Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Walking Together: Ontario’s Long-Term Strategy to End Violence against Indigenous Women

It is by now well known that the fact that Indigenous women and girls experience violence at levels far disproportionate to the rest of the Canadian population. Ontario has reported that Indigenous women are three times as likely to experience violence. 

In February 2016, after years of advocacy from various First Nation communities and organizations, Ontario released “Walking Together: Ontario’s Long-Term Strategy to End Violence Against Indigenous Women.” 

The immediate processes that led to this strategy’s creation began on March 20-22, 2007 when the Ontario Native Women's Association (ONWA) and the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres (OFIFC) convened a strategy meeting entitled A Summit to End Violence Against Aboriginal Women. The success of this meeting led to a second summit hosted in September 2007, which ultimately developed a document entitled “A Strategic Framework to End Violence Against Aboriginal Women.”

This framework was an important document which led to the creation of the Joint Working Group on Violence against Aboriginal Women. This working group was first convened in 2010, and it was made up of ten ministries and five First Nation Organizations.  Chiefs of Ontario joined this working group in 2011. It had as its mandate, “To identify priorities, and opportunities for support, development and implementation of policies, programs and services that prevent and reduce violence against Aboriginal women and their families.” 

Informed by the Joint Working Group, Ontario then released “Its Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment” (March 2015). This plan outlined how to stop sexual violence across Ontario, and while it was not exclusively written to respond to violence against Indigenous women specifically, it did indicate that the Long-Term Strategy to End Violence Against Indigenous Women was in development. This Strategy was released in February 2016. A one-year update was published in March 2017.

In her message contained in this strategy, Premier Wynne wrote, “This strategy embodies the Ontario government’s commitment to working hand in hand with First Nation, Métis and Inuit leaders, as well as with the federal government and other provinces to drive coordinated action and make real progress.” The fact that this strategy was co-developed with First Nation organizations is a promising indicator towards this goal.

In practical terms, the strategy lays out a series of new programs and funding commitments to match. The strategy was developed as a three year plan with $100 million in funding. 
The strategy tackles six priority areas, with various funding levels over the three year term as outlined in the accompanying graph: 
1. Supporting Children, Youth and Families ($80 Million)
2. Community Safety and Healing ($15.75 million)
3. Policing and Justice ($2.32 million)
4. Prevention and Awareness ($1.15 million)
5. Leadership, Collaboration, Alignment and Accountability ($500 thousand)
6. Improved Data and Research ($750 thousand)

The majority of this strategy is categorized as “Supporting Children, Youth, and Families,” of which the only clear commitment is to design, develop, and implement a “Family Well-Being Program” that will be operational in First Nation communities. This is part of both Walking Together and the Ontario Indigenous Children and Youth Strategy (OICYS). Specifically, this program would support front-line service workers, community-based programming for children and families, and building safe places for women and families.

The second most significant financial commitment is “Community Safety and Healing,” which comes with a number of commitments that align with those made in The Journey Together, including a strategy to address human trafficking, improved justice system supports, expansion of mental health and wellness programs (including Talk4Healing), and prevention programs. 

The remaining 4% of the funding is split between policing, prevention, leadership development, and expanded research and data collection. 

One-Year Progress Report
While Ontario released its one-year progress report in March 2017, the impact that the strategy has had on curbing violence against Indigenous women is difficult to assess for two reasons. First, the funding is project-based, meaning that the strategy funds hundreds of initiatives with various levels of success. Second, the Walking Together Strategy is tied to a number of other initiatives, strategies, and plans.

The single largest line-item in the Strategy is for “supporting children, youth and families,” which is being accomplished through the Family Well-Being Program – described already. The update indicated that the program would be fully rolled out in spring 2017. This fits within the principles of the OICYS, as the update indicates that programs are developed “in the communities, for the communities, by the communities.” The update includes positive testimonials, but little hard data in terms of funding rolled out or precise statistics on programs run and people served.

Secondly, the Strategy is connected to a number of other government initiatives, raising the question of whether many of the achievements listed in the update came from this strategy or another. For example, the update counts the establishment of Ontario’s Strategy to End Human Trafficking (June 2016) as an achievement. Further, the development of the Strategy for a Safer Ontario (SSO) was in development while this strategy was being implemented, raising questions about where the changes in community safety and healing and in policing and justice have come from, especially given the relatively small budget for these priority areas. 

Having said this, the Strategy has received strong endorsement from its key partners, especially those who helped develop it. This includes the Executive Directors of OFIFC, ONWA, and the president of the Métis Nation of Ontario.

COO Involvement
Chiefs of Ontario has maintained an active role in preventing and ending violence against Indigenous women. COO was a member of the Working Group on Violence against Aboriginal Women, which you recall was instrumental in creating the strategy. 

A number of resolutions have enabled COO’s advocacy on this file. In 2011 the Political Confederacy Motion 11/12 established a First Nations Women’s Caucus which, among other things, was tasked with developing community-based approaches to end violence against First Nations women and girls. This work was again endorsed in Resolution 13/04 – “Adoption of a Declaration by First Nations Political Leadership to Support Ending Violence and Abuse in our Communities and Against Our Peoples.”

A number of resolutions have also supported inquiries into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), including Resolution 19/14 (Our Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls), 06/15 (Support the Work of Mishkeegogamang First Nation on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Men and Boys), and 47/16 (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls), and most recently 24/17 (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls).

Finally, the First Nation Women’s Caucus was enabled to coordinate the WHO IS SHE campaign (Resolution 46/16), a digital fundraising campaign meant to raise funds and awareness concerning MMIWG. This campaign had begun in 2015, was stagnant for a year, and then was reinvigorated in 2016/17.

Next Steps
Most of the COO directives relative to the strategy concern raising awareness and engaging with the MMIWG National Inquiry. The First Nation Women’s Caucus was directed to continue working with Ontario families of MMIWG in pursuing justice for loved ones (AOCC Resolution 24/17) COO Secretariat was also tasked to examine possibility of a Class Action Law Suit against Attorney General of Canada, Attorney General of Ontario, and government and agencies responsible for policing and the Coroner’s Act.


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