By Chevi Rabbit, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – Alberta is embarking on a transformative journey towards ending gender-based violence with a groundbreaking bilateral funding agreement inked with the federal government. In an exclusive interview with Chevi Rabbit of Alberta Native News, the Honourable Tanya Fir, Minister of Arts, Culture, and Status of Women, passionately delved into this agreement’s details and immense significance. ANNews also contacted members of the public for their responses on gender-based violence from their perspectives and lived experiences.
The bilateral agreement between the Federal and Provincial governments highlights Alberta’s need for gender-based funding. The landmark funding agreement, amounting to $54 million over four years, will play a pivotal role in shaping and implementing a unique 10-year strategy designed exclusively for Alberta to address this pressing concern. Minister Fir affirmed her dedication to working collaboratively with her colleagues to ensure a government-wide approach that aligns seamlessly with existing initiatives, notably the Alberta Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Roadmap.
She underscored the need to engage not just community organizations but to encompass a wide range of groups, especially those underrepresented, including Indigenous people, the LGBTQ2S community, refugees, immigrants, men, and boys, as well as survivors. She spoke of the importance of casting a wide net to ensure no one is left behind in this crucial endeavor.
In response to the question of what message she has for Albertans who are enduring violence and harassment, Minister Fir offered reassurance, “I want Albertans to know that we hear them, we see them. [To] the survivors that have gone through this or that are going through it right now, it’s not okay.” She emphasized the vital importance of this work in ensuring that every individual can live a life free of violence, hate, and discrimination.
Addressing the critical need for open dialogue, she stated, “I think there’s many ways we can do that. One is to create safe places for people to talk about it.” Minister Fir recognized that shame and fear often deter individuals from coming forward and discussing their experiences. To counter this, she stressed, “That’s why this work is so important, from the engagement that we will do to the confidential online or telephone surveys.” Support would be readily available during these engagements to assist survivors, she added.
“We need to create a comfortable environment to be able to talk about it, and that’s a big task.”
She emphasized the necessity for creating safe spaces for women, men, and the LGBTQ community while outlining the engagement plan’s objectives as identifying root causes and protecting and supporting survivors.
Minister Fir’s special message to Alberta’s youth encapsulates her commitment: “I would tell youth out there that our government shares your concerns, and our government is here to support you.” She reiterated the government’s dedication to ending gender-based violence and the available resources to provide support where needed.
Public Voices in Support of Ending Gender-Based Violence
In our quest to understand public sentiment on gender-based violence, we connected with individuals who have dedicated their lives to this cause. Here are their compelling responses:
According to Rachelle Venne, CEO of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW). “Esquao IAAW has been delivering programs such as Mother Bears Embrace to create awareness on how Gender Based Violence (GBV) negatively affects our homes and communities. Participants regain confidence to speak up when confronted with violence. Programs such as this build the individual capacity for Indigenous women and girls and are needed throughout the province.”
Jacqueline Biollo, a former elected official, consultant, and university educator, stresses the importance of empowering communities to unite against gender-based violence. She recognizes that it requires concerted efforts to combat the norms and barriers hindering victims, survivors, and their families and views this as a fundamental human right.
Ester Mackinaw, former Elected Leader of Montana First Nation and Respected Elder, highlights elders’ ongoing challenges, irrespective of their backgrounds, and the urgent need for government awareness and action. She calls for collaboration among local governments to address elder abuse and intimidation, underlining the importance of ensuring peace and security for elders. Statistics Canada reveals that in 2019, 4,518 seniors, primarily women, experienced family violence in Canada, highlighting the need to address this issue comprehensively.
Gender-diverse youth in Alberta face harassment, bullying, and violence based on gender expression. Jacky Rabbit, a transgender youth, emphasizes the urgent need for awareness and action, saying, “As a transgender Indigenous youth, I’ve faced bullying and name-calling since I was in grade 7. I’ve been surrounded by boys who taunt me until I cry. We urgently need more awareness in rural Alberta and within First Nation communities.” Statistics Canada underlines the need for greater focus on LGBTQ youth and young adults, highlighting the higher rates of physical or sexual assault among transgender and gender-diverse individuals.
Char Shirt, a Human Resources Management Consultant, is advocating for tolerance and compassion. Shirt underscores that violence against the LGBTQ2 community is unjustifiable and emphasizes the power of choice in promoting tolerance and empathy.
These voices emphasize the necessity of collective action, awareness, and compassion to end gender-based violence in Alberta and beyond.
The first step in crafting this visionary 10-year plan is launching a public survey to garner insights from stakeholders, members of the gender-based violence community, advocates, and survivors. The objective is to ensure that the strategy embodies the diverse perspectives of all Albertans. Minister Fir extended a heartfelt invitation to all to participate in the survey, marking a collective step towards fostering a violence-free Alberta. The survey can be accessed at https://www.alberta.ca/gender-