Group says Sask. hot spot for violence against women

Thursday, August 12 2010

Kerry Benjoe, Saskatchewan News Network; Regina Leader-Post

Published: Saturday, August 25, 2007

REGINA -- Members of the Sisters in Spirit initiative say this province is a hot spot for racialized and sexualized violence.

The SIS initiative was started by the Native Women's Association of Canada and has done extensive research to identify areas in Canada where there's a high rate of missing and murdered aboriginal women, said Theresa Ducharme, a community development co-ordinator for SIS.

"I'm sad to say Regina is one of them as well as Saskatoon, so that's why we're here in Saskatchewan," said Ducharme, who can't explain why the numbers are so high.

On Friday the group was in Regina at the Gathering Place to speak about the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women. SIS plans to host 10 similar workshops across Canada; the first was held in Saskatoon on Wednesday.

"We're here to educate. We're here to do prevention. We're here to give the tools to say, 'This is what you can do not only to prevent it but to raise awareness,' " Ducharme said.

She said it's important to raise awareness about the issue, and provided those in attendance with information and violence awareness tool kits. Ducharme said it's important to keep talking about the issue of violence against women because it's not getting better.

"This is like a genocide happening right under our nose and everyone is silent about it," said Ducharme.

Although Saskatchewan is a hot spot, she has been impressed by the reception the group has received. She said there are so many women in the province who are passionate about this issue. She encourages everyone to get involved in any way they can, particularly men.

"The more of our brothers who get involved the better," said Ducharme. "It's somebody's daughter, somebody's mother who's missing too, so I strongly encourage men to get on board."

Holly McKenzie, 25, is a women's studies and health studies student at the University of Regina who attended Friday's workshop.

"I'm very concerned with the issue of missing aboriginal women in our communities and how some women become targeted for violence," explained McKenzie.

She said through her studies and volunteer work she became aware of the issue, but it was after attending the Missing and Taken Symposium in October that she became passionate about the issue. McKenzie is part of the Feminist Action Community Takeback group that plans to host a conference next summer on missing women in Canada and Mexico to let the public know that this is not acceptable.

"We as a community need to take responsibility for other community members," said McKenzie. "In front of the Creator we are all equal and we need to make sure that we are all safe. Because if she's not safe then I'm not safe."

Judy Hughes, president of the Saskatchewan Aboriginal Women's Circle Corporation, believes that some progress has been made in regards to raising awareness about missing and murdered women in the province. She said in particular the Missing Persons Task Force has helped to raise awareness about the issue.

"(The task force) is starting to build better relationships with the RCMP, but there's still a long way to go," said Hughes.

Last year, SIS organized its first national vigil to honour the memory of all missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada and had 11 communities participate. Hughes said the workshops also help to advertise the annual vigil that SIS started and this year's promises to be even bigger.

"The indigenous women of Colombia and Peru have agreed to hold vigils at the same time on Oct. 4, so now we have an international vigil. We're really looking forward to being able to bring as much communities in Canada on side," said Hughes.

People can access more information on the SIS initiative at www.nwac-hq.org.

© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2007

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