Advocates say Calgary shelter no longer run by Indigenous women

In the early ‘90s, Elder Ruth Scalplock founded Awo Taan Healing Centre which means shield in the Blackfoot language.

The centre was created to meet the needs of Indigenous women in a traditional and spiritual way.

But Scalplock says only one Indigenous person is in a decision-making role at the centre.

“Women need a place to go to, especially here in Siksika and different reserves,” she told APTN News. “It was meant to be a unique shelter. Different from the white structured shelters.”

The centre is a 32-bed, “full service emergency shelter that provides services to women and children from all cultures,” according to its website. It provides “a broad continuum of support services, guided by Aboriginal traditional teachings, that include prevention, intervention, and healing to anyone affected by any form of abuse.”

But former staff at the centre told APTN that it’s been taken over by non-Indigenous staff and doesn’t offer the same services.

“We really have to continue the purpose of this shelter in Calgary,” said Scalplock.

The centre is unique. In 2018, it welcomed the commissioners of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls for a tour.

Scalplock said that 50 per cent of the clients used to be Indigenous women.

Linda Manyguns is the former president of Awo Taan.

“This colonized version of Indigenization has now removed everything real,” she said. “A Native woman that gets there will be greeted by non-aboriginal staff, there will be no elders there, there will be nothing to do with the culture there, it may as well be a non-aboriginal shelter.”

Awo Taan hasn’t confirmed to APTN how many of its staff members are Indigenous and no one at the centre agreed to an interview.

But in a prepared statement, the lodge said, “Our services for families are grounded in the teachings given to us every day from our Elders.” It stated, “We are guided by – operate according to and abide by the Indigenous teachings – bylaws and governance policies set out for us since 1992.”

Awo Taan’s board is made up of five people – one member is listed as Metis, and another says she’s a member of the Tsuut’ina Nation.

According to the federal government’s charities database, between April 2022 to the end of March 2023, the healing lodge received $3.7 million from Canada, the province of Alberta and the City of Calgary.

Scalplock and Manyguns said Indigenous women are no longer using Awo Taan as frequently. The pair said they are looking for a legal way to protect Indigenous practices within Awo Taan.

“I’m not going to quit, I’m going to keep going to make sure our women have a sacred place to go to with all of these teachings,” she said.

Scalplock said she and Manyguns plan to meet with ministers in the provincial government soon.

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