Wiikwemkoong breaks ground for new Victims of Violence shelter

From left, Wiikwemkoong Chief Duke Peltier, Councillor Cecilia Pitawanakwat, Donna Corbiere, Rita Corbiere,Wikwemikong Health Centre Director of Services Mary Jo Wabano and front, leaning over shovel, Phyllis Williams break ground for the Shelter for Victims of Violence set to be completed by next summer. photo by Robin Burridge

New home will shelter both men, women and children

WIIKWEMKOONG—The Naandwechige-Gamig Wikwemikong Health Centre has received $2.3 million from the federal government to build an 8,000 square foot shelter for victims of violence, which will be located on Genevieve Street in Wiikwemkoong.

The 13 bedroom facility will accommodate 17 individuals, with the shelter accepting both men and women in crisis, as well as youth over the age of 16.

“The shelter will be a safe haven for those in need of emergency residential safety and protection due to violence and abuse as well as foster courage within individuals to re-connect to wellness,” Naandwechige-Gamig announced in a press release. “The facility will be accessible to all citizens living on Manitoulin Island and abroad and will provide its programs and services based on Anishinaabe culture.”

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“CMHC (Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation) and Indigenous Northern Ontario Affairs Canada had a call for expressions of interest for funding for shelters on reserves last year,” Wikwemikong Health Centre Director of Services Mary Jo Wabano explained to The Expositor. “We applied and got our notification that we had been successful last January. We had identified a gap in service and a need to further assist families dealing with violence.”

Wiikwemkoong community members, Island health care professionals and area dignitaries gathered last Wednesday in Wiikwemkoong to celebrate the official groundbreaking for a Wiikwemkoong shelter for victims of violence.

The ceremony began with an opening prayer from 12-year-old Brooklyn Pheasant, followed by an honour song by Roland Jacko and Stephen Peltier. Elder Robert Pheasant performed a blessing of the grounds and ancestors and led a pipe ceremony.

“This shelter has been a vision for this community for a long time,” said Wiikwemkoong Chief Duke Peltier. “This project is truly a community effort.”

Chief Peltier addresses the crowd at the groundbreaking ceremony held last Wednesday, September 6.
photo by Robin Burridge

Chief Peltier recognized the work and support Ms. Wabano and her staff, the Anishnabek Nation for lobbying on behalf of the community for the funding for the new shelter and Chief Isadore Day and the Chiefs of Ontario.”

Ms. Wabano thanked everyone in attendance, stating, “without each and every one of you this wouldn’t be happening.”

“This is the first day, moving forward in a good way with support around us,” said Ms. Wabano. “When people come knocking at the door (of the shelter) we will be able to welcome them and help children and families—give them a safe place and support them.”

“I’m happy that I get to see that hard work come to fruition today,” said Adrienne Peltier, social services director with the Union of Ontario Indians (UOI).” I’m pleased and honoured to be here.”

“I’m happy to see that Wiikwemkoong got the funding and support for this new building,” said Laureen Linklater-Pizzale, family well-being coordinator with the Anishinabek Nation. “When a family is in crisis, they will now have a safe space.”

Noojmowin Teg Health Centre Executive Director Pam Williamson spoke of the importance of culture for treatment and healing.

“I appreciate the advocacy from the First Nation leaders with the provincial government for this project and others,” said Ms. Williamson. “There is a lot of opportunity right now and we need to capitalize on it.”

Ms. Williamson noted that Noojmowin Teg is advocating for funding for forensic testing for victims of sexual assault and violence. “Right now victims have to travel to Sudbury for testing, but we would offer that locally,” she said.

A letter was read from Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha who sent his regrets on not being able to attend the ceremony.

“Today on this very special occasion we join together in celebrating this groundbreaking, which marks the beginning of construction of the shelter for Victims of Violence,” wrote Mr. Mantha. “Once constructed, this new shelter will stand as a beacon to this community, serving as a safe haven for those who seek emergency assistance, safety and protection when facing violence and abuse at the hands of another.”

“Over the course of many years, I have seen violence in our community,” said Elder Phyllis Williams. “I would do all that I could to help. This shelter will be a safe haven for those who wish to utilize it. We need to make a change in our lives for ourselves and those who are yet to be born.”

The ceremony concluded with an honour song by Brandy Peltier and a ceremonial breaking of the ground, followed by a reception at the Wiikwemkoong Arena.

Work on the facility will begin shortly, with the project to be completed and accepting clients by the fall of 2018.