Hundreds join walk to support housing project for Indigenous families

“What’s hard for Indigenous families is that we still have to climb mountains in order to get services and fight discrimination and we have a legacy of our children being taken away,” said Nakuset, director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal.

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More than 200 people participated in the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal’s annual Spirit Walk fundraiser on Saturday, with a goal of contributing $60,000 toward a housing project for vulnerable Indigenous women and children that will include a community social pediatric center.

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Nakuset, director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal (NWSM), told the walk participants the housing project and social pediatric center will be the key to keeping Indigenous children and youth out of youth protection, where they face discrimination and lose touch with their families and culture. Having health, social and legal services that are tailored to helping Indigenous women and children in the same building as the housing project will make a dramatic difference to their lives, she said.

“What’s hard for Indigenous families is that we still have to climb mountains in order to get services and fight discrimination and we have a legacy of our children being taken away,” Nakuset said to the walkers, who had assembled in front of the Mordecai Richler gazebo at the base of Mount Royal. “I have been working at the Native Women’s Shelter for over 20 years, so I don’t have much more patience to wait for the institutions to change.”

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The project is already under construction in the Sud-Ouest borough and the current completion date is February 2023, she said.

In January 2021, the city’s executive committee approved the sale of Bain Husion, a former public bath at 757 rue des Seigneurs in Little Burgundy, to the Native Women’s Shelter for $60,000. The building is to be transformed into a 23-unit “second stage” housing project called Miyoskamin House.

Indigenous women transitioning out of the Native Women’s Shelter who still need support will be offered the opportunity to live in these apartments, with their children if they have them, for up to three years, while they go to school or learn a trade, so they can support themselves and their children. The rent will be heavily subsidized and geared to income, she said.

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The building will also house the Saralikitaaq Social Pediatric Centre, which will offer Indigenous-led health and social services as well as legal aid to Indigenous families in Greater Montreal, not only to those living in Miyoskamin House.

Alex Orr, a family doctor who volunteers at the Native Women’s Shelter, explained the concept of a community social pediatric center. Developed by Quebec pediatrician Gilles Julien, social pediatrics is a comprehensive approach to health that integrates medicine, law and social sciences, and makes it possible to provide integrated, personalized care and services to children in difficult circumstances, she said. There are at least 45 community social pediatrics centers in Quebec, serving more than 10,000 children annually

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“At the Saralikitaaq Centre, children and families will have access to these medical social and legal services as well as traditional healing services, ceremony and intergenerational trauma counselling,” Orr said. “The center will ensure that services for indigenous children are indigenous-led and centered in indigenous culture, child-centred, strength based and rooted in empowerment, accessible, trustworthy and safe, and provide high quality care. These resources will help to ensure families stay together and mitigate the likelihood of children ending up in placement.”

The fundraising goal for the entire project is $1 million, Nakuset said, because of the human resources required, including administrators, a care coordinator, a nurse and doctor, a lawyer, social worker, traditional healer, speech therapists, counsellors, etc.

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She thanked the marchers and urged others to donate to the project through the NWSM website.

Nakuset has been outspoken about her disappointment in institutions such as Batshaw Youth and Family Services for their failure to implement recommendations regarding discriminatory treatment of Indigenous youth in their care. But Nakuset said she hopes the march and the eventual opening of Miyoskamin House and the Saralikitaaq Center will go a long way to improving things for Indigenous families in Montreal.

“Working at the Native Women’s Shelter we see the women struggle every day and we see society isn’t changing,” she said. “We see recommendations being given out and we see them being ignored. And then we see all of you coming together to raise money so that we can have a social pediatric clinic called Saralikitaaq, so that we can bring our children home.”

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