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Breaking the Silence on Family Violence


Watson Lake Conference

Final Report

Project Identification

Project Title:    Breaking the Silence on Family Violence: Watson Lake Conference February 10,11,12, 2004

Sponsor:      Liard First Nation Justice and Kaska Tribal Council,
with an interagency steering committee.

Location:     Box 328, Watson Lake, YT  Y0A 1C0  ♦  Tel. 867.536.2131

Project History
At a court hearing in October 2003, a B.C. Provincial Court judge requested input on how to deal with family violence issues by February 2004. Spousal assaults against women are very high in Watson Lake, as in other Yukon communities. Watson Lake has 5% of the Yukon's population; in the year 2002 it reported 20% of the Yukon's spousal assaults. Between 1997-2001 the spousal assault rate in Watson Lake averaged 16% of the total number reported in the Yukon.

Kaska Tribal Council and Liard First Nation Justice scheduled a three-day conference to bring information and awareness about family violence to Kaska community members. The issue of all forms of violence is very serious in Yukon and B.C. Kaska communities. The conference was organized to allow people to bring forward their recommendations on how to prevent family violence in the region.
Project Objectives and Results
To strengthen partnerships with all agencies in the community, prominent community members and agencies were invited to participate in a steering committee to provide direction for the conference. Kaska Tribal Council, Liard First Nation, Dena Keh Justice Council, Liard Aboriginal Women's Society, Kaska members from Ross River, Lower Post, and Dease River, Help and Hope for Families Shelter, RCMP and Watson Lake Hospital were asked to participate in conference planning. The committee met in December 2003 and January 2004.

The goals of the Conference were to promote and provide services intended to prevent violence against women and children.  The objectives were to provide awareness and specific education to the communities on the issue of family violence through workshops and open discussion, and to open doors to community members to stop family violence from happening in the community.

Early in the planning, the committee identified concerns about safety after the conference, and the need for agencies to work together to create safety in homes and in the communities. Counsellors were recruited to participate in the conference, and offer support as needed to people attending the conference.

The conference was held in the Watson Lake Recreation Centre on February, 10, 11 and 12, 2004. A total of 94 people registered, more than three-quarters of the participants were Kaska citizens. Another dozen people attended portions of the conference without completing a registration form.
Project Activities
The Yukon government's Family Violence Prevention Unit (FVPU), Child Abuse Treatment Services (CATS), Yukon Family Services Association(YFSA), and Dr. Allan Wade, a counselling psychologist who works with residential school survivors were approached to be presenters and/or to offer participant support.

CATS were unable to participate; Dr. Allan Wade was scheduled to offer workshops on how people can resist violence and how to promote safe and healthy relationships in the home and in the community; YFSA offered counselling support during the conference. FVPU staff presented workshops on healthy relationships, isolation and abuse. A reverse panel discussion was held on Wednesday afternoon about how children respond to violence.

Qualified counsellors were available throughout the conference in the event that any of the participants should need a personal debriefing session. On February 10 and February 11 a Men's Talking Circle and a Women's Talking Circle were facilitated for delegates who wanted a final session to close the day's events.

On the third day of the conference, people divided into small groups with facilitators for sessions on Stopping the Violence - The Next Step led by Allan Wade. Each group responded to questions about how to address violence and promote safety. Small groups came up with recommendations about actions that would improve the safety of all community members. They identified conditions that allow continued violence: fear, shame, isolation, silence, denial, guilt, and racial divisions. They reviewed steps that have been taken recently to promote safety, and other actions that should continue.

A banquet for all the Conference participants was held at the Watson Lake Recreation Centre on the evening of February 11, 2004. This event was not as well attended as the committee had hoped; those who did attend enjoyed the socialising, the food, and the entertainment.
Meeting Challenges
A Conference information table was set up for registration, logistics and emergencies for the duration of the Conference. One of the major challenges was the fact that there was a very short time frame to organize the conference. Several steering committee members were unable to participate in the planning. The conference schedule was drafted on February 5. There was concern about the conference being scheduled for the same time as circuit court; some people were unable to attend as a result.

Many delegates who came to the conference had seen a poster, heard about it on the radio, or from an agency, but hadn't registered in advance. Consistent with the pace of life in the North, there was a need to extend the final registration date.  Many registrations were received late, and some people decided to register at the time of the conference, even though the registration date had been extended.

When the Family Violence Prevention Unit arrived for the Meet and Greet the night before the conference, there was a misunderstanding about what workshops would be offered by the staff of the unit. The final agenda was determined before the conference started the next morning, to accommodate the simultaneous Circuit Court session. Delegates were informed of the workshop titles and locations on notice boards in the conference room and displayed in the hallways of the Recreation Centre near the workshop rooms.
The conference was well attended by Kaska citizens and the non-native community, who noted that for too long the pervasive issue of sexual assault and violence against women and children in family relationships has been carefully avoided. Bringing people who live with violence out of isolation for education and support is a powerful tool for stopping the violence. These connections strengthen individual resistance to violence and build community capacity to make healthy social change.

