Women’s shelter in Montreal says complaints of systemic racism falling on deaf ears

The Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal (NWSM) says it’s suspending committee meetings with one of the city’s youth protection agencies.

They say that complaints of racism against Batshaw Youth and Family Services are being ignored by the organization.

“What’s difficult is that every time you bring an issue forward it gets pushed back,” says Nakuset, director of the NWSM. “And how many years does it have to get pushed back? Because on a daily basis we’re working with families that are coming in in crisis.”

“I literally hear people running down the hallways of the Native women shelter crying after getting off the phone with Batshaw.”

It wasn’t always this way.  In 2013 NWSM signed a collaboration agreement with Batshaw, which at the time was cause for celebration.

“This is a new kind of treaty where they’re going to be looking to us to help with the children in care and it’s going to make a huge impact later on,” Nakuset said at a news conference in 2013.

But that optimism is now nowhere to be found.

At a press conference Tuesday, Nakuset says the collaborative agreement never got off the ground once Bathshaw was absorbed into the Centre intégré universitaire de santé et de services sociaux (CIUSSS), a provincial health agency.

“What happened wasn’t that it wasn’t really implemented nor was it followed.”

In 2019, a report “One step forward, Two steps Back”  was released outlining several instances of systemic racism regarding Indigenous families and Batshaw.

They included Inuit children being told not to speak Inuktittut during supervised visits, a lack of statistics for Indigenous children and the CIUSSS declining to create a consultation group with local Indigenous stakeholders.

“Since then they’ve offered to address our concerns under a diversity committee, however we feel that being lumped in with other marginalized groups would not take into account our distinct history and legal status within so called Canada,” said Mel Lefebvre of the NWSM.

The CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, the body that oversees Batshaw, would not provide an interview to APTN News.

An emailed statement to APTN didn’t address the concerns raised by NWSM.

Nakuset says by opting out of the committee with Bathshaw, the shelter will be ceasing to communicate with upper management there. They will however continue to work with Batshaw social workers. Meanwhile the NWSM has joined forces with the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, an advocacy group that will look into filing human rights complaints on their behalf.

An investigation by Quebec’s human rights commission has been underway since May regarding Inuit children being told not to speak Inuktitut during supervised meetings.

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