MMIWG National Inquiry: Reclaiming Power and Place

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VAWCCs have a role to play

“…in order to understand the causes of violence and to make the changes necessary to ending violence, we must recognize the power and responsibility of relationships.” (Reclaiming Power and Place p.100)

VAWCCs are all about relationships. To be effective, members share responsibility, are accountable, support one another and learn to take collective action. There are many lessons within the National Inquiry report. Reclaiming Power and Place sets out a clear vision on a path that prioritizes relationship with Indigenous peoples.

…understanding what happens in relationships is the starting point to both understanding and ending violence against Indigenous women, girls, and [gender-diverse] people. (88)

The stories in the report reveal unintended or unconscious harm that takes place in the delivery of service, as a direct result of the top-down structure of the service system. Our business-as-usual way of working too often does not recognize the power of relationships and the importance of mutuality, of cultural humility and that it takes time to build a relationship. Everyone working in traditional human services has been recruited into this neo-liberal culture that puts profits over people. It is not a matter of fault. Decolonization means finding ways to step out of the status quo system that continues to do harm. Transformation follows the path of building relationships.

 …this violence is also preventable – if Canadians are willing to change. The National Inquiry …gave Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse people a national platform to speak their truths, but the real work is only getting started. Ending violence against Indigenous women and girls will require fundamental realignment and transformation of systems and society as they currently exist. (91)

The realignment begins with the stories and the speaking of truth. In complex systems, every encounter between service 'providers' and service 'users' is the point of intervention, a moment to disrupt - interrupt the status quo that would turn us all into working machines, processing people along a limited assembly line of services.

We [hope that] the path this report leads to for you, the reader, is one that shows you that change is possible right now. As you follow this journey through the testimony, you might find you have other questions or that there are other routes you are interested in exploring in more detail yourself. You might find that when you hear about a particular encounter, you want to know more about that family’s entire story, or about how certain issues play out in the health care system, the justice system, or other institutions. We encourage you to follow that path and incorporate what you learn into relationship within your own lives, communities, and societies.

When the quality of relationship becomes the organizing principle for all encounters, and when it is internalized such that one’s practice is consistently rooted there, the transformation has taken place. The ideal of ‘client-centered service’ still mostly operates within the status quo. The quality of the relationship stipulates that it is a mutual relationship of giving and receiving, instead of a service delivery, which is one-way. One-way relationships inherently hold the power imbalance in place between client and provider. Client is always ‘other’. Disrespect is built in. The powerful challenge is to open one’s heart, to participate and to be present in any encounter. This requires time and attention in an environment that generally consumes both. Consequently, working with an open heart, taking the time to connect are radical acts, intentional and practiced. The business-as-usual system defends vigorously against this possibility by maintaining the untruth of professional distance and objectivity, an 'us and them' model. The vulnerability of an open heart is dismissed and denied as foolish and unprofessional. The invitation of the encounter may seem too risky. Yet it happens. And when it does, the power of relationship rises and individuals have the ability to use their position to make the system bend toward the real needs of people.

There is a role in this transformation for government, for industry, for communities, for allies, and for individuals – we all have a part to play. By focusing on specific moments of encounter – moments that form relationships– we offer one path through all of these stories. …Your relationship with the stories included in this report is an encounter – a transformational moment of relationship – of the utmost importance in itself. (91)

VAWCC members should read the report and share their experiences of reading. The report itself is an encounter that sets the reader on the path. Prioritizing the relationship with Indigenous peoples is the specific call to action. Doing everything possible to support Indigenous women and girls as they reclaim their power and place in society will change everything. Honouring a person's journey and creating space for their unique story is a radical act that anyone can do. It boils down to honest connection, giving your time and attention to the person you are with. The ability to carry respect and mutuality into all of our encounters is the called-for transformation. It happens everyday in ordinary ways.

…understanding what happens in relationships is the starting point.


Read Reclaiming Power and Place and talk about it - what is the relevance and role for VAWCCs?

Consider your membership, does it include Indigenous organizations? Are there leadership opportunities?

How active is your VAWCC in attending and promoting Indigenous events and advocacy?