Finding answers to the problem takes a community effort, and the conference was a significant contribution towards making the community safe and healthy. The presence of a dozen men was encouraging. Many people said they felt less alone as a result of the conference, because others are interested in learning ways to live without violence. Delegates' recommendations for future action appear in the final section of the report.

The Kaska drummers opened conference sessions with a prayer song, and their energizing performances boosted the spirits of people in the room. Kaska Tribal Council Chief Hammond Dick and Liard First Nation Chief Liard McMillan delivered strong messages, and delegates expressed appreciation for men in Kaska leadership publicly taking a stand against violence.

Town Councillor and emcee Sharon Miller, Wenda Sage, and Nancy Moore also gave opening remarks. Violence can include abuse of power within relationships, emotional and psychological abuse, physical and sexual assault, and homicide. A local conference to identify solutions may increase the numbers of people who report violence and seek help. Many people have been active for decades to stop violence; when more people recognize, respond to and confront violent behaviour in families and relationships the health of the community can improve.

Local small businesses generously donated goods and services for the conference.
Project Impact
Developing partnerships:
The steering committee provided an opportunity to develop partnerships, and has planted a seed for collaboration in the community.

Stopping the violence:
People looked at ways victims resist violence and were supported to report all violence and demand an end to it. Several evaluations appreciated Allan Wade's strength based approach of "honouring our resistance to violence is an important way to look at oneself," promotes health and wellness in our families and communities, and helps people get a better understanding of how to stop violence.

Supporting healthy relationships:
Many people attended a workshop or conference of this kind for the first time. They were surprised to know they are not alone, and requested more information and workshops about healthy relationships.
Public Awareness
There was good participation in the conference from the local community. Based on media reports and the conference evaluations, there is a heightened awareness about services available to people experiencing family violence.
Project Sustainability and recommendations for future action
A preliminary conference report was presented to the judge at a February 26 court hearing that identified improved communications among existing agencies, less gossip, volunteer recruitment programs, safe places for youth and elders, a support circle for men to address their issues and begin healing, talking circles for healing and support for men and youth, a treatment centre, and cross-cultural training for resource people as recommendations. This preliminary report identified a willingness to move forward in a spirit of caring and cooperation. Other recommendations mentioned more than three times were for zero tolerance and everyone to take responsibility to stop the violence, more conferences, vigils and workshops, using media for positive efforts, community get togethers to celebrate success and more transportation for youth.

The Breaking the Silence on Family Violence Conference opened people's minds to the high level of violence against women and children in family relationships, which has been a reality in the Watson Lake area for many years. Conference recommendations for action based on the workshop discussions, and on 64 completed conference evaluations, cover a broad range of activities. People appreciated being taught how to work together as a community to address the problem. They want more training, workshops, vigils, and conferences.

The number of evaluation forms handed in is a significant positive response. Delegates' expectations for education, awareness, and prevention of family violence were met. People attended the conference to learn how to make their homes and communities a safer place to live, to prevent suicide, and to recognize, confront and work to end racism, an underlying cause of violence in the community. Participants wanted to break the silence of abuse, build healthy relationships, and stop the violence. They made good connections with other people, and expressed hope.

"This a community concern, we have to continue to address the issues of violence. It's not a three day fix." Some people noticed that leadership of the community weren't present, both native and non-native. "Violence is a big issue in Watson Lake and we should all be educated, no matter who we are." Other evaluations noted the absence of RCMP, social workers, teachers and doctors who need to be part of developing a community response to violence.

A number of interested people and agencies indicated their willingness to collaborate and to prevent violence in Watson Lake and Kaska communities on a continued basis. Better communications between agencies, a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities and whether they complement or overlap others, and more information sharing would be helpful in accomplishing this goal. Good communications is also needed within organizations. New youth activities and volunteer initiatives, like Big Brothers, Big Sisters chapters were suggested.

Whitehorse-based agencies could offer more training to rural communities. Rural communities like Watson Lake, Ross River, Lower Post and Good Hope Lake need long-term support for victims, families, and professionals. Resource agencies, such as Child Abuse Treatment Services, could offer training and support in Watson Lake. People also requested more strength based counselling and support, rather than victim blaming or retraumatizing in the name of healing. Acknowledging individual and community responsibility for safety is key.

Conference evaluations and workshop reports recommend more sober gatherings, more recreation activities, community recognition events to promote positive role models, and better transportation. Many people are caring and willing to help, and want to avoid judging others. Some people identified the need to work on themselves.

Delegates requested follow up, in the form of compiling a comprehensive list of recommendations, offering more public education, doing more work with youth and schools, preparing culturally relevant pamphlets, broad-based participation in developing a community action plan, more open discussions about family violence, and holding more healthy relationship and violence prevention workshops. Regular talking circles for women and men were also requested.

The people who attended this conference want to see their communities find common ground to continue work on stopping the violence. They are seeking an opportunity to participate in community efforts to deal with the violence.