PAGC hoping for long awaited federal funding to build shelter for women and children

Chief thanks government for recognizing 'unique challenges' from COVID-19 across the north

Chair of the Prince Albert Grand Council's Women's Commission, Shirley Henderson, speaks at the Honouring our Sisters and Brothers Memorial Walk in 2019. (Herald file photo)

The Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) is hoping to receive funding from the federal government to build a shelter for women and children—which one advocate says is needed now more than ever.

On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced additional funding for Indigenous communities. This money is intended to help them deal with current needs arising from COVID-19, as well as to prepare for a potential second wave.

This money includes $44.8 million over five years to construct women’s shelters across the country, 10 on-reserve and two in the territories. The government will also provide $40.8 million to support operational costs for these new shelters over the first five years, and then $10.2 million annually.

Additionally, starting this year, $1 million a year ongoing will support engagement with Métis leaders and service providers on shelter provision and community-led violence prevention projects for Métis women, girls, and LGBTQ and two-spirit people.

The chair of the PAGC’s Women’s Commission, Shirley Henderson, said they’ve applied at least three times in the past for funding to build a new shelter, and are hoping they’ll receive the money after this application.

“The population for the grand council is well over 40,000, so the need is definitely there,” said Henderson.

They hope to build one in a community surrounding Prince Albert.

With anxieties arising from the pandemic, such as a lack of income from job losses, Henderson suspects already violent situations have become that much worse.

“Being in isolation, it’s been a difficult thing for our members because when a violent situation takes place they really can’t escape the situation. There’s really nowhere to go. Most of our communities are under lockdown.”

Henderson expressed the need for more immediate funding to reduce domestic violence among the pandemic, but she also hopes long-term funding is dedicated to the issue.

The virus has also forced the Women’s Commission to cancel this year’s Honouring our Sisters and Brothers Memorial Walk in June. Henderson said in some years, they’ve had over 300 people participate.

“Usually that brings our families and our women together,” she said.

However, Henderson looks forward to the completion of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls monument, which has also been delayed.

The Women’s Commission, the City of Prince Albert and the Indian and Métis Friendship Centre—who are partnering for the project—expect it will be completed in September.

Speaking to the Daily Herald in February, Henderson said the project will include a sacred space for people in Prince Albert to honour their loved ones.

In addition to the funding for safe shelters, $285.1 million will fund Indigenous community-led responses. If an outbreak occurs, the funding can provide surge capacity and additional support for community-based services.

The federal government is also providing $270 million to supplement the On-Reserve Income Assistance Program, which is seeing increasing demand. The funding will help people meet their essential living expenses and help hire additional staff to better serve First Nations communities and connect individuals to other government programs.

On Monday, PAGC Chief Brian Hardlotte welcomed the funding.

“I am thankful the federal government recognizes the unique challenges facing our communities throughout the north, especially many of our members who live in remote areas and those needing extra income support,” he said in a news release.

“We hope we will receive this critical funding to support the urgent needs of our population of 43,000. With this funding support, we intend to use it toward supporting our community-based health clinics and to create a stockpile of medical supplies like ventilators and PPE (personal protective equipment) in preparation for the second wave of the pandemic.”

As of Monday, the northern area of the province, which includes Prince Albert, has had 112 cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. Four of those cases are currently considered active.

The far north holds 32 of the province’s 47 active cases, and the region has had 256 reported cases so far.

There have been three deaths in the north and four deaths in the far north related to the virus.