MMIWG inquiry hearings close in Calgary with tour of shelter and tales of money woes

The qulliq is extinguished and the closing oral submissions of parties with standing wrap up at the Calgary hearings for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Before the commissioners head home, they make one last stop at the Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society.

“The commissioners travel across the country and hear story after story about the supports and services that are required for women and children,” said Josie Nepinak, executive director of Awo Taan.

“We just had an admission with mom with three to four children and she was escorted by police and emergency health services, so that obviously tells us that there is high risk.”

Nepinak invited the commissioners of the inquiry to see the facility for themselves after Awo Taan shared its recommendations at the hearings.

From the cozy gathering centre, play room full of toys for children – to the spiritual healing room.

For 25 years the healing lodge has been providing Indigenous services to Indigenous women and their children.

But that hasn’t been easy. With only 32 beds it is also a shelter.

Nepinak said Awo Taan has to turn away at least 100 families a month.

As for cultural programming, Nepinak said it isn’t viewed as an essential service.

She said the workers and volunteers have to fundraise to provide that.

“There’s no funding. There’s no funding for Elder’s services, there’s no funding for fresh clothing, there’s no funding for the things that a woman would want in a situation like that that would make her feel comfortable and that would make her feel dignified,” Darrin Blaine, legal representative of Awo Taan told the commissioners.

Like most Indigenous shelters, funding for Awo Taan comes in from the province once a year – which means every year the lodge has to renew its contract.

Nepinak said multi-year funding would be more adequate.

“Five years – because I think then we would be in a better position to strategize and develop our programs further,” she said.

At the Inquiry this week, a common theme was the lack of money for Indigenous women’s shelters from the federal, provincial and territorial governments.

The inquiry heard from Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), the national representation of Inuit in Canada, who mostly live in fly-in communities.

Representative Elizabeth Zarpa said the cost of flights are in the thousands of dollars making it extremely difficult for Inuit to travel to the few shelters that are available to them.

“Out of 53 communities in Inuit Nunangat, there are only 15 communities that have a shelter,” she said. “Inuit women and their families aren’t able to access safe houses and transition houses and women are leaving their communities to access communities in the south.”

“The shelters are desperate for funding as the women are desperate for a safe place,” said Ann Maje Raider of the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society in the Yukon, adding that community has the highest rate of violence in Indigenous women in the country.

The closing oral submissions ended at the tour of Awo Taan.

For the society, it just wants to be given equal funding.

“All we want to do is be operating at the same level as non-Indigenous women’s shelters and our funding issue to be resolved,” said Blain. “All we want is for these places to not have to fundraise for the basics. That’s the most insulting, racist thing I’ve never heard.”

The Inquiry will hold another hearing for final submissions from Dec 10 to 14 in Ottawa.



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