women in the province. According to the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres, 80% of Indigenous women experience intimate partner abuse, whereas the general population of women experience abuse in their relationships at a rate of approximately 30%. While Indigenous women make up only 1.2% of the population, they make up 6% of homicide victims.
The reasons for this reach far back into Canada’s history and continue to the present day. Colonization, the residential schools program, cultural assimilation and the 1960’s child protection “scoop” of Indigenous children have led to high levels of intergenerational trauma throughout Indigenous communities. The impacts of these past wrongs are exacerbated by ongoing racism, poverty and subhuman living conditions on many reserves due to contaminated drinking water, inadequate access to elementary and secondary education and a lack of housing. More than ¼ of children under 14 years of age in Ontario’s child welfare system are Indigenous.
As a result, Indigenous communities and individuals are in a state of crisis, which makes women more vulnerable to experiencing violence.
The development of this strategy has been a collaborative effort. Between 2007 and 2012, Indigenous organizations led 5 provincial summits to discuss the need to end violence against Indigenous women.
After the first summit, the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) and the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC) released the Strategic Framework to End Violence Against Aboriginal Women, which recommended wide-ranging strategies focused on eight specific areas of change:
- Community development
This framework was endorsed by the Metis Nation of Ontario, Independent First Nations and Chiefs of Ontario and was adopted by the province.
The Joint Working Group on Violence Against Aboriginal Women, established in 2010, has brought together representatives from these 5 Indigenous organizations as well as from 10 provincial government ministries to address violence against Indigenous women and their families.
The Long Term Strategy is built on efforts already underway. These include initiatives such as:
- Kizhaay Anishnaabe Niin (I am a Kind Man), a campaign run by the OFIFC aimed at Indigenous men and boys to stop violence against women that also engages Indigenous men involved with corrections, probation and parole services. Since 2006, more than 4,200 men and youth have been involved in community-based activities as part of this campaign.
- First Nations Draw-the-Line, a sexual violence prevention campaign to show bystanders how to challenge sexual violence and harassment and how to intervene safely and effectively.
- Kanawayhitowin (Taking Care of Each Other’s Spirit), another OFIFC campaign to help those around a woman recognize the signs of abuse and know what they can do. Since 2007, more than 1,000 community facilitators have been trained to spread the campaign’s message to more than 4,500 community participants.
- Talk4Healing, a helpline run by Beendigen of Thunder Bay and ONWA, that provides culturally appropriate crisis counselling and supports for Indigenous women in northern Ontario.
- The Ending Violence Against Aboriginal Women (EVAAW) Fund supports Indigenous organizations deliver culturally appropriate community-based programs and services that will prevent victimizations and aid victims of violence.
Walking Together has six focus areas:
- Supporting children, youth and families
- Community safety and healing
- Policing and justice
- Prevention and awareness
- Leadership, collaboration, alignment and accountability
- Improved data and research
Supporting children, youth and families
Funding: $80 million over three years
This money will be spent to develop a Family Well-Being Program to reduce the effects of violence on Indigenous families by making community supports available for families in crisis. The program will be developed and delivered by and for Indigenous partners in their own communities, both on the land and in urban regions. The supports will include:
- Increasing the number of front-line service workers
- Developing community-based programming for children and families who have experienced violence
- Creating community safe places, because police stations, band offices and child protection agencies are not trusted by many families
Community safety and healing
Funding: $15.75 million over three years
This will support the cultural, mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health of all those involved in the cycle of violence, including victims, their families, perpetrators and community members. This will include:
- Development of a survivor-centred strategy to address human trafficking in Ontario
- Improving justice system supports
- Expanding Talk4Health into a provincial helpline
- Developing healing and violence prevention programs for Indigenous men
- Supporting the expansion of I am a Kind Man across the province
- Increasing healing programs for Indigenous female offenders
- Giving schools a role in preventing violence
Policing and Justice
Funding: $2.32 over three years
The province has committed to deliver reforms that will increase access to a justice system that is fair to Indigenous women and communities. This will include:
- Proposing new legislation to assist police in investigating missing persons cases
- Developing new and enhanced police training curriculum to increase awareness and skills for preventing and responding to violence against Indigenous women
- Expanding the Major Case Management software to First Nation police services
- Researching key issues and best practices related to police responses to sexual violence and harassment
- Training Crown Attorneys on issues related to violence against Indigenous women
Prevention and Awareness
Funding: $1.15 million over three years
This focuses on the unique challenges and issues faced by Indigenous women and their communities and the need for increased awareness about them. It includes:
- Mandatory cultural competency training for all government staff
- Working with Indigenous partners to support the launch of a national public awareness and prevention campaign
Leadership, Collaboration, Alignment and Accountability
Funding: $500,000 over three years
These initiatives include:
- The fifth National Aboriginal Women’s Summit, to be hosted by Ontario in 2016, for government and community representatives
- Supporting the alignment of provincial initiatives with federal commitments
- Establishing a Ministerial Steering Committee to oversee the Strategy’s implementation and accountability
Improved Data and Research
Funding: $750,000 over three years
These initiatives include:
- Expanding data collection and research
- Developing a new performance measurement framework
“The alarming rate of violence and missing Indigenous women can’t be swept under the rug if everybody is talking about it. This Strategy encourages that discussion and takes action. Publicly supporting the research related to ending violence against Indigenous women, including human trafficking, keeps this issue on the radar.”
Dawn Harvard, President,
Ontario Native Women’s Association
“When it comes to violence against Indigenous women, there has always been a gap in the system. We deserve justice that is fair and culturally supportive. The reforms contained in this plan reflect that and will help bridge that gap. We will not tolerate violence against our mothers, daughters, sisters, aunties and grandmothers. This strategy is about sharing their story and bring the issue of violence against Indigenous women to the forefront.”
Deputy Grand Chief Denise Stonefish,
First Nations Women’s Caucus, Chiefs of Ontario
The full Strategy is available on the Ontario Government website.