Our History

Our History 2017-07-17T17:08:36+00:00

Our History

Family violence challenges our most deeply-held values about family relationships and responsibilities and the importance of the family to our survival as First Nations. We want to intervene, but we don’t want to interfere. We want to protect our men, women, youth and children, but we’re reluctant to put our people into the hands of mainstream justice. We want to stop the fighting and hurting, but we don’t want to break up families.

Because of the seriousness of these dilemmas, we try not to believe people we love are enduring or inflicting pain and suffering. Despite our concern for our families and community, our ambivalence keeps us silent about family violence. Those who abuse and those who are abused share our values and these dilemmas; they too keep silent. In this way, we remain isolated from one another, unaware of our mutual concern and unaware of the extent of family violence in our community. Our people suffer in silence, and the violence infects first one generation and then the next – for children learn what they live.

For mainstream, western society the battered women’s movement in Canada began over twenty-five years ago. At Six Nations of the Grand River, the movement to address family violence in our community began in 1986 when concerned community members began to meet about family violence. Initially the concern was for battered women and their children. For some years, members of our community had been sheltering women and children who fled their homes from violence. From this experience, they came to understand the fear and life-threatening danger in confronting an abusive spouse. They came to understand how services outside our community often compounded the fear and isolation of our women and children who were being abused.

Rallied by the late Wilma General, Reva Bomberry, Alice Bomberry, and Shirley Farmer, they took their concerns to Six Nations Band Council. This small group of women were later joined by Joanna Bedard, Dorothy Russell and Belva Monture. With the endorsement of Band Council, they formed the Ganǫhkwásra` Steering Committee. The job of this committee was to develop services for battered women and to seek funding to develop and operate a program.

A comprehensive study was then undertaken by the steering committee in the summer of 1987. Phase I of the project determined how many women in our community were being abused or were at risk of being abused. It also determined how many children in our community were living in violent homes and/or were at risk of being abused. Phase II of the project designed a program to address the needs of the Six Nations community in relation to family violence services from the philosophical base of our culture and values.

Utilizing the results of the feasibility study, the Board of Directors and staff, in consultation with a local management consulting firm, BomCor Associates, were able to develop a proper mission statement for the organization. This mission statement is as follows:

“To provide, through a non-profit, charitable organization, for the stabilization, maintenance, revitalization, and enhancement of the family structure in a culturally sensitive manner.”

As well, the project completed a community consultation process which resulted in the development of a plan for service implementation including community education, outreach services and community service development.

From its conception, Ganǫhkwásra` has responded to the community’s needs. The initial priority was safe housing with a vision to create a place where women could learn how to be strong again and take their rightful place within our community as leaders. With financial assistance from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation as well as the province of Ontario, construction of the shelter began in the fall of 1991. At first, some community members felt the building should be located in an unknown, hidden location. However, the Ganǫhkwásra` Steering Committee was determined to have the shelter built in a prominent location so the community would be forced to recognize the impact family violence has on our people. Ganǫhkwásra` was built in the village of Ohsweken on Chiefswood Road, in the centre of our community service and business sector.

Ganǫhkwásra` has also developed a unique First Nations specific training on Family Violence Prevention for staff and volunteers of Ganǫhkwásra` as well as other professionals and interested community members. It differs from other Family Violence Prevention Training models in that it is presented with a First Nations approach, providing a unique perspective on these troubling issues.

Today, Ganǫhkwásra` provides holistic programs to men, women, youth and children. Our services for men set Ganǫhkwásra` apart from any other family violence organization in Canada.

This is another example of how the brave women who comprised the founding Board of Directors, as well as the Director of the organization, focused on the needs of the community and our values of family. They recognized that every person (men, women, youth and children) has the potential to be abusive or a victim of abuse. We continue to recognize this today, as the organization works towards the stabilization, maintenance, revitalization and enhancement of individuals for the restoration of family units through residential services, community counselling services, transitional support services, community education and volunteer programs.

At Ganǫhkwásra`, Ǫgwehǫ:weh teachings that integrate the mind, body and spirit, are combined with mainstream counselling techniques to provide a basis for helping one to accept responsibility for their total being. Our counsellors are trained in a variety of therapeutic techniques. Although every counsellor may not possess a working ability in all techniques, they call on each other for assistance when working with individuals therefore all program participants at Ganǫhkwásra` are offered the same opportunity to experience these techniques. All of the healing techniques used can be considered energy work and therefore compliment the spiritual teachings of First Nations culture very well. Each technique is rarely used in isolation. Our counsellors have developed their skills to work with energy to a point where they can employ a number of energy techniques into one session.

Because our unique healing approach is so successful, more and more people are looking to Ganǫhkwásra` for help. Ganǫhkwásra` has been a model for other First Nations communities looking to establish community shelters and crisis services. We’ve had visitors from First Nations communities in the U.S. and across Canada from the Blackfoot Nation in Alberta to Innu from Davis Inlet and have travelled as far as New Delhi, India. Thus, the Community Education program has proven to be instrumental in carrying our message of Ganǫhkwásra` (love among us) throughout our community and beyond. Becoming aware of family violence issues and wanting change is the first step to healing for many individuals.

Ganǫhkwásra` has also developed a unique First Nations specific training on Family Violence Prevention for staff and volunteers of Ganǫhkwásra` as well as other professionals and interested community members. It differs from other Family Violence Prevention Training models in that it is presented with a First Nations approach, providing a unique perspective on these troubling issues.

In 1999, Ganǫhkwásra` was acknowledged for its exceptional work with individuals and families when the Six Nations community was awarded the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Caring Community Award.

The foundation characterized Ganǫhkwásra` as the “jewel of our community” as it works with the whole family – women, men and children, to achieve emotional healing and united families. The Trillium Foundation is an agency of the Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation.

Since 1986, Ganǫhkwásra` Family Assault Support Services has evolved into a successful, professionally operated community service. We are extremely proud of the accomplishments we have made over the years. We acknowledge the healing power and availability of mainstream services in nearby communities, especially during our earlier years when we could not meet all of the needs of our people. Today, we offer our community member’s unique, creative and spiritually-based services. We will continue to move ahead and help our people heal from the traumas of family violence and sexual assault, right here in our own community. It is our goal to enable families to find strength and support in the values and customs of our culture. It is through Ganǫhkwásra` (love among us) that we can put an end to family violence. Everything we need is there for us in our original teachings, in our original way of being.