First Nations ready to tackle domestic violence

“My commitment is to make myself a better person and become well so that I can help others.”
“My commitment is to be a good role model for my children.”
“My commitment is to keep breaking the cycle.”
The room echoed with the vows of more than 100 people dedicated to ending domestic violence in the region as the “Preserving the Family Circle” conference drew to a close last Thursday afternoon at La Place Rendez-Vous.
The three-day conference, organized by Weechi-It-Te-Win Family Services here, was dedicated to understanding domestic violence in an aboriginal setting and then abolishing it, said staff manager Gina Wonfor-Keast.
“[The solution] has to begin with me, let it begin with me,” stressed Bea Shawanda, a world-renowned motivational speaker who said the biggest challenge to ending domestic violence is to get people to be vigilant about the issue and get involved.
“I think people were ready to hear and to listen, and ready to start looking at the idea,” Shawanda said.
“The biggest misconception is that she likes it. That must be it otherwise why would she go back,” said Babette Sandman, who works with the men in the sacred hoop program at the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program in Duluth, Mn.
“They don’t understand familiar and unfamiliar. We show that it’s not easy to leave the familiar security of something you’re used to,” she noted.
“There’s so much judging, like she’s not protecting her children.”
Barry Skye, also with the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program in Duluth, said local service providers don’t have to reinvent the wheel when dealing with this issue.
“It doesn’t have to be so black and white, hit and miss. There is a real process that works,” he stressed.
“It takes a lot of time and effort, a lot of educating the community, but it works,” he said, pointing to a system in Minnesota that has been combating domestic violence on federal reserves for the last 20 years.
The key to unlocking violence in native communities for Cecelia Firethunder is to address the cultural pain her people feel.
“As native people, we have to tell the truth about ourselves,” she told delegates last Tuesday morning. “We have to embrace the pain of the past to move forward as a people.”
She argued unresolved childhood trauma from experiences such as residential schools or forced adoptions can result in behaviours such as depression, substance abuse, or controlling tendencies.
If not dealt with, this trauma can be passed down to the next generation—helping create a cycle of violence.
The way to deal with this is by confronting these issues through cultural traditions, Firethunder said.
“There are no problems in native communities, just challenges, and challenges have solutions,” she noted Thursday. “We need to call upon the spirits of our ancestors and have them show us what we have to do.”
The almost 200 participants—representing all 10 area bands as well as health care providers, social workers, and other professionals—seemed energized by the conference.
Many left with meetings for future discussions about domestic violence and some even had the beginnings of action plans.
“We have to do the same thing as we did with drunk drivers. Before if you were . . . incoherent, you were drunk,” said one woman as her table brainstormed ways to stomp out violence against women.
“Now if you have two drinks, you can be considered too drunk to drive.”