Thank you. Meegwetch.
My name is Anita Olsen Harper. I'm an Anishinabe from Namekoosipiing, or Trout Lake, in northwestern Ontario. My Ph.D. is in education. My dissertation was on domestic violence and resilience in first nations communities.
I'm a researcher for the National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence, or NACAFV. We are a non-profit. We work with most on-reserve women's shelters, but there are several off reserve as well. We provide as many necessary supports as we possibly can so that shelter directors can help their clientele. These are the women and children who need a place to stay because of violence in the home.
For the purposes of my talk, just to be clear, I'll be using the word “shelter”. By this I mean a housing or residential complex. It has rooms, such as kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms, for the women and children. It is a place of temporary protection and support for those having to flee from domestic violence. Some use such terms as “transition house”, but I will use the word “shelter”.
Through the family violence initiative, or FVI, Indigenous Services Canada, or ISC, funds and oversees on-reserve women's shelters. Other family violence programs, such as outreach programs to indigenous families, are also funded by ISC through its family violence prevention program, or FVPP. Currently there are 40 shelters funded and controlled by ISC that also belong to NACAFV's membership.
The most pressing issue that on-reserve women's shelters face is insufficient financial funding from ISC. The funding that on-reserve shelters receive ranges anywhere from about half to three-quarters of what provincially funded or mainstream women's shelters receive from the province in which they are located. This is unequal funding for on-reserve shelters. This is despite their higher needs.
As well, when first nations women—women who have Indian status and normally live on reserve—access women's shelters off reserve, ISC reimburses that provincially funded shelter at the provincial rate, a rate that is higher than what it pays the first nation to provide these services on the reserve, when these services are available. This is actually discriminatory.
There is also inequitable funding. In particular, ISC's funding structure is based on population and the presumption that the indigenous clientele is identical to the mainstream clientele rather than its actual needs. ISC fails to take into account the historical circumstances and the increased needs of a population that has lived through Indian residential schools, ongoing colonialism, and intergenerational trauma. It also fails to consider the heightened cost to deliver services in rural and remote communities, including on reserve.
Reserves are known for their limited health, housing, educational, and social services. These are essential to provide support and to complement shelters' programs and services. This unequal and inequitable funding of on-reserve women's shelters results in at least the following four consequences.
The first is regular burnout, high staff turnover rates, feelings of isolation by staff who are underpaid, and difficulty in recruiting and retaining professionals for women's and children's actual needs.
The second is lack of indigenous-appropriate resources and programs for shelter clients.
The third is poor infrastructure, with limited and inefficient spaces for both children and adults. Often there is a dire need for renovations and also expansions. Therefore, there is little by way of complying with health and safety standards.
The fourth consequence is that shelters cannot provide second-stage housing, by which I mean longer-term residence complete with programming.
Indigenous women fleeing or at risk of experiencing domestic violence do not have access to the same quality of shelters as other women in Canada. Some cannot access these services at all. Currently, Canada does not provide indigenous women access to equal, equitable and culturally appropriate protection from domestic violence.
Finally, as a remedy and as a very specific recommendation, Canada must fund and provide equal, equitable and culturally appropriate shelter services and programming. This would be for the indigenous women and their children who are fleeing or at risk of experiencing domestic violence. This means that services and programs must be tailored to the unique geographical, cultural and historical circumstances of women who are accessing the 40 ISC-funded shelters in Canada.
Meegwetch. Thank you.