Fleeing Domestic Violence & Navigating Indigenous Parent Programs
Updated: Nov 13, 2021
I will never forget the day I became a single mother. It was cold and dreary outside, but my heart was pounding faster than I had ever felt before. I had spent a significant amount of time trying to figure out how I would make it on my own with no income. To complicate matters, he had threatened to kill me on multiple occasions and had a mental hold over me that I never knew could exist. I had no idea how I would leave without him killing me, hurting my child, or harming my unborn baby.
I tried to get a job so I could save money to leave him, but he threatened to quit his job if I did that. I tried to sell goods at the local farmer’s markets, but he always had a plan for the money I made on my own. This left me feeling financially, mentally, emotionally and physically stuck.
After my two year old had a night of awful nightmares I wanted to offer her spiritual protection by hanging a dreamcatcher above her bed. My Metis heritage was never a secret with my partner. However, he never supported it, and actively kept my culture out of our home. He claimed it was a pagan practice and if I brought things like dreamcatchers into our home, I would be inviting bad spirits.
After a severe incident that left my two-year old suffering from the effects of his physical abuse, I made the courageous decision to flee. I spoke with the police and asked for help to leave. The officers didn’t understand why I would need protection until I explained the situation. Thankfully, my partner was arrested that night.
The next day I remember speaking with victim services. I told them I am Metis, pregnant and trying to parent a traumatized two-year old. Even though I told them about my Metis heritage, they did not offer any culturally-rooted programs. Instead I was directed to seek assistance from the local women’s shelter, but I encountered the same situation when I sought assistance. There simply were no programs available for Metis parents, or at least none that the staff knew of.
Financially, there was a one-time grant available from the provincial government for a lump sum payment of $1,000 to assist in relocation after fleeing domestic violence. While this was a significant form of assistance, it was short of coming close to helping me relocate.
Every time I went to the women’s shelter, I asked about available programs for Metis parents. Every time I received the same response: there were none. The resources available included food banks, second hand clothing stores, and counselors. Although they met my basic necessities, these well-intentioned people and programs did not possess the necessary knowledge to assist a Metis parent in this type of situation.
Complicating matters, because Child and Family Services were not involved in my circumstance, I did not qualify for programs or services under their umbrella. My unique situation fell between the cracks of a broken system.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) call to action #5 calls upon the federal, provincial, territorial and Aboriginal governments to develop culturally appropriate parenting programs for Aboriginal families. While I acknowledge my situation arose in 2014 and the TRC released their calls to action in 2015, the need for culturally appropriate parenting programs for Indigenous families, remains a prevalent need across Alberta.
The Metis Child and Family Services Society (MCFSS) indicate they provide services to Metis families who may or may not be involved with Alberta Child and Family Services, which includes programs for Metis families. Even though the MCFSS was operational at the time that I needed their services, I was outside their jurisdiction and, unfortunately, the staff at victim services and the women’s shelter were unaware that MCFSS existed.
It isn’t enough that some programs exist.
It isn’t enough that some front line staff know about these programs.
It isn’t enough that some parents benefit from these programs.
The federal, provincial, and territorial governments need to do better. The need to make these programs widely known and available to all Metis parents.
Until next time,
Artwork by: Amanda Wagar - Rising Up.
 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Calls to Action, (2015) online (pdf): <https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/british-columbians-our-governments/indigenous-people/aboriginal-peoples-documents/calls_to_action_english2.pdf> (TRC).