Aboriginal womanUntil recently, the nature and level of care and assistance received by First Nations, Metis and Inuit women in the Yukon was “all over the map”. Due to the existence of “negative social responses” to those who report violence, many Indigenous women choose to deal with complex violent situations on their own. Together for Justice provided a forum for exploring the cross-roads of gender, race and colonialism to better understand and stop the violence against Indigenous women in the Yukon.

The Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society (LAWS) was established in the Kaska Territory as a non-profit society in 1998. What began as a small circle of women from the Kaska Nation concerned with community healing, evolved over time to developing and offering a comprehensive community transformation process.  LAWS recognized a critical need to provide opportunities for Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) members to hear from Kaska women, other community members, service providers and government agencies about violence and how it could be addressed.

Over a two-year period, LAWS would work with RCMP and community service providers to build an understanding and trust with one another.  The Kaska women came to the meetings with their historical experiences of violence, perpetuated by men and by the Canadian state, including the racist treatment by police towards their Indigenous men if violence was reported.

Response-based practice (RBP) formed the foundation of the curriculum.  RBP is a therapeutic approach designed to assist people in their recovery from violence. It is a way of working with individuals and groups who have experienced some form of adversity or oppression to promoterecovery by creating safety, attending to dignity and by highlighting a person’s responses to mistreatment.  This may include spousal assault, colonial violence, child protection and refuge/shelter work, law and policing. It evolved from work with counseling clients and continues to evolve in its scope and detail. Systematically, response-based practice contests the epidemic blaming of victims and draws attention to misrepresentations of violence which benefit perpetrators and further social inequalities.

The Together for Justice initiative places Indigenous women at the centre of the circle with an understanding that safety for the least safe can create safety for all women.  This centering makes the initiative unique among multiple initiatives that begin with the reverse assumption.

The RCMP knew they had a serious public relations problem, so they responded to the invitation of the LAWS to collaborate on a project to address violence. Working with the RCMP was a particular coup due to the role of the police in perpetuating many of the crimes against Indigenous peoples historically in Canada. Although the goals of the police and the Kaska women originated from different points, there was enough shared concern about becoming more effective in addressing violence against Indigenous women that the collaboration began.  With a sense that continuity and commitment are crucial for success, Executive Director Ann Maje Raider from LAWS requested that the RCMP command be present at all meetings and that the typical “open door” policy be replaced with a continuity of participation.  This condition was important for creating safety as it validated the importance of the task and increased the likelihood that members of the police were supported and encouraged to participate. 

Together for Justice involved analyzing language that is used in society to portray victims and perpetrators, promoting an accurate language use to describe deeds and to show that all actions make sense in context.  The group process consisted of exploring stories of resistance, analyzing language passages, and deconstructing mutualizing and victim-blaming accounts.

The Together for Justice project demonstrated the possibilities for working across differences, across organizations and across mandates to achieve a common goal.  The sharing of perspectives and culture can engender compassion and understanding for the position of the “other”.  Not all participants were transformed through this process but a unified and solidified group spirit and group identity did take shape through the efforts of those committed to the process. 

The protocol agreements, the commitments and the new friendships between individuals are examples of a fluid process of ongoing collaboration. Ultimately, the project’s success will rest on the reality of increased safety for women, particularly Indigenous women and their children. 

By Ann Maje-Raider & Cathy Richardson

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