KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre opened in 1973 in Halifax, as a welcoming place for Indigenous people to gather and seek support and solace. Almost 50 years on, it remains a lively vibrant place, a landmark in the North End of Halifax, and a partner in Creating Communities of Care, a project to support urban Indigenous and African Nova Scotian women who have experienced violence.
The staff there had realized that Indigenous women may be often disconnected from their cultural heritage and history. One of their key tasks under Creating Communities of Care was developing “Sircle of Sisters” (sic), a culturally –safe and supportive programs for community members to connect with culture. With the leadership of their elders, they created a Cultural Activity Calendar, which marks a Moon Ceremony each month, followed up by a cultural activity in two weeks. In January, their elder taught the teachings of the Spirit Moon, and in February, the Bear Moon, which focuses on the resilience and strength of Indigenous women. March hosted the Sugar Moon, and a Medicine Wheel activity. This program, all done online and virtually, has been welcomed by their clients, who miss this deep celebratory tie with their history. It respects different Nations, and ensures as far as possible that their unique voices are heard.
One of the ways of connecting and supporting the community members is through cultural activities and ceremonies. Several programs focus on healthy relationships, self -care, helping women to regain self-esteem and self-worth. Many women have experienced different forms of violence, abusive relationships, exploitation and struggle with addictions, and have experienced many traumas. As staff describe: “Some indigenous women have been through a lot of trauma, you can’t just go in and talk to them about this stuff. You have to get through to them, make it creative and fun”. Painting, smudging, and crafting are some of the culturally-appropriate ways that are used to connect with clients and offer support and empowerment to find their way out of the dark troubled times of their lives.
Housing is critical. “We have women trying to exit dangerous relationships, but where do you put them?” In 2019, the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre opened a four-unit transitional housing establishment, with on-site staff and programming for women in dangerous situations. “That is short-term housing, and we work with them to find more long-term solutions.” Anxieties run deep: “I am concerned and afraid for our women who are vulnerable, I fear one day I will get a call that so-and so is missing or worse. I have had some tough conversations with some clients that I shared my concerns with and have had to use “tough love”. I tell them all the time ‘please be careful- I don’t want to receive that phone call”. Collaborations with sister organizations such as the Creating Communities of Care partners is vital: “We work regularly with Mi’kmaw Legal Support Network- COVID has really tied our hands, but together, we can offer more programming and support”. An event that they are excited about is a Ceremonial Skirt Workshop: “With Public Health restrictions, we can’t offer workshops to everybody who is interested. But when we do joint sessions, then we have increased capacity”.