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Construction is about to begin on one of two Women's Shelters being built to serve the women of Eeyou Istchee who are victims of domestic violence and need immediate, safe shelter for themselves and their children.
On November 3, 2015, a ceremony of blessing took place in Waswanipi at the construction site.
Earlier this year, the CBHSSJB, Grand Council of the Crees/Cree Nation Government, and Cree Women of Eeyou Istchee Association (CWEIA) concluded the terms of the partnership under which the Women's Shelters will be built and operated. The Cree Justice Department is overseeing the construction of the two buildings, which they will lease to the Cree Health Board. The Cree Health Board will staff and operate the shelters, and is developing healing and life skills programs for the women who will use them. CWEIA is providing valuable input to guide the development of the programs.
The Waswanipi Women's Shelter will serve women from the inland communities of Waswanipi, Oujé-Bougoumou, Nemaska, and Mistissini. It will also accept women from the James Bay coastal communities for whom it is preferable to seek shelter farther away from their home community.
Women everywhere in the world encounter domestic violence, and for this reason, Women's Shelters exist in nearly every Canadian city and town. Until now, the women of Eeyou Istchee have not had access to a shelter in their own region, with support programs adapted to their culture and staffed by people who speak their own language.
Update on the day's events, by Virginia Wabano
We had light rain during the Solidarity Walk that was organized by the local Women’s Group. The sun peeked out as we began to walk, then it shone brightly when we reached the site. It was a blessing.
The ceremonial blessing was very special and well received. Elders Abel and Jane Kitchen lit the fire and offered sacred smudge to those who wish to cleanse before prayer, then tobacco was offered to the participants so their prayers could be offered to our Creator, our God.
The opening Prayer was said by 91-year-old Elder Christine Saganash, then Erika Eagle sang a song with her hand drum and Waseskum Singers sang an Honour Song. Mrs. Saganash performed the blessing by addressing the crowd on the importance for women to heal in order to take care of the children. She ended her address with the Lord’s Prayer in Cree, then the crowd laid down their prayers (tobacco) over the grounds and sent prayers to our Creator, our God.
Afterwards we went to the Anglican Church to hear speeches from the dignitaries. Bella M. Petawabano, CHB Chairperson, Mandy Gull, Deputy Chief of Waswanipi, and Louise Blacksmith-Saganash, who gave a speech on behalf of Regional CWEIA President Linda L. Shecapio. Virginia Wabano and Dany Gauthier from the CBHSSJB gave a brief project update and explained their roles. It was Dany’s birthday and there was a surprise cake for her!
Finally, Charles Esau shared a few words about the Mobile Treatment program, emphasizing the importance of providing support to people who have completed residential treatment programs upon their return to the community. Snacks and refreshments were prepared by the local Women's Group and the food blessing and closing prayer was said by Elder Jane Kitchen. It was a very beautiful and thankful day.
E. Virginia Wabano