Tribal Health offers help to victims

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

On Sept. 28 the Government of Ontario announced $15.3 million dollars in funding over five years for new programming to support victims and survivors of human trafficking in Northern Ontario. In the Fort Frances area, the funds will be administered by Fort Frances Tribal Area Health Services (FFTAHS).

Nakita Morrisseau is the Director of Behavioral Health Services at FFTAHS. She says the funding has already been put to work.

“Through the funding we were able to expand our services to include a wellness coach, and case manager in addition to our one-on-one counseling that we have had over the last few years,” Morrisseau said.

The position helps FFTAHS to provide services to victims and survivors with basic help along the way.

“The position was really designed to be a coach for the survivors and their family,” Morrisseau said. “Just somebody really in their corner that maybe it’s not a full counseling session but maybe just help with basic needs, maybe it’s just somebody to really help them on that one-on-one basis wherever they’re at in their journey.”

Morrisseau says that when it comes to trafficking victims FFTAHS does their best to work with people from whatever point in their journey they’re at.

“We really focus on all aspects of the journey,” Morrisseau said. “We have survivors that come forward that maybe aren’t ready to leave the life or ready to make changes or relocate. We have also helped support survivors with relocation and we also see them when they come back and want to integrate back into communities.”

Another aspect, she says, is ensuring that survivors are in control of their own journey.

“We really try to focus on that whole journey of where they’re at and also recognize that they may exit [the life], they may go back again, and they may exit again,” Morriessau adds. “So it really is about putting the survivor in the driver’s seat of their own care and supporting whatever they need from us.”

FFTAHS is also working on developing their program further to include care specific to the needs of sexual assault survivors. As their needs are not always the same as trafficking survivors.

“We’ve been working towards developing a sexual assault program designated for survivors of human trafficking,” Morrisseau said. “This individual within our interdisciplinary team can work alongside the wellness coach and couselors to really ensure that these survivors are reciving really gerat care because we do know that with survivors of human trafficking we are seeing red flags of sexual assault and thest things often aren’t seen as sexual assault because of the trifficking piece.”

Trafficking is not always associated with sexual assault because trafficking does not always involve sex. People can be trafficked for other purposes.

Another aspect of the services that FFTAHS provide is that they try to focus on the issues brought up around the difficulties faced by people who are touched by intergenerational trauma.

“It’s really important for us to also acknowledge that because of the impacts of intergenerational trauma and residential schools and colonization, a lot the members of our Anishinaabe nations and surrounding Anishinaabe nations are at increased risk of human trafficking,” Morrisseau said. “So it’s really important that we get out there and share awareness and we’ve been doing a lot of work around awareness and prevention and also taking a look at how we’re providing bicultural services and creating opportunities for survivors to participate in cultural activities and really building those connections for them within their own communities or with other elders from the treaty area.”

Because of the geography of the region, Fort Frances and its area are quite vulnerable to trafficking. Isolated, between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg which are both hubs for trafficking in central Canada. Duluth, MN to our south also sees a fairly heavy trafficking presence.

“We’re very isolated between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg, which are two very large hubs and then there’s Duluth south of the border to us which is also a really big hub,” Morrisseau said. “So we’re a very vulnerable space but maybe we don’t have as many resources as the larger urban areas so it definitely makes things challenging again.”