Campaign tackling violence against aboriginal women

Peggy Revell

The United Native Friendship Centre here has launched a new campaign aimed at tackling violence against aboriginal women.
“The Kanawayhitowin program is an aboriginal campaign in Ontario to raise awareness about the signs of abuse in our community of aboriginal women,” UNFC executive director Sheila McMahon explained at the official launch for the program regionally last Thursday.
“Because we ultimately believe that it takes a community to stop abuse against women.
“It could be our neighbour, our friend, the person that lives down the street that’s going through the abuse, and I think we have to take the responsibility to stop it,” she stressed.
Kanawayhitowin was developed by the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres, McMahon noted, and comes from a Cree word meaning “taking care of each other’s spirits.”
It’s being implemented across the province by the various friendship centres to raise awareness about the signs of woman abuse in aboriginal communities, as well as to provide resources to support aboriginal women.
The Kanawayhitowin program stems from the province-wide educational “Neighbours, Friends and Families” campaign, noted Heidi Smith of the UNFC, though adding this initiative is a more aboriginal-centered approach to dealing with these issues.
“There’s violence everywhere—it happens no matter what your colour, what your size, anything—but it’s more prevalent for aboriginal women,” Smith said.
“It’s happening more often to aboriginal women, and so that’s why the focus is on them.”
“Nationwide you find that, too,” echoed McMahon. “When you look at the statistics, there’s a lot of murdered and missing aboriginal women across Canada—and nobody is looking for them.
“And that’s very widely known.”
Each year, the UNFC is one of the organizers of the Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women on Dec. 6. And each year, the list of local women who are remembered gets longer and longer because more people come forward with those who have been murdered or are missing.
“The numbers just in our area—Fort Frances area alone—are astronomical,” McMahon stressed.
And while it’s good to have an event like the Day of Remembrance every year, violence against women happens every day, she added, which is why the Kanawayhitowin program is being put forward now.
McMahon said there are signs when it comes to violence against women. As such, Kanawayhitowin will aim to inform people about what these signs are and what steps people can take if they suspect abuse, along with safety planning and what local resources are available.
To accomplish this, there will be a media campaign, including posters and radio, television, and newspaper ads, for the upcoming month.
Information packages also will put together for people, as well as presentations and the UNFC working with different service agencies and programs.
“I think it’s just getting the whole community involved—from providing information to the mayor and council, the organizations, the services within our community, [and] community people,” McMahon explained.
“When we talk about providing this culturally-appropriate program, you take a look at it holistically,” she added.
“You don’t take one person out of the family and give them services because then the rest of the family is still going through all that stuff and they’re not getting the support they need,” McMahon reasoned, citing how the program also aims to connect aboriginal men who are abusive with available programs so they can take responsibility for their actions and make changes.
It also ties in with the already-established Kizhaay Anishinaabe Niin (“I am a Kind Man”) program in the schools, which is geared towards teaching young men and boys to end violence against women.
The program, pamphlets, and information also incorporate traditional messages such as the Seven Grandfather Teachings, as well as restorative justice.
“That’s when we talk about holistic programming. Giving it to all of the family members,” McMahon said.
There’s been a positive response so far in other locations where the Kanawayhitowin program has been implemented, she continued, including with the development of committees to address violence against women.
“I believe that’s where we have to go,” McMahon remarked. “We have to develop those committees, a domestic violence committee, and have every part of our community and all the stakeholders involved in that committee.
“Because that’s the way that we’re going to be able to deal with this issue.”
For more information on the program, contact the UNFC or visit