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